Chunk-It

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One way athletes are often taught to learn a new skill is by breaking it down into small chunks and then perfecting each of these steps.  In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes “Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and … combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.”

Chunking is one way to help trainees to remember more. (See my earlier post on “Reducing” for more). If you are training a class how to do something, think about how you could break down (chunk) each part of the act and focus on each step separately. Let’s take an easy example – how to use a fire extinguisher (from OSHA’s website)

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To chunk down this instruction, you could concentrate on the 4 steps listed as separate training “chunks.”

Pull the Pin – Can you set up a situation where trainees get to actually break the tamper seal and pull the pin? Is there anything else you assume they should know – or anything that you believe to be “common sense” but might need special reinforcement?

Aim – Can you do a demonstration that shows what happens when you aim at the base and when you aim elsewhere?  Can the trainees practice? How far away should you stand? What is a realistic situation for a workplace fire in your facility? It most certainly won’t look like the bonfire shown in the OSHA image. Will it be in a trashcan? If so, how do you aim at the base if you can’t see the base? When should a trainee attempt to put the fire out with the extinguisher and  when should they leave the area? (that question gives me an idea for a new training activity  – let me know if you want to see what I come up with). Think how you can break this step down to make the training as specific, realistic and applicable to the trainees’ work environment as possible.

Squeeze  – How hard does the handle need to be squeezed? How long? What if someone doesn’t have great hand strength? Do you need to squeeze fast or slow? Do you fingers go on top or bottom of the handle? What happens with it begins discharging? Is it easier or more difficult to squeeze the handle? What if they are wearing gloves? Is it more difficult? Can you have the trainees practice?

Sweep – How long and how fast do you sweep from side to side? How long will the extinguisher last? How will you know how long it will last before you use it? What should you do if the extinguisher runs out before the fire is out?  If the fire appears out, how long do you need to watch it? Should you throw water on it or do anything else after the fire is gone?

Do you get the idea? Each step in a relatively simple set of instructions can be broken down into a mini-topic. If you can’t see trainees face-to-face on consecutive days or weeks to cover each mini-topic (while referencing what was previous learned) maybe you could send out for emails or text messages with each focusing on one of the steps.

Four simple steps might seem just like four simple steps but as you can see by the random questions each step generated above, there could be a lot of questions zooming around your trainees head. If you don’t talk about actual fire possibilities in your workplace and specific conditions and challenges that might come with those fires, the training information will not stick so with every chunk you are able to create, make sure to integrate the real-world information your trainees need to know.

 

Language Learning

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I’m always jealous when I hear someone speaking something other than English and living where I live, that seems to be just about everyone. I would LOVE to speak more than one language fluently and I am so impressed when I meet people who do. I have studied Spanish for about 7 years and I would still classify myself as a beginner. I lived in Amsterdam for 3 years and studied Dutch almost every day and although I can understand most things, speaking is a different story. I also lived in Munich and found German to be really, really hard and according to this chart created by the Foreign Service German is harder than the other two languages I pretend to speak.  If you had to learn a new language, what method would you use? Would you approach this self-training the same way as you would train other people?

Note: I should add that I was asked in June of 2016 if I would deliver a presentation in Spanish the following year so I said yes thinking that would give me the motivation to finally improve. I was able to get through the presentation after a lot of stress and tons of prep but I also would not have been able to do it without a native speaker as co-presenter. If you are interested in that presentation, let me know.