Be More Than A Learner Who Only Understands “Follow Me”

Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleißheim - on the way, we passed by Neues Schloss. Seen here is a road sign to the museum.

The other day, I was posed with this complaint:

“There was this spinning class instructor, and he is not on his bike. He is just walking around telling his learners what to do. How unprofessional!”

To which, I replied, “You mean you want to pay for an instructor and he rides the bike with you instead of instructing with you what to do?”

Or in another way, the only people who should be doing what I’m doing are the other learners in the class.

Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur - Hotel Overview, seen here is the interior of the gym Health Club.

This may sound controversial, but few people realise that instructors, trainers or facilitators are not there to “do things with learners”; they are there to make sure learners learn.

If the process of driving that knowledge involves doing that action, so be it. If not, there’s no reason for a facilitator to be shouting out commands to demonstrate how to lead team, when he is just conducting WSQ Lead Team.

The former usually involves very menial, hands-on tasks. The best example, and my first experience with training, would be instructional methods conducted in military setting.

The instructional process is usually like this:

  • Theory – “Remember, when you stride, it should be about 30cm”
  • Demonstration without explanation – Full demonstration
  • Demonstration with explanation – “Step 1, you stride your right foot out, make sure it’s 30cm away from your left foot”
  • Learners’ attempt – “Yes, it’s like that. No, Liam, you should do this (demonstrates)”

That can be used also on cooking classes, for example, though, because the ingredients are expensive, cooking instructors usually skip “Demonstration without explanation”, and combined the last 2 to save time and effort.

Even then, the cooking version requires a higher level of ability to grasp knowledge than the military version. In one, you can make the learners repeat ten thousand times if they still don’t get it. In the other, if they want to do it again, they have to attend another class.

The gist is, such methods usually involve improving competencies to carry out a set of fixed actions, and therefore requires rote learning. I can teach you the method, guide you for half an hour so that you get the gist, and then you go back and practise for 1 hour a day. At the end of 1 week, you are to return with a mastery of the actions.

Don’t get it? Think about learning piano for the first time.

Such learning usually don’t require an instructor nowadays, hence the flourishing of Youtube videos on how to cook or “5-minute workout”.

Spiral staircase at Deutsches Museum Munich.
Rote learning is like a spiral. You only reach the end when you stop.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have training on soft skills (or heartware). I’ll tell you that in order to be a good customer service agent, you have to be situationally aware of your surroundings. I can even define for you what “situation awareness” is, but I can’t demonstrate to you how it could be done in exact terms; the most I can do is to give you some illustrations or anecdotes to help you paint an idea of how “situation awareness” can be practised in real life. This is one knowledge you need to internalise and find out on your own, through conscious experimentation and self-assessment.

What then, will the spinning class fall under?

If I want to know how to ride a bike in a gym, I can easily find a video on youtube for free. At the same time, being able to keep on the bike is not as abstract as knowing what “Situation Awareness” is.

Hallstatt, Austria, in winter, taken off the lake while on the ferry to Hallstatt train station.
Being situationally aware means being able to focus on near and far, and having vision wide enough to look around your own back.

A gym instructor is somewhere in between.

They are required to teach you some basic actions, but thereafter, he monitors your progress (are you doing it with the right posture?) and motivates you to push on when he sees that you are showing signs of weariness and giving up (perserverance is not something you can practise easily on your own).

This is somewhat like a facilitator, who spends about 5 minutes delivering theory via slides, and then spends the next 15 minutes guiding you to grasp the idea, either through sharing of anecdotes, case studies, guided discussions or simply a Q&A.

Trainers these days should play the role of enabling learners, and their greatest aim is for the learners to never return to them for further guidance  (even though the latter means they will keep returning to us and pays us for “refresher”).

If we were to expect to pay trainers to spoon-feed us and hold our hands to master new skills, then we are doomed to be throwing our money into a bottomless pit.

Hallstatt, Austria, in winter, taken while on a trail off Hallstatt train station.

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