This week I have been preparing for my new role as a tutor on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s programmes. It has got me really thinking about how people learn to do particular jobs and how formal programmes like this combine with less structured learning experiences that you have on the job. An example of this is how as a trainer you learn how to move from the expert deliverer of set materials to become more of a facilitative trainer who can handle uncertainty in the learning activities like discussions where there is no clear outcome or correct answer. I was exploring this in more depth with a friend of mine who is also working in the field and we were sharing the different elements that had encouraged us to move away from the scripted form of training. For me one important element was having the opportunity very early in my career to watch and to work alongside others.
It was the value of observational learning that linked with another conversation I had earlier in the month. A friend of mine works for a health authority and had done some observation and facilitation work with the team who were setting up the incident room for Swine Flu for the authority. They were facing a tough job in challenging circumstances and were in many cases following a set of emergency procedures already laid down. One observation struck me, when they were setting up the incident room they installed a large plasma screen TV. When asked what this was for the managers replied that it was so that they could play BBC News 24 continuously so that the team would be updated about what was happening with swine flu. The fact that they would be supplying the news to the BBC did not seem to strike them as negated the need for a massive TV. Further probing discovered that the managers believed that all incident centres need massive TVs.
This learning was not from any real incident centres in the health authority (this was their first one), probing questions established that the team were unconsciously using as their models incident rooms they had seen on TV and in films, all of which featured large scale screens. What is scary about this story is how believable it is, how much of our learning is from watching fictional examples and taking this in without any further critical analysis and then implementing strategies and approaches based on our observations of a ficitionalised situation.
It made me realise that valuable as observations are of both real situation and from other sources they are only part of the picture. The discussions that I had with my colleagues after the event, the reading that I did for my professional qualification and my own reflections on the observations all of these lead to the development of what I consider to be my good practice in facilitative training.