Friday, May 28, 2010

The PAF Model

As far as I’m concerned, using a basic lesson structure of some kind is what makes a lesson teachable.  There are several schools of thought out there, but what I like to follow is the PAF model for systematic learning.  This was taught to me by Instructors from Friesen, Kaye and AssociatesPAF stands for Presentation, Application, and Feedback.  I find that it’s easy to implement in your design because of its simplicity, yet it is very effective.

During the Presentation phase, the instructor teaches the new knowledge or skills.  During the Presentation you typically include some type of introduction which will include the what’s in it for me (WIIFM) for the students as well as some test for understanding to ensure that the knowledge or skill has been transferred.

Application is simply the time given to the learner to practice what they have learned.  Although likely the simplest step in the process, Application is by far the most important.  As far back as Aristotle we know that we learn by doing.

Feedback is needed to build the confidence in your learners who are performing well and to assist those that require further help.

Each stage should represent about 1/3rd of the lesson time.  Depending on the exercises that you introduce in a lesson, you can often combine Application and Feedback to occur simultaneously.  This allows for more time to be applied to the Application and it allows for correcting or reinforcing behaviours as they happen.

Most training that is considered boring or ineffective by the learners, likely did not have sufficient time allocated to the Application and Feedback phases.  Instead it relied too much on Presentation. Using this model keeps you on point.  It’s easy for a passionate instructor to ramble on, especially if the topic is one of personal interest. 

There are other models of lesson design out there; however some can be rather complicated to easily remember.  PAF keeps things simple and therefore far more likely to be used properly. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Digestible Chunks

How much is too much training?  I guess the only ones who can answer that are the learners themselves.  What I try to do to make training easily digestible to my learning audience, is to break it down into easy to manage chunks.

One method of doing this is a part of Information Mapping, which I've spoken of before.  Information Mapping is a method of organizing information into "maps" that only cover one topic.  This information is further broken down into blocks which only contain one thing (set of instructions, piece of knowledge, etc).  Information mapping's goal for how much information can be contained in either a map or block is 7 plus or minus 2 things.  That seems a little strange but what it means is that the amount of information that we can remember is somewhere around 7 things.  If you only have 2 other things to remember this is considered not enough information to break out into a new map or block of information, so up to 9 things are considered acceptable.

For those that doubt me about remembering 7 pieces of information, you can prove it to yourself by simply reciting your phone number.  Also if you doubt the point about up to 9 pieces of information, include the area code (For North America this will in fact be ten pieces of information).  Interestingly enough the phone companies who introduced direct dialing choose the format for telephone numbers because of this very fact of how people remember things.

Now what is interesting about the human mind is that we can interpret a great deal of information as a single piece of information.  In fact most of us consider that 7 or 10 digit number as one piece of information.  So in fact we as people may remember many phone numbers that seem important to each of us.  I know my own phone number but I also know my wife's, my parents, my sister's, and I even know my mother-in-laws phone number.  If you asked me to recite all that information it would actually be 50 individual digits that make up those 5 different numbers.  It's easy for me to remember because I only think of it as 5 things.

You can do the same thing when organizing your training.  For example; you may have determined that you need to train 18 individual concepts to a group of learners.  Once you analyze the information you realize that these 18 steps fall into only a couple of larger categories.  Here is an example as to how you might group the similar steps so that no single larger group of steps contain more than 7 smaller steps:

  1. First Step

    1. Step 1
    2. Step 2
    3. Step 3
    4. Step 4
    5. Step 5
    6. Step 6
    7. Step 7
  2. Second Step

    1. Step 8
    2. Step 9
    3. Step 10
    4. Step 11
  3. Third Step

    1. Step 12
    2. Step 13
    3. Step 14
    4. Step 15
    5. Step 16
    6. Step 17
    7. Step 18
Using this approach could allow you to teach a skill that is actually rather complex but make it seem easy.  You wouldn't actually label the sub steps as I have up to 18 as this would defeat the purpose.  This is only to illustrate that it is possible to teach 18 steps or more in what will seem like only 3 major steps. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Training = Customer Service / Customer Service = Training

My wife and I frequent a certain local gas station for not only our fuel, but for other convenience needs as well. When we embark on a long drive to the city or to visit friends or family, we usually stop in to top up the gas tank and pickup a coffee or a snack for the drive. I estimate that at our peak (when gas prices were higher), we were spending approximately $500 per month at this one location.

Because we frequent this establishment so often, odds are that we will not get great customer service every single time we visit. Since new management has taken over some time ago, customer service has gone downhill. For me the major issue is that staff seems not to know what to do when something out of the ordinary takes place. An example of this occurred last week.

My wife and I stopped by as per normal, and attempted to purchase a fill up of gas. The pump seemed to act unusual and then suddenly reset to normal. I filled the tank and went inside with my wife to pay for the purchase. Due to some computer malfunction, they could not take our payment for anything other than cash. We offered debit card, or credit card, but the only thing they could accept was cash.

Well like most people now-a-days we don't generally carry cash. The attendant suggested that we withdraw the funds from their bank machine and simply pay for the purchase. While this is a great solution for them, we are charged an additional $1.50 service fee by our bank for using their machine. To both my wife and I this was unacceptable. We ended up writing essentially an IOU and vowed to return and pay the amount at a later time. We left the store frustrated and angry over how once again they were unable to satisfy us by making what should be a simple transaction, more complicated than it needed to be.

So you may ask where the training opportunity exists. It's simple - train your staff on the policies and procedures of the store. In this case there should be a policy and procedure on what actions to do when the computer responsible for taking payments for gasoline purchases fails. Maybe it's to deactivate the pumps, or maybe something simple as placing a sign out by the pumps informing customers that cash only purchases are acceptable. In either case the alternative of continually putting customers through the difficult situation my wife and I found ourselves in cannot be the solution. If you own a business, please train your staff. If you have trained your staff and they cannot cope with the unexpected than maybe you need to rethink your hiring decisions.

My wife and I worked for the same corporation when we met all those years ago. As my own sanity check, I quizzed her on many of the common scenarios we were trained on. For example; we both knew the procedures for what to do when our stores were held up for money or merchandise. We both recalled the procedures perfectly and would have been able to handle that situation. I should point out that neither of us has worked there in about a decade and neither of our stores where ever held up by criminals.

Training is crucial and no business can expect to function properly without it. It doesn't matter whether you hire a professional like myself or you conduct the training yourself. Ensuring your staff knows what to do when the unexpected occurs is the difference between your business running poorly or smoothly. My wife and I have decided not to return to this gas station for our future purchases, instead we will frequent their competition down the street. It's too bad because the competition does not offer all the conveniences that we enjoy.