Magazine article Talent Development

Teaching Learners to Fish: Use the Learning Experience to Cultivate Learners' Independent Problem-Solving Abilities

Magazine article Talent Development

Teaching Learners to Fish: Use the Learning Experience to Cultivate Learners' Independent Problem-Solving Abilities

Article excerpt

There is a well-known proverb that states, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." This proverb can be directly applied to training. We have two choices: Give our learners a fish, or teach them to fish.

When we give our learners a fish, we provide facts and data points that we believe are essential to their success, instead of training learners how to access those facts and data using resources on the job. The approach of giving learners a fish can take the form of a lecture, often aided by a PowerPoint presentation, and creates a learning environment in which the learner is passive. It typically uses a "once and done" strategy, where the information is provided to learners without reinforcement or feedback once they are back on the job. When trained in this style, learners are not taught to independently solve problems, and are not provided a forum in which to practice critical thinking skills.

On the other hand, teaching our learners to fish is a student-centered approach in which learning professionals put considerable thought into the tools and skills required for the learners to function successfully in their professional roles. It places learners in an active role inside the training room, and out on the job after the training session is over.

Learner-centered approach

To create a teach-to-fish learning environment, consider the following.

Identify the overarching needed skill. What is the one practical takeaway learners should remember a month from now? How about six months from now? What should they be able to do on the job as a result of the learning experience that can be tangibly measured?

By centering on one simple, overarching objective, the training session becomes better focused, and it is easier to prioritize the information that should be shared. Focusing the objective on the development of a practical skill makes the outcome even more tangible and relevant for use on the job, and can then be aligned with manager expectations of behavioral performance.

Make it active. Whenever possible, find a way to teach learners the resources to use instead of telling them the details within the resources. Focus on the location of the resources, how to evaluate them for quality, and how to recognize scenarios in which those resources should be used.

This might involve using practical scenarios, games, simulations, or case studies to help learners visualize and experience how the resource could be used in their professional lives. This also is a great opportunity to get the learners to weigh in with their own experiences. By using an instructional strategy where learners are encouraged to find answers instead of memorizing them, we create a workforce that is resourceful and trained to solve problems.

Promote critical thinking skills. As a facilitator, talking less, listening more, and asking appropriately challenging questions can promote critical thinking skills for learners.

By allowing learners to persist through a game, simulation, or other learning activity without providing the answers when they get stuck, you encourage them to think through problems on their own or seek out their peers in the training room for help. By promoting independent problem-solving behavior in the training room, you set the stage for how they are expected to behave on the job.

Provide highly condensed handouts. If the course is focused on skill development, there is no need to hand out dozens of pages listing the details of each fact, policy, or procedure covered. …

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