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Learning is…not for experts

At times, the worst person to facilitate learning is a subject matter expert. Now wait a minute, that goes contrary to most corporate learning thinking today - how can it be?

Yes, there are some levels of learning that require an expert. You don't want novice training for surgeons or airline pilots. But, often people are experts because they think differently. They have a knack, a talent or ability to grasp this subject easily and apply what they learn. Many times that ability is NOT transferable. They don't have to "think about it," for them it's intuitive. But ask them to show a novice how to begin…that's another story.

To illustrate is the old training story of asking a race care driver to teach your child to drive a stick shift. "Once the engine is started push the clutch to the floor, shift into first gear, then let out the clutch as you gradually apply the gas pedal," instructs the driver. To which your child replies, "what's a clutch?"

The expert can forget what it's like to be a novice. He ASSUMED the child knew all about the mechanism used to control the car. For him it is second nature, he doesn't even think about it. But another driver, not so "expert," might be a better choice to instruct your child. Someone who can see things from the child's perspective.

I remember an experienced customer service agent who joined our company. She went through initial product training and began work. About two months later she asked if she could go back through initial training. Management approved and she went through the class. Upon completion she remarked, "I didn't realize the trainer explained some of the deeper details the first time - that first week was a blur and a lot went over my head. This time I got much more out of it." She helped remind us that novices see things differently. We took a fresh look at our program to keep the intro simple to get our new users started. And to move some of the complexity out of the initial program and to a later date, when they were better able to absorb it.

A good choice for a trainer/teacher/coach required to teach people new to a process is someone who can assess the level of the audience and approach it properly. They need to understand the subject, but not necessarily be an "expert." They take nothing for granted (do the learners know about the clutch?) and have the unique ability to remember what it was like to be a novice.

As you learned a new process have you ever felt like the customer service rep?

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