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CAOHC Newsletter: UPDATE

OHC Corner - Some Tips on Effective Training

by George Krafcisin MA CIH CSP
Representative of the National Safety Council

The session was turning out just as Joe had feared it would: people were still drifting in twenty minutes after starting time; he was in the middle of his explanation of the decibel, and Terry and Jim were carrying on a private conversation in the back of the room; Sam was falling asleep in a corner; and several others were reading the handout material he had given them yesterday. "Oh, well," he said to himself, "I'll just finish going through my outline and send them back to work. If they don't care about protecting their hearing, I can't make them care." He carefully avoided thinking about the remaining twenty sessions for this year.

You may enjoy teaching, or you may hate it. More important is: how do your students feel about it? Here are a few thoughts on how to make those sessions more enjoyable for you and your students.

Remember adult learning characteristics
Adults have a lot going on in their lives and jobs. Hearing conservation training is not likely to be top priority on their list. You have to give them a reason to invest their time in what you have to say. Sending a message that OSHA required training will be held next Wednesday is unlikely to get an enthusiastic response. How about telling them that an information session will be held that will help them protect their hearing?

Adults want to learn things that will be of direct value to them. Adults want and expect their learning to be applicable to problems and situations they meet daily. They won't be very interested in calculating decibel levels from acoustic power measurements, but they just might appreciate learning how to insert an earplug so it doesn't hurt. Design the objectives for your training with this in mind (discussed below).

Adults have an extensive base of experience and beliefs that they bring into the training room. Take advantage of experience, tips and techniques that members of the group can share: is there a hearing-impaired worker who is willing to tell others of his experience to illustrate the importance of hearing conservation?

Older people may not hear or see as well as younger ones. If you have a large group, you may need to speak up or use a microphone. If you have handouts or visuals, use larger type, fewer words. Power point and overhead transparencies should have no more than six lines of six words each.

Some people learn better from the spoken word, some from written information, some from pictures. Make important points using all three modes.

Does everyone read and speak English? You may need to instruct in their native language, use visual illustrations, or make sure that all the important information is in spoken form for those whose reading skills are limited.

Prepare thoroughly
What do you want people to know and do as a result of your training? Write specific objectives for the session. Use action verbs, stating what you would like the participants to be able to do after the session. For example: Wear hearing protection at all times in noise exposure areas; Conduct an audiometer calibration; or Identify the abnormal audiogram from a sample of four. These objectives are the core of what you are teaching, and all of your techniques and materials should focus on achieving them.

Organize the learning material into simple steps. Take large concepts and break them down into small easy pieces. Start with simple concepts that the participants already understand, then move into more complicated issues. Repeat the important points frequently.

In the classroom
Maintain control of the session.

  • Start on time. If you wait until everyone has arrived, you've just wasted the time of everyone who was on time. The message to them is "your time isn't as important as that of the latecomers". When someone comes in late, you can call attention to it in a friendly manner: "Hi, Charlie. Too bad you missed the opening points, they were important. Maybe someone else can fill you in later." Word will eventually get around that 10 AM starting time really means 10 AM.
  • Stick to the subject. Remember your objectives. If a discussion starts on something that's important, but isn't on your agenda, save it for another meeting. If a participant drifts off into irrelevancies, politely redirect them: "Interesting point, Fred; maybe we can cover this later. Bring it up at the end of the session."
  • Insist on discipline. If participants start a side conversation, politely redirect their attention to the topic at hand: "Nancy, this is an important point, and I'm sure you won't want to miss it."
  • End on time. Your participants have other important things to do, and so do you.

People remember 70% of what they hear in the first twenty minutes of a training session; they remember 15% of what they hear in the last twenty minutes. Go over the hard stuff first, and save the practice sessions and entertaining videos for the end.

Change presentation style frequently. An hour of lecture is a lot. Talk for thirty minutes, then start a discussion, show a video, hold a practice session, give a quiz or written exercise. After ten minutes of lecturing from the front of the room, walk to the back and continue. Breaking up the "energy flow" of a training session keeps the audience from getting stiff mental muscles.

Get feedback. Give a short quiz and have participants fill out an evaluation form. Use the results to measure whether they've actually learned what you wanted them to, and what you can do to improve your next session.

A month after that first disastrous training session, Joe was finishing another. He looked over the grades on the quiz: everyone got 100%, again. As he began to thank everyone for coming, they all stood and applauded. Smiling shyly, he thought, "This is embarrassing. Once in a while, OK, but every class?"