Start With Do

Andrew Palmer

Guest Writer

I'm no economist, but I've picked up on at least one thing over the past couple of years: Shortages are painful but revealing. A shortage of toilet paper demonstrated some interesting things about human nature. Recently, the reduction of low-interest capital has shown some investments were overvalued. And a shortage of emergency dispatchers has uncovered flaws in how we've traditionally trained.

Walking the halls and attending the sessions of this year's NAVIGATOR, I was able to have many rewarding conversations with comm. center leaders and trainers about their onboarding process. Though what it looks like varies from center to center, two threads were consistent: too much time spent and not enough desired performance. Again, I'm no economist, but you might say there is a real lack of return on investment.

It's not that old methodologies aren't working anymore. They probably weren’t very effective to begin with. But like a recession reveals a business weakness, high turnover and a short list of applicants have revealed weaknesses in traditional, information dump training. Training based on the concept that I the trainer (or manager, or expert) know something and if you just knew it too, you'd do what I do.

At the same time, as an industry, we're still measuring learning in terms of hours spent without any consideration for what you actually did during those hours. All of which helps support the clearly false assumption that learning isn't something you do, it's something that happens to you. If you sat in a classroom chair for the required number of hours, you have now ascended to the holy status of "trained."

I'm tempted to start referencing educational studies here, but I don't think it's necessary. We intuitively know that is not how people learn, and yet that is the way we all think about what training is. I've asked the question "How do people learn?" to dozens of groups of new instructors and managers, and I've never once had anyone say something passive like "listening" or even "reading." People provide many answers, but they're always some flavor of doing something.

All the feedback we've received about our recently launched DD-CPR and Practice Series lessons on the College of Emergency Dispatch has also made the point clear: Hands-on practice is the fastest way to learn and those doing the training appreciate that fact. Most Practice Series lessons begin with a simulation. Why? Won't that frustrate learners? No, we're not just setting up learners to fail just to fail.

We're designing for what academics call "productive failure," an approach that flips the traditional training flow and mimics how folks naturally learn. By starting with the challenge, we immediately have turned learners into participants. And they're engaged! Instead of attempting to engage learners with seductive details (which has been shown to actually decrease learning), they're engaged with the work itself.

When I discussed these learning design strategies with NAVIGATOR attendees, I saw their eyes light up when they realized the fact that their training could be both more effective and shorter. Increasing the return on investment from both sides. I assure you it's more than possible; it’s the way forward.