In a past life, I was a teacher.
An English language teacher, to be specific, spreading the gospel of good grammar, preaching prepositions and imparting the importance of imperatives (Ok, that’s enough alliteration from me). I worked with adult learners from all over the world, each one with their own specific motivation for learning English. It was a good challenge, and good fun.
Now, I’m a Yarnoer.
As the newest member of the Content team, in the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in the world of workplace training. I’ve been struck (ow!) by just how relevant my language teaching background has been in preparing me to plan and produce instructional content.
I realised that there are more than a few similarities between language teachers and workplace trainers:
- Both are focused on developing clearly defined skills
- Both deal with adult learners with specific needs and limited time
- Both educate in a non-academic setting
- Both need to adapt their materials all the time
While the content is very different, there are several similarities in the actual learning context. That got me thinking, is there any wisdom that I’ve gleaned from my time teaching that could be useful for workplace trainers? I think there is and I'd love to share it. Here are my three things workplace trainers can learn from language teachers.
1: The importance of easy-to-understand language
Imagine having to run a three-hour long class in English when your students have only been learning English for two weeks. How do you communicate? You can’t speak in your normal, everyday English or you’ll be met with a classroom of vacant stares.
Instead, in order to be as easy-to-understand as possible, you have to put every word you say through a kind of mental filter, removing any of the unnecessary, overly complex linguistic constructions and only communicating the essentials.
While language teachers have to take this to the extreme, the idea of making language as easy-to-understand as possible is beneficial for workplace training as well. And all it takes is a little bit of extra consideration.
How do you do it?
First, try to drop any assumptions you have about your learners’ familiarity with workplace jargon, whether it’s technical language, acronyms or corporate buzzwords.
Then, challenge yourself to phrase everything in plain English — approach your learners like it’s their first day.
If there’s any technical language that you think learners do need to know, explain or define it the first time you use it and then check your learners’ understanding of the concept.
Why is this important?
As a trainer or teacher, it’s easy to forget just how much you know, and incorrectly assume your learners share your knowledge. When they encounter language and jargon they don’t understand, learners can feel uninformed, or like an outsider, and rather than trying to understand more, they might just switch off.
The principle of easy-to-understand language guides our content creation process in Yarno. We keep our language conversational and comprehensible, avoiding jargon or explaining it where necessary. The goal is to make learners feel engaged and involved, not bamboozled or overwhelmed.
2: The importance of relevant examples
Examples are powerful tools that allow learners to see new concepts in action before trying them out for themselves. But an example is only useful if it’s relevant.
Imagine you’re a teacher in an English language classroom with fifteen-or-so students, all different ages, all from different parts of the world, all in one room. You want to demonstrate how to use the preposition ‘on’. Here are three scenarios. Which one do you think is likely to be most effective?
- i. You explain it with a rule: “The preposition ‘on’ is used to express a surface of something”.
- ii. You demonstrate it with some generic examples: “I put an egg on the kitchen table. I spread butter on my toast.”
- iii. You demonstrate it with a relevant example: You pick up a student’s pencil and drop it. “I drop Paula’s pencil on the table.” You say to Paula, “Paula, throw your pencil on the floor.” She throws it. You ask her, “Paula, what did you do?” She says, “I threw my pencil on the floor.”
The most effective? The third scenario. Why? Because you used relevant examples that the learners could easily understand, and even gave a visual demonstration. You turned an abstract concept into something with real-world applications.
The importance of using relevant examples doesn’t just apply to language teaching — it’s equally, if not more applicable to workplace training.
Why? In the workplace it’s vital that learners understand how new concepts apply to their day-to-day work. They have limited time, so relevant examples using real-world situations help them understand quickly.
This also builds motivation, by showing learners that there’s practical value in what they’re learning.
When we’re working on a Yarno campaign, we always ensure our content and examples are relevant to the workplace. It’s key to driving engagement and ensuring learners understand how to apply new concepts.
3: The importance of practice
One of the biggest differences between a language classroom and a typical high school or university classroom is the emphasis placed on practice.
In language learning, it’s vital that students are given lots of opportunities to practice. A key principal is eliminating so-called ‘teacher talking time’, that is, when the teacher stands in front of the class giving a lecture. In language teaching, this is a big no-no. Why? Because the best way to learn a new skill is by doing it. And guess what? This principle is 100% applicable to workplace training.
Practice allows learners to try out new concepts without any risk. There are no real-world consequences and the worst that can happen is they mess up in front of the trainer or the group. When they succeed in practice, learners develop a sense of competence that boosts their confidence and makes them more likely to succeed going forward.
Practice can take lots of forms, including role-play exercises, problem-solving activities, games and simulations. The best form of practice depends on the nature of the learning material, the nature of the the workplace and the specific learner requirements.
In Yarno, we use our scenario questions as a form of problem-solving practice exercise. These questions place learners in a realistic workplace situation and tempt them with a choice of plausible incorrect answers based on common mistakes. This encourages learners to consider the consequences of different choices, and learn from mistakes made with no real-world risks.
Teaching and training is an area of constant research and innovation. There's always plenty of new ideas and approaches to consider and try. Based on my experience, I came up with three things workplace trainers can learn from language teachers, but there's no doubt heaps that language teachers can learn from trainers as well.
Whether you're a learner, a trainer or just an interested party, I'd love to know if these three points feel relevant and useful to you. What other points do you think are important to consider in workplace training? Please get in touch with me and let me know your thoughts.
Jack's in our content team, and in addition to his maestro writing skills, is a whiz photographer and online shopping master.
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