5 Factors that Determine ‘How fast you can teach.’

“This training should only take about 15 minutes to deliver. It’ll be quick and pretty simple so . . . I can’t imagine it taking too long.”

This comment is something that I’ve heard a few times recently and more times than I can count over the years. It’s the same phrase that creates a little smile on my face as I now realise another capital instructional offense is about to be committed.

But seeing it happen again and again, it makes me wonder a few things—why do we tend to rush training? More appropriately why do we think that we can teach people quickly? Why do we fail so badly?

There is a disconnect.

Underestimating the time training takes is precisely the same as overestimating how quickly a student can learn. There is a problem in perception here, which everyone who is really good at something tends to make.

And here is why.

As an authority on the subject you’re going to be more than just ‘conversant’ in the subject. You’re going to be experienced, knowledgeable and proficient. This is where you know a subject so well you can go deep and go far very quickly.

Now this is great for proving your authority in a subject, especially when you’re teaching for profit as part of your business, but it’s also the type of thing that will scare your audience, create confusion and lead to poor learning outcomes.

To achieve learning—whether its training staff, or teaching a client a new skill, this disconnect needs to be repaired and this is done by ‘figuring out what the client knows.’

Knowledge v Experience

How do we figure out what the client knows? This is a careful process of introducing ideas to the student and gauging the feedback to check the level of understanding they have. Let’s look at the table below.

The experience / knowledge matrix
Where do you fit in?

Generally speaking as an instructor or an authority on a subject you’re going to want to consider yourself in Quadrant 4—your student will also tend to expect you to be here too. At the very least if you’re teaching someone, the expectation would be for the instructor to have more knowledge and experience than they do . . . so let’s put you in Quadrant 4.

The challenge you have is to figure out where your student is?

If your ‘student’ is in quadrant 3, the chances are you’ll spend more time mentoring them to develop their experience, but not as much time focusing on knowledge aside from some tips, tricks and hacks!

If the ‘student’ is in quadrant 2, then they will be easily able to relate to situations, stories and examples but you’ll tend to find their level of knowledge and concept awareness has room for improvement. Here practice isn’t the issue, instead it’s going to be getting them out of their comfort zone into new thinking.

If the student is in Quadrant 1, then you need to be careful. You have a novice trainee. Awareness of concepts is low, and lack of experience will see ‘rookie’ mistakes happening quite frequently. Caution and Care need to be taken with novice students, when it comes to ‘How fast you can teach.’

How much we can learn? How fast can we teach?

Depending on where you find your student is going to have a big impact on how much your student can learn during teaching—and when viewed from the other side, it’s also going to dictate how much you can teach.

If you find your student (or colleague) in Quadrant 4, you’re going to find almost no limits to what can or cannot be taught or discussed. This is something we should be able to relate to. When knowledge and experience between two people is similar, then you’re talking the same ‘Language’ with the same terminology. There isn’t a limit here when it comes to what can or cannot be discussed.

When you find your student in Quadrants 2 or 3 and there is a connection then teaching can be done at a higher rate. In general each training session can look to cover 5-7 teaching objectives where the student—drawing on from experience or existing knowledge will be more likely to accept and learn additional concepts and ideas.

When the student is in Quadrant 1, once again tings need to be slowed right down. When you think training can take 15 minutes you’re falling into the trap of ‘expecting’ your student to understand and accept your level of knowledge and experience at the same rate you would.

It looks like this.

The information Dump, long skill development and finally proficiency

You take everything you know, dump it in one continuous period and then expect that everything has been learnt, before the student goes off, develops competency themselves before they reach proficiency. Difficult? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Absolutely.

What you will find is that during the ‘Skill Development phase’ is that you’re going reteach and hand hold as they student tries to learn the skill.

Skills are delivered over a longer time as the student learns sections at a time.

Whereas information needs to be carefully managed in delivery. Even if it is one skill at a time! When the information is delivered in easy to digest pieces, it’s easier for the student to learn. Additional training can be given while the earlier skill is being developed, and this also adds context and clarity into the learning process.

The end state is that learning is actually faster when you teach slower.

Does the student need to know?

Without sounding like skills and information are secret or confidential one question becomes ‘Does the student need to know this?’ or ‘Will the student ever use this?’

I talked about this in training for emergency scenarios, but there are times where information and knowledge can be compartmentalized and isolated. One student may never need to know, while another will.

This is where modulisation comes in.

Modulisation is where the skill or knowledge is broken down by depth. An example would be where a basic or common tasks would be taught to those who would do the job, while more advanced or supervisory roles would be taught to more senior staff or more experienced students.

Less is more – You’ll teach faster.

Knowing what your student needs to know can often involve leaving subject matter out of teaching. It can be very cool and in some cases interesting to go deep into a subject, but there is nothing more confusing for a student when the instructor says ‘you will never use this . . . but I’ll show you anyway.’

The worst case is when the explanation precedes the ‘denial statement’ where complex matter is delivered before the student is told they don’t need to know. This is where attention has been drawn past earlier details and the student is told to strike the instructors testimony from the record. The problem is that the student can’t ‘un-hear’ or ‘un-see’ something and the waters have been permanently muddied.

The Key – How fast you can teach.

Training is the most valuable thing any expert or experience person can do. Passing on knowledge and developing people around you is the true sign of a master. But it’s also a dangerous time! The bigger the gap between the master and the apprentice, the more care that needs to be taken in teaching and how fast you can teach in order to achieve learning.

But the key is achieving learning is simple. Know that ‘teaching is a dialogue.’ Even though teaching can involve a lot of presentation and one way communication, the students are always talking back. The words are in their posture, facial expressions, and attitude. Make sure to pay attention to the body language and keep your audience in the training.

As long as you pay attention and ‘listen’ to your audience, they will guide the pace and if they’re with you—they’ll learn from you!


Have you seen this happen? Post a comment below and share it around, It’d be cool to know what you think and what you’re experience has been with situations like this, or check out other articles

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