What method of learning is most effective?

There are many reasons that we learn. It could be due to curiosity or an outright need to solve a problem that we have to deal with. So what method of learning is most effective? When it comes to your business and the courses you deliver, you need to know how to maximize the effectiveness of your teaching for your clients.

There a numerous ways that we experience and retain information, all the way from listening to it, through to teaching it. And it may seem overly simple, but if there is a more effective way of learning then why isn’t that method of teaching used all of the time?

Realistically it’s not that simple.

There isn’t a one ‘method to teach all’ approach out there, but instead we can look at something like a representation of the learning pyramid to help add some perspective on the issue.

Learning is usually achieved Visually, Audibly or through Doing

You see depending on how we experience information we retain different amounts of it after each exposure. We typically learn in one of three ways; Visually, Audibly and Kinesthetic (Doing & Practice).

These three types can be broken down further in how we experience information and subsequently how much information that we can retain after exposure.

A quick look at the learning pyramid shows that in order to learn most effectively we should be teaching others.

So do we run off and start teaching everyone who will give us their time and attention?

In practice this (thankfully) isn’t how it’s done . . . unless you’ve lost a bunch of weight and start calling yourself a fitness expert.

In my experience I had close to a decade of technical and practical experience in multiple trades before I was taught how to instruct others.

The Learning Pyramid - How much information we retain after being expose to new information
The Learning Pyramid

Why? Because before you’re allowed to instruct others, not only do you need to know what you’re teaching and all of the material therein, but you also have to prove to others (often more senior and experienced) that you satisfy the long list of criteria that is required to justify becoming eligible to be an instructor.

Otherwise you have the risk of people teaching others skills they don’t understand, and delivering it incorrectly and also badly.

Long story short, even once you become an instructor and you’re learning reaches the highest level of effectiveness; you come full circle and are left trying to figure out how to make teaching as effective as you can make it for your trainees and clients.

As an instructor—your learning is very high, but it’s not about you anymore . . . you’re trying to get the most for your students. The more effective your students are, the more effective you are!

So with Teaching off the table; What method of learning is most effective?

The answer will be revealed shortly, and will be evident soon.

Different subject matter will have different demands. Let’s say that you run a course on ‘How to renovate homes.’ Chances are this program will be quite detailed and will have many objective concrete skills that can be taught in practice, whether they be painting, or home staging etc.

However if your course is dealing with something far more subjective and interpersonal such as ‘How to build effective teams’ then teachable content is going to be delivered far differently.


“The more effective your students are, the more effective you are!”

When we put the above examples side by side the differences are easy to see. Different & differing skills are going to need individual and specific approaches. And these adaptive approaches are not only going to be needed for high level content but individual approaches are going to be needed for low level teaching objectives.

So, What method of learning is most effective?

In short . . . the method that achieves the highest level of take away competence is the method that you want to use.

In an earlier article I talked about training for abnormal & emergency situations. Preparing clients for these types of situations ideally is not something that you can simply talk through or show a power point on. It’s something where you want to look at exercise based scenario specific training and have clients actually practice what they need to learn and know.

On the other hand, when it comes to learning how to conduct demolition on parts of a house for renovation this is something where practice is not going to be available or is going to be very limited until it’s done for real, so a visual . . . video of something done earlier will have to do.

What method of learning is most effective?

The one that works for what you’re teaching!


Ready to take your lessons to the next level? Lesson Development & Delivery will teach you everything you need to know to get there.

Training for Emergency and Unlikely Situations

The 404 error
Expect the unexpected

It seems like a dire subject when we think about training for emergency or abnormal situations, but not all training can ever be planned & delivered for completely predictable or ‘safe’ environments or scenarios.

So before we dive into this topic further how can we define ‘safe’?

Safe can have many definitions depending on the industry or the subject that is being instructed upon, but let’s for the sake of the article settle on ‘safe’ being;

“A secure environment where activities can be conducted without risk of disruption & where people have no exposure to any threatening hazards of any sort.”

Let’s just work with it for now!

So . . . When we use a definition such as this, abnormal can technically be anything that falls outside of the above definition and emergencies can not only be disruptive to operations, but also hazardous to the people and material conducting activities.

Training can be Disruptive
Training can be a costly and disruptive process

One thing to think about at this point is that abnormal or emergency situations can typically be regarded as rare. And when we think about rare circumstances our natural tendency is to want to ignore them.

As an example, motorcyclists are encouraged to practice emergency braking techniques often in controlled environments, but how many actually practice? Emergencies likely won’t happen to us, so why bother to keep the skill up to date?

You can see where this is heading, but one point to remember and really take note of is that training is expensive, both as a client, and also as an instructor. So knowing that an abnormal or emergency situation is not just possible but potentially probable and that preparation can be expensive, we are left with two options that we can examine.

  1. Training can be expensive so if a situation is not likely to happen then is it worth covering?
  2. The possibility is known, but we choose not to prepare for it.

One point to make clear now is that abnormal situations vary on an absolute scale between industries and sectors down to certain individuals, but the local scales of the impacts can be large regardless, whether it be a disruption to service or operations leading to some down time through to a situation that can impact on thousands for an extended period.

New York City Blackout, 1977
Some failures will have bigger impacts than others


So what is the cost of training & what is the cost of failure?

This is now venturing into risk management, but training carries two costs. Firstly as a client it is going to cost the upfront value of the training, and also the time that it is going to take to become competent in a skill.

Let’s set time at $100 per hour (Cheap in some circles) and say that a course is going to take 40 hours to complete. As a client you would expect the course to be set at No Less than $4,000 excluding other consumables, and that it will take a week to complete.

If you’re an employer, not only are you going to be staring at $4,000 per trainee, but you’re also going to face 40 hours of disruption while the trainee goes through training and those roles and responsibilities need to be distributed elsewhere.

Naturally if something is unlikely and this can save 10 hours of training then this becomes a corner everyone wants to cut. It gets trainees back into work, clients trained sooner, and costs are reduced.

So this corner cutting can save 10 hours & $1,000 dollars per trainee, but what happens when the training required to handle failure is not delivered?

If an organisation has 20 employees and a manageable failure occurs which disrupts everyone for 2 hours, then the cost of this failure is $4,000 (personnel costs only).

If training could have reduced the impact from 2 hours of downtime to 1 hour, then the extra disruptive training pays for itself after the first failure, and our costs (Theoretically) balance. Each failure in future which becomes better handled actually saves an organisation money. But . . . This is actually not the complete point here. Read on!

So is it about prevention & Risk Management?

Rarely used skills need to be kept up to date for when they may be needed.
Emergency Braking is a skill that must be kept up to date.

Training for abnormal or emergency situations is much less to do with risk management but most importantly more to do with being able to respond and react to the abnormal situation itself—and preventing additional failure once an event has occurred. 

Unlikely situations can be taught, but are seldom remembered when required. How can proper preparation be achieved?

We make the emergency more likely!

The use of exercise or simulator based scenario training is exactly how we prepare for unlikely and emergency situations. Setting up specific training scenarios (where required) is how we create proficiency and skill in people who have to deal with unlikely and emergency scenarios.

Rehearsing specific scenarios is exactly what makes regular people extraordinary in emergency or crisis situations, and this can only be achieved through scenario specific training with repetition.

Soldiers are regular people who have been trained to do extraordinary things.
Training makes regular people extraordinary.

Carefully setting the outcome, creating the situation, and then let the scenario play out. As an instructor in these training situations it can be important not to get involved and simply take notes on what takes place for feedback later. The timely & accurate feedback is what will make your clients and an organisation better where required.

As mentioned training is expensive—particularly on organisations. Staff are out of place, roles & responsibilities need to be distributed to maintain output, and there is also the financial cost. Clients will pay both in dollars and hours, but this final question is not only directed towards employers;

What is the cost of failure?

And to educators running lessons and courses, if you know there is an abnormal situation; What is the cost of ignoring these lessons?

Theory or Revision – When do people learn?

People are not equal! It may seem incorrect to say but we’re not. Adding to that all clients are also … not equal! Clients learn in different ways, and also have different motivations which have drastic impacts on their individual outcomes.

However in this case—client equality and their motivations really don’t matter, because in this post we’re really looking at when most learning occurs, not how!

If you’re looking at instructing as part of your business or start-up, being an effective instructor is a must. No entrepreneur or start-up business owner wants to instruct a lesson or hold a course where the clients come away with very little knowledge at the end.

Not only do you want to deliver an excellent teaching product, you want your clients to recommend you to others. Makes sense right?

So When do people learn?

So having pointed out the obvious, let’s go a little deeper, because one thing that we need to be aware of here is that teaching and learning are two very different things.

“Teaching” is done by an “Instructor”. “Learning” is done by the “Client!”

So as an Instructor how are you going to achieve the most potent learning experience for your client?

Is your client going to learn during the ‘teaching’ or are they going to learn later when they ‘revise’ previously delivered material? Wherever they will learn is going to dictate how you create your lesson or course!

Revision is Student Driven to re-enforce earlier learning

I’ll give you the answer at the end of this post and the truth is shocking!

On many courses that I have attended throughout my working life, I have been taught one subject, revised and then assessed the next day to prove competence. As an instructor you’re going to face the same challenge. You will need to teach and have a client either prove competence with little to no application or be able to apply those skills later.

Time is the biggest restriction you can have.

The situation reverses as a manager or an educator within an organization. You can spend far more time teaching and seemingly not see competence in the person being taught.

So … what is more effective? Teaching lessons? Revision lessons? When do clients finally learn?

Unfortunately the answer isn’t within either of the major lesson types above. Simply speaking teaching lessons have to be delivered so that new skills can be taught. Revision lessons are there to re-enforce prior learning.

Between the two however, revision is more often than not more effective at developing the skill level of a trainee or a client.

How much we remember

Why? Depending on how material is delivered the audience will forget up to 95% of taught content. (Makes you wonder how we learn anything) However revision lessons not only re-engage with the remembered material but also trigger the activation of ‘forgotten’ material from previously.

Especially if the revision is practical the information retention can be as high as 75% . . . a far cry from 5%.

So using the logic and the stats from above, revision lessons are the way to go! Absolutely however you cannot revise a subject that has not been taught!


Experience through application is where your client will learn the most.

So our answer now looks pretty clear. Quickly teach a subject with high audience engagement and get straight into revising the subject material. This is how we attain maximum learning . . . right?

The Shocking Truth.

When it comes to designing a course there really isn’t a specific formula that you can use to achieve a maximum outcome. All subjects are different and need a differing approach.

But the real shock here is that your audience will not learn the most from you during either teaching or revision. Your client will learn the most about a subject on their own long after the teaching has been done.

When a client enters or is forced to enter a period of application without support, they will learn the most at the fastest rate. It’s during the time of application that a client will learn >100% of what you would have been capable of teaching. They will learn things through experience that you may not have had as part of your training itself.

An unfortunate truth to being an instructor is that you cannot achieve proficiency in your client. You can only give the knowledge for a client to become competent in a skill but you cannot give them experience. Experience through application is where your client will learn the most. Our job as instructors is to prepare them to be independent.

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 2 – Detours & Diversions

Previously we looked at presenting from experience, now we’re going to see how to make sure we can Control a training presentation from the planning stage.

But we can’t always just go from experience, or we can’t always have the audience drive the training during discovery. Sometimes when it comes to new teaching we need to bring something more than ourselves to the class.

Sometimes there are concepts that are too complex to simply ‘talk’ about, or explain through with the use of a metaphor.

These more complex ideas need more than words, and often require the use of pictures, or other graphics or some other form of training aid.

Now imagine that you have a detailed picture, simple graphics or some other appropriate representation of a concept. Is the representation enough to explain itself? More often that not, it won’t. If they did, an instructor wouldn’t be needed.

Enter . . . the Queue.

The incomplete prompting point which leads to further expansion.

These typically find the most use, when more than a few points need to be remembered  in careful sequential structure, or when lots of small points need to be raised. Each point is easy to discuss but queues are used to maintain structure and sequence during training rather than be useful in their own right. The major point to be careful off from experience is to make sure that each queue has a stop point.

Queue cards can keep you on track
Queue cards can help plan and keep you on track

What is a stop point? This is the final piece of information that ‘completes’ that queue, before you look to the next queue.

Why do we need the stop point? Sometimes a queue can not only remind of where you are, but can lead to a flowing avalanche of information. Without a stop point to remind yourself ‘where to stop’ you can accidentally achieve flow and derail your entire presentation by getting out of synchronisation with your training aids. I’ve had this happen and the results are spectacularly bad!

There are also times when your teaching subject is naturally going to raise a lot of questions from your audience.

Detours & Diversions; The forks in the road. 

Some subjects especially ‘conditional’ or ‘grey’ matter can cause your audience to spend more time thinking about asking branching questions or ‘detours’ rather than focus on the subject being taught.

These are exactly what they sound like; detours that naturally want to take training away from the pre-determined lesson plan.

Your lessons may run into upcoming detours

When you deliver ‘grey’ or ‘conditional’ matter organically with high audience engagement, then detours are relatively easy to handle. The audience can ask an expected question and you can answer it quickly or it can be postponed to another time when it will be covered in more depth.

Control a training presentation is what its all about.

However there are times when a question is so obvious that it has to be handled either before the audience has a chance to ask it and take up time with discussion or;

An answer needs to be on standby as you attempt to skirt around the question in the hope of saving your time for the training itself. Either way detours are questions that you will need to prepare for with some subject matter.

In the next and final installment we look at how to and when to use scripting for presentation preparation

How can you prepare your Presentation? – Part 1 – Queues & Prompts

More often than not there is more than one way to get something done. Preparing a training presentation is no different.

I start with the lesson plan so that I know what is going to be covered.  Then it’s time to think about the audience and where I’m going to give the training. Finally then I’ll be able to think about what I’m going to put in front of the people I’m teaching.

It’s a flow. A process! If one thing changes during planning then so does the final product, and training is a product.

One subject, can be delivered numerous different ways to achieve slightly different outcomes. Whether it be to teach for the first time, revise, or to discover amongst an audience who already have some form of subject awareness.

Go with the Flow

Now, there are going to be times when you’ll be able to deliver your training without any formal presentation. These sessions are great, because they demands flow & presence while being fluid enough to adapt to your audience in real time.

These are what I like to call the ‘organic’ presentation,or ‘organic’ teaching. These also can come across like you’re; making it up as you go, because in effect during the delivery of the training, that’s what it looks like is happening.

However from a preparation point of view, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact when training like this comes off so seamlessly to make it appear like you’re making it up as you go, then that’s the ultimate compliment, especially when your audience comes away with having learn’t the training objectives.

But thinking that an instructor is making it up as they go is as wrong as you can be. These lessons are not just prepared or rehearsed, but the subject matter is so well known that only a seasoned subject matter expert in the material can even truly attempt to deliver a training in this manner often after having delivered these individual lessons previously.

The Ability to teach from experience
Teaching from Experience

So just do it from experience!

So if these lessons require so much skill and can only be done by true ‘subject matter experts’ then surely the ‘organic’ design and delivery are the way to go right?

Hold on for a second before you pass that conclusion. A delivery style, just like a lesson type and all of the other variables that go into teaching are part of a great big toolkit to the instructor. Organic preparation and delivery is all good, but its only a single method and it has weaknesses.

So what are they?

Organic approaches naturally tend to be geared toward a higher ‘caliber’ of trainee. How so?

Without a presentation and perhaps only few training aids, organically delivered lessons which are delivered almost entirely from experience can come out with great depth of information and they can be delivered too quickly. Without self-control and a high degree of audience engagement instructors can go too far too quickly and leave the audience behind.

These teaching lessons can also sometimes begin to blur the lines between teaching and coaching, and when an instructor asks too many questions too quickly the student can definitely become saturated.

Not ideal.

In the next installment we look at how to prepare for distracting questions

Why your Audience won’t Engage

Some days it’s Mac & Cheese and others it’s a slow cooked Beef Brisket with all of the trimmings. (Insert your own personal metaphor here!) I’ll explain as we go.

Find out some of the reasons your audience won’t engage in training.

The practice of instructing others so that they can gain independence, is many things. It is intimidating & a time intensive. It’s also a professional investment, and requires patience. It is also mentally demanding and because of that can be quite exhaustive.

But this article isn’t some rant about how teaching has some prices to pay before the investment reaps rewards. Not at all! Not everyone is cut out to instruct. But for those that are (and those that have), each lesson has the looming specter of attention loss in the background.

Boredom & Distraction are a threat to every lesson

I’m talking about the lack of, or refusal for ‘students’ to engage. The risky situation that no matter what your best efforts try to achieve, result in what is the worst case scenario for any instructor—attempting to teach an audience that simply isn’t ‘there.’

You see I’ve taught countless lessons, and I have literally (and legitimately) taught teenagers how to handle explosives, as well as other skills where the difference in a single digit can literally result in fatalities.

But those were some of the ‘easier’ subject to instruct on. These subjects were slow cooked beef brisket.

They were appealing, demanded respect and focus. Most of all they were easy to capture and maintain the attention of the audience.

But not everything is Beef Brisket!

There are other subjects that are Mac & Cheese . . . Boring! Necessary but Boring! The worst thing is that some of the material can be relatively simple to communicate—such as teaching a Sales specialist the difference between two products, and the consequences that come with getting them confused.

Beek Brisket

“But those were some of the ‘easier’ subject to instruct on. These subjects were slow cooked beef brisket.”

Despite having immediate needs for knowledge and consequences, sometimes, Mac & Cheese just won’t get accepted or eaten by your audience. Your audience will look at it & leave it there . . . saving themselves for something better!

And there it is! In this week’s video I go through some of the main reasons that students tune out, but it boils down to one simple thing. We pay attention to what’s, useful, important . . . sexy!

Sometimes subject matter just isn’t sexy! It’s about getting your audience to pay attention. So how do you get your audience to tune in to boring matter?

What is attention?

Attention is a cocktail of reward & tension. Your training regardless of the matter must ‘give’ something. There has to be a value & reward with it. There also needs to be the threat of ‘take’, that there must be consequence attached to it.

Is there anything  better?

If you constantly provide value and reward then this will likely be accepted as a sure thing and the audience tunes out. If you over embellish reward the audience will tune out. If there is nothing other than risk, then the audience will accept the downside outcome and tune out.

When you’re dealing with mac & cheese and can’t explain why, the audience won’t even sit down at the table. What I have found to work best when it comes to dealing with ‘Mac & Cheese’ is to show its value elsewhere.

And showing value needs to be done carefully. Explaining that a dry subject which wants to push your audience away has value will keep them interested for a bit longer, but context needs to be added carefully.

If you show the full value early then you’ve just given your audience the best part of your training early enough for them to disengage.

Building and escalating on value, while building the bigger picture tends to have the best results, until you can get into something more interesting . . . like some brisket!

Is Instructing Hard?

Is Instructing hard?

It seems like an overly general question to ask if instructing or teaching is hard but let’s ask it anyways.

“Is instructing hard?”

Asking a question like this—about a skill that you may or may not have started to develop or use is like asking—is it hard to land a plane?

A seasoned pilot will say ‘No.’ A person who has never thought of flying would say ‘Yes.’ When it comes to instructing on any skill the worst thing for most instructors will be simply; getting up in front of others and starting.

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Are you Presenting or Teaching?

Presenting and teaching are similar but have differences.
What is the difference between the two?

If you were asked by someone to explain the difference between presenting and teaching what would you say?

You’d probably suggest that there isn’t much difference, right?

Now if you were delivering training, would you know whether you presented or whether you taught?

Chances are you’d be wondering ‘Aren’t they the same thing?’

After all presenting and teaching have many similarities. Both involve the delivery of information. Each can be done within the same environment, to the same audience, and both can be ‘carried out’ by the same people 
& both can be done in many of the same ways

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10 Tips to being an Awesome Instructor

There are few roles in a community or an organization that come with the responsibilities of a being a teacher. After all teachers and educators are the one who have the responsibility of communicating correct information to others. On top of that and everything that goes with it, an instructor’s aim is to achieve independence in the person being taught.

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How long should a lesson be?

It not usually something that you think about when you’re preparing lessons but an important factor regarding training outcomes, is How long should a lesson be? The other perspective is how long can a lesson take to deliver properly?

I said previously that training is expensive, and more often than not you may not have the time you need to do a subject justice. The chances are there will be external factors that dictate how much freedom, time and space you’re going to have when it comes to delivering training. When those external factors become too restrictive, as an instructor it’s our job to push back and demand more resources to get the job done right . . . otherwise you may as well not do it at all.

But how much do we ask for? How much time do we need?

There is no magic formula to figure out how long a lesson is going to be, and its easy to get caught out during delivery. Some subjects can sometimes end up being delivered much quicker than anticipated, and other times some subjects can end up taking up far more time than you think. So why does this happen? There are 4 main factors that determine how long a lesson ‘ends’ up.

Skills have different Demands

There are skills that simply take more time to explain and then to practice. The list of multi-stage, multi-step and conditional procedures and practices are endless, but when it comes to teaching any one of these procedures, you have to explain each and every step.

Whereas there are other skills that don’t take much time at all to explain and practice. Especially when there is no follow up skill, training can be prepared and delivered on the spot.

How deep do you need to go?

I wrote about training for emergency and abnormal situations just recently and this was all about making sure that as an instructor your clients have been trained for abnormal and emergency situations that may arise as part of a skill or competency.

Tip of the Iceberg — Image by © Ralph A. Clevenger/CORBIS
Much of any skill is hidden during practice.

That evolved into exercise and scenario based training which prepares clients for those ‘out of the norm’ situations. But there is also another element to this.

In the day and age of ‘The App’ which more often than not will do everything for you, there are going to be times where you may need to dive deeper into subject matter than just which setting the client needs to make use of. You may need to explain and teach how and why things are as they are.

Skill Level of the student

This is a massive factor. . . Who are you teaching and where are they at when you start? Are they conversant in the subject you’re teaching or are they seeing it for the first time, when you start talking in industry specific language?

This is where new students will either allow a lesson to be delivered in under half the time you need, or they will take twice the time for each teaching point. Qualifying students prior to starting a program is an absolute must, not just because of how much time you may or may not have, but also for the sake of other students.

The limit of what you can achieve.

It is important to remember that as an instructor there is a limit to what you can achieve during instruction. You can only ever achieve competence in a client who is learning a skill before they inevitably must go out on their own and gain their own experience.

Otherwise you will fall into the trap of diminishing returns. You can spend a tremendous amount of time with your client teaching, but then fail to give your client experience which they so desperately need. There is also the issue of what that time use does for your business model.

So how long should a lesson be?

How long should your lesson be?

There isn’t a hard & fast answer to this one. Some lessons are shorter and delivered on an ad-hoc basis, while other lessons need far more time; hours are not out of the question.

However the answer is all about how long you can maintain the attention of your clients. The general rule of thumb is that your client is going to start losing the attention battle after about 20 minutes.

Shorter lessons can obviously be delivered well inside the 20 minute attention span limit with ease as long as you don’t invite your clients mind to wander. Within the 20 minute barrier you can spend the majority of your time working with theoretical content, not only because you can maintain attention for 20 minutes but also there usually won’t be time to conduct a complete set of practice stages. (Taught during Lesson Development & Delivery)

“… but my subject needs more than 20 minutes …” I hear you say in obvious disbelief.

This is where your instructional skills are needed. At about 20 minutes the chemistry in your clients brain is signaling them to ignore you, you’re going to need to alter your approach. Beyond 20 minutes, you’re going to have to look at introducing practice to your training—simply just to keep them involved as well as to correctly develop and assess skills.

But what if there was a way to bust through the 20 minute barrier? What if science is wrong here? There are two ways.

  1. Create Emotional Engagement with the use of story. When told properly a story presents real characters each with a goal and the conflict to push through to get there. the conflict and struggle is what we naturally gravitate towards and once we are emotionally engaged, our attention spans extend significantly. But once the emotional engagement drops, the clock starts ticking again.
  2. The second is to get the audience involved. This is where the time required to practice skills needs to be set aside or other ways of engaging the audience are needed. Workshops … work for this reason due to the high amount of audience engagement albeit at significantly reduced teaching/learning.

Long story short—there isn’t a golden time, but remember if you can’t teach your lesson within 20 minutes, you’re going to have to make sure that you have some way to engage your audience further to make sure that your training is effective.


Ready to get your audiences attention? Teaching for Profit – Core Starting Skills will teach you the two most powerful teaching skills you can possibly learn.