10 Mar Sticky training

By Anthony Richards

This short provocation examines the use of professional role-play as an effective way of not just telling or showing, but really involving delegates in the practicing of theoretical concepts in personally memorable ways to enhance and develop ‘people’ skills.

Trainers can have all the knowledge of a subject in the world, but how does it get transferred to the learners in a training session, so the return on investment is long-lasting?

As guardians of our Human Resources are we interested in peddling knowledge, or is our purpose to develop skills?  This question is especially important when developing people’s soft skills – interpersonal communication skills to achieve a given aim.

People skills are by definition the skills to be used when interacting with other people.   If we were to talk about developing rugby skills would we expect skill development to happen in the lecture theatre or on the training field?

How does it work?

Tell me, and I will forget.

Show me, and I may remember.

Involve me, and I will understand.

  • Confucius, 450 B.C.


Since 1984, Confucious’ simple and key idea has been called Experiential Learning, developed through the work of the educationalist Kolb.   He developed the notion that understanding is not fixed, but rather it evolves through experiences. Kolb identifies four stages of experiential learning, which are:

  • Concrete experience
  • Reflective observation (facilitated)
  • Abstract conceptualization
  • Active experimentation

In this process, learners have the concrete experience of trying to do something.  The trainer is then able to help a learner reflect on their experience, often with the help of peers, and they can then introduce ideas and concepts to help explain the experiences in order for the learner to consequently construct a more developed personal approach to try again, to get more concrete experience, and the cycle continues.

Soft skills are all about interactions with people, and so it makes sense for learning to be done on a training field with people.  Simply put, the notion is that old fashioned passive ‘chalk and talk’ teaching methods are far less effective than when the learner is actively central to the process, as they are in facilitated role play. In a culture where coaching and the development of self-efficacy are championed, the individual’s own confidence in their abilities is key to their successful achievement of tasks and goals.  Particularly with regard to people skills, confidence and the internal evidence of having successful encounters are key components to the successful execution of behavioural change.

When skilled and flexible actors are able to generate credible characters to create really concrete experiences it provides for a powerful learning encounter with long-lasting impact.

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