Today my teacher told me…

If you’re a parent you may have suffered the experience of your child coming home and excitedly announcing ‘today my teacher told me …..’ when it’s something you’ve been talking about for weeks. Yet, somehow they took no notice until the teacher told them.

It happened to me this week but it was my husband rather than my children this time.   He’s doing a TEFL course whilst teaching English part time and this weekend he went to a 2 day workshop.  I’ve been keen to hear how he conducts his classes, how they are received and how well his students are doing.  He’s reasonably forthcoming but doesn’t want to tell me too much in case I make too many suggestions or offer ideas.  It’s almost as if he’s resistant to who’s telling him – I’ve even tried subtle coaching conversations – but of course he can see through those. At work you may have the same experience of people return from a learning experience full of ideas you’ve told them about before.

My husband has returned newly enthusiastic about the all the techniques and tips he’s learned.  But, surely, if he’d only listened to me for the past few years it wouldn’t have come as a revelation?  Why is it that all my tales of training, good and bad, haven’t given him the same level of ‘lightbulb moments’ as this course?  I’ve been reflecting on why this may happen and why it’s actually OK.

Some of it may be do with timing and pre-exposure to information. He’s already heard all my stories, even read my book, and had some of the theory through the TEFL elearning  so now he was keen to see it in action.   When you’ve started to build connections in your brain – either consciously or unconsciously – it’s easier to take in related information.  When you expose people to ideas by talking about them before formal learning experiences you build awareness and create a framework on which to hang ideas.  This is why managers are so vital for effective, ‘sticky’ learning at work – they start the connection process.

Elements of motivation are important in this mix.  Because my husband has actually started teaching he now has a purpose for finding out how to manage particular behaviours or how to structure a session so everyone gets a chance to participate.  If there’s no reason for you to learn something it’s going to be much harder to do it.  He’s now also got real life experience of the sort of challenges trainers or teachers face so it’s become more personal and more concrete and he’s looking for real answers and not theoretical ones.

When we’re told something, however fascinating, it’s never as exciting as self discovery.  My husband was curious about this workshop and curiosity increases dopamine levels which makes the experience pleasurable. When I’ve told him about great sessions previously, his curiosity wasn’t aroused probably because I gave him all the details and didn’t leave any mystery.  How can we build more curiosity into learning at work rather than handing it all over on a plate?

Master Class

When you get to participate in something you’ve got emotional connections, social connections and a full sensory experience to draw on and excite you.  When someone at work tells you something, unless they are a truly brilliant story teller, they can’t recreate a complete experience so it’s never as engaging or memorable as doing and discovering for yourself.

Perhaps too there’s something about who helps you learn. With any current relationship, work or personal, there are all sorts of complex emotional reasons why you may or may not want to take advice, information or experience from that person.  This may be one reason to bring in external training support because there isn’t a prior connection – we can take this person at face value.  And there is also something about the label of ‘teacher/ trainer/ facilitator’ – they aren’t the regular person we know well with all their flaws and human mistakes. The teacher is labelled as an ‘expert’ and we know from the science of influence that we value what an ‘expert’ says more highly than those around us – even when they give us the same information.

And perhaps there’s something about investment too?  When we’ve invested significant time, effort or finance into something we’re more likely to value it than something we are given freely and easily.

So next time someone from your team or your family comes back triumphantly and tells you all about something you’ve been talking about for ages there’s no need to feel frustrated or disappointed that they didn’t learn from you.  You were a significant part of that learning experience and may have been the catalyst that started the reaction that led to the fire.

Remember to get in touch if you want to introduce ‘sticky’ learning experiences into your organisation or to support your clients with evidence based learning.