Re-evaluating Your Training Methods

Jeremy Wright, Noria Corporation
Tags: lubrication programs

In teaching lubrication and oil analysis for more than a decade at Noria, I’ve seen many things remain constant over the years. Friction and wear along with keeping oil as clean, cool and dry as possible (contamination control) have always been at the core of the curriculum. I’ve taught these things with such repetition that more than once I’ve found myself on autopilot, as the words and concepts seem to just flow as I tell the story of machinery lubrication.

There is an old Latin principle called “docendo discimus,” which means the best way to learn is to teach. This certainly holds true for the material you are trying to convey, but little did I know that it applies to other things as well. After mastering the content, I started to notice other things that were happening in the room. I picked up on body language, eye movements and attention spans. As I focused on each of these elements and perfected my skills, the feedback I received from participants improved. However, what truly made me a better speaker was having a greater understanding of my audience and how they learn.

Andragogy is the term that Malcolm Knowles used to explain his six assumptions about adult learning. Knowles was considered an influential figure in adult education for much of the last century. His six principles have helped me become a much better instructor. These principles work to convey almost any type of information. I merely had to adapt them to my audience.

Motivation

My audience is internally motivated and self-directed. Most of them are listening to me because they want to improve. They desire to learn as much as possible so they can add value to their roles at their company. They will resist learning if they feel I am imposing information, ideas or actions on them, so I must present the information to make it seem as if the end goal is their original idea. No matter what you are conveying, you must foster this internal motivation to learn. In order to accomplish this, I employ a few techniques, such as the following:

  • Lead the audience into questions before supplying them with too many facts. This fosters the idea that they are the ones driving the topic of discussion when in reality it is exactly the path you wanted to take them down in the first place.
  • Develop a rapport with students before the session even starts. Your goal is to optimize your approachability and encourage the asking of questions.
  • Show interest and give undivided attention when students want to share their thoughts, opinions and experiences. You will better learn what their particular motivation is and can then cater to it.
  • Ask point-blank questions. At the beginning of a course, I like to come out and directly ask, “Why are you here?” or “What are your expectations?”

Orientation

Maintenance professionals generally are problem-solvers rather than content-oriented individuals. They want to know how the material relates to what they want to achieve. There are several ways you can facilitate this during training. The method I prefer is a very direct approach. I will simply ask the participants a question or series of questions that drives them to make their own conclusion about how best to apply the material they just learned to one of their own problems. I’ve found that the retention of data is directly proportional to how relevant the topic is to solving their problems. The one issue that arises here is that sometimes the audience doesn’t know enough about the subject to even understand their problems, so this must be addressed first.

Foundation

Most of my students have a wealth of knowledge. Some have been mechanics or millwrights longer than I have been alive. One thing I had to learn was how to use this foundation of knowledge to the benefit of the group. If you can make the environment conducive to knowledge sharing, these plant veterans will help you teach the course. They love to share their experiences, so learning to be a moderator for the discussions that arise is essential. These reflective learning opportunities make sitting in a classroom much more tolerable for a maintenance professional. The amount of knowledge that can be transferred is quite substantial as long as you are doing your job to moderate and steer it.

One downside to this is that along with the great experiences can also come incorrect information or practices. You must be able to quickly identify, assess and redirect the conversation if necessary. You do not want to disrespect or chastise the participant for sharing, but you also don’t want to lose control of the material or the end goal of the training.

40% of lubrication professionals say training is the most important factor for continuous improvement of a lubrication program, based on a recent poll at MachineryLubrication.com

Goals

Understanding your students’ goals is also important. Are they trying to learn information to take back to their plant and make a difference, or are they attempting to pass a certification exam? Each of these scenarios requires different teaching methods. If they are looking to pass a certification exam, you should focus more on vocabulary and theory. If they want to have an immediate impact on maintenance and plant operations, concentrate more on hands-on types of activities.

One of the easiest ways to discover your students’ goals is to simply ask. I also like to do this covertly. If I can find out their goals without directly asking them and can speak to those goals, it makes them feel that I am speaking their language, and a better connection is made.

Practicality

Consider the typical maintenance professional. These individuals work well with their hands, are mechanically inclined, think rationally, focus on solving problems and have good common sense. These are just some of the traits that make them great at their craft. You must cater to these characteristics. Don’t just show them a picture of a sealed or open bearing. Let them touch it, spin it around and turn the inner race. This is how they learn best. Try to move them away from the typical classroom environment and more into hands-on, problem-solving exercises. If you must be in a classroom environment, be extremely explicit about how the material relates to a field practice or particular job.

Respect

This is something I had to learn quickly. The balance and relationship that a teacher and student have is delicate. It’s not a dictatorship, and trying to preach to them in the style of a college professor will never work. At the same time, you must also earn their respect without being overbearing. By using knowledge, you can make this process easier. At the beginning of the training, you must set the tone, pace and expectations. You are in control, but at strategic times you can give the illusion of releasing that control so the students can share their experiences.

How do you know you’ve done a good job? When former students contact me asking more in-depth questions about material that I may not have even covered, I consider it a success. My ulterior motives are to inspire my students to become curious enough about the subject to actively seek out answers without external motivation. I also know I have been successful when I receive emails or calls from former students who are now trying to teach machinery lubrication to their peers.

I wish someone would have explained these principles to me years ago when I first started instructing courses. They have been instrumental in my success at teaching what most people would consider a dry and boring topic. It doesn’t hurt that I’m extremely passionate about it, and this is conveyed every time I have a group of people who are willing to listen. If you would like to see these principles in action, please contact Noria to learn how you can inspire change through education.


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