posted 23 Aug 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 1
The training journey
Mick cope analyses the four key stages to effective learning.
Let’s consider the perfect ‘learning journey’ and the path it takes. One recent personal example was when, as a result of the encroachment of the male menopause, I decided to take my motorbike test and get a Harley Davidson. This was one of the most powerful learning experiences that I have ever encountered, simply because so much was condensed into a single week.
The condensed format and the freedom to deconstruct the journey afterwards offered the opportunity to reflect on the nature of learning within organisations. For me, the learning path to becoming a proficient rider took four simple stages:
1. Choose – owning the investment
This is the conscious and reasoned decision that I made to learn to ride a motorbike. Now, although this might appear to be a relatively simple process, in reality the choice is important because it is about owning and taking responsibility for the learning. I had to learn to ride, I had to study for the exam and I had to deal with the pain and embarrassment of the first fall. No one else could do that for me so the private and public choice to learn is a key factor in this journey.
In the same way – for those of you who are trainers or run workshops – you know that the intent to listen and learn comes mainly from the mindset that people have when they walk through the door. Although we can sometimes transform ‘antis’ into ‘evangelists’, ideally our role is to feed those who are hungry and not to force-feed people who have little appetite for what we can offer.
This was so clearly evident on the first stage of the motorbike course, where some were there to ‘learn’ to ride a bike, while others were there simply to get the certificate that would enable them to go out and pull wheelies – two very different mindsets. I would argue that the same training intervention will deliver two very different outcomes from the same course.
2. Training – gaining the knowledge
The next stage was having to learn both the theoretical and practical aspects of riding. In itself this was a fascinating exercise because it combined a range of cognitive, affective and behavioural processes in such a condensed space of time. One big lesson I learned is that because I chose to learn and was not pressured, I took time to study for the exam. I braved the cold, I went out to learn, I did not make excuses.
3. Coach – application with support
It was interesting to watch how the tutors moved so easily from the role of instructor to a position where they were coaching us. So they gave us the basic safety first (school of) riding. This gave us confidence that we would not kill ourselves on the first outing – and also gave the instructor confidence that they would not have to go through the pain of taking us to hospital if we dropped the bike.
4. Do – embedding the learning
In London recently I was talking to a cabbie, who described his learning journey. First, he spent four years studying his theory of London routes (which takes longer to learn than many university degrees), before riding round on a moped to get the physical characteristics of the land.
This got him to the position where he proudly gained his cabbie badge and he thought that all his worries would be over. Far from it. He then endured six months of hell, half-a-year in which he realised that the theory was very different to the daily reality. Although the theory might suggest a particular optimum route, just how do you deal with passengers who think they know better; who offer an endless stream of advice and who ridicule you because you don’t know where a small cul-de-sac is in the far West of London?
For him this embedded learning came from a number of routes. First was going through the pain of doing it (like getting blisters on your fingers, when learning to play the guitar). Second was the use of war stories within the cabbie community to share lessons learnt.
It is this social learning theory considered by Bandura that emphasises the importance of observing and modeling the behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. He suggests that, “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do”.
Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally: from watching others one forms an idea of how new behaviours should be performed and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. Social-learning theory explains human behaviour in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioural and environmental influences. It is this all-important aspect of the learning journey that is often lost when significant training investments are made by corporations.
In summary we might suggest the perfect learning journey as an unfolding of four key processes:
1. Choose – Taking ownership of the need to learn and all consequential activities to achieve that;
2. Train – Taking on board the cognitive, affective and behavioural traits necessary to deliver the outcomes;
3. Coach – Putting it into practice and developing the necessary behaviours;
4. Do - Making it real and sustainable through experience, interaction and conversation.
The question we need to consider as a learning community is to what extent do we help people move through all four stages? Do we responsibly help move people and so create behavioural learning that is sustainable or do we just keep exposing them to yet another training solution? I wonder to what extent a failure to provide sustainable learning is damaging both organisations and their people.
Mick Cope is founder of training consultancy WizOz. He can be contacted at or