Putting Ourselves in Learners’ Shoes

Teaching others is a great way to learn.

When training others or delegating a task, one of the hardest things to do is presenting the information in a way the person understands.  Sometimes we think of this as “explain it as you would to a 5 year old.”  It really boils down to putting ourselves in the position of a beginner when we are the expert.

This article delves into this topic nicely.  While it focuses on college professors, it really applies to anyone is I the position to help others acquire new knowledge, skills, or abilities.  Putting the educators in an uncomfortable position of learning something new really served as a reminder of how difficult it can be to pick up on something you don’t know.

While it’s not necessarily practical to have managers and trainers master a difficult puzzle in order for them to empathize with others who are learning, there are some actions that help put them in a better position to do so, including:

  1. Make sure there is good two-way communication during the learning process.  When delegating a task, a manager should ask the delegate to describe what is being asked of her/him/them in order to demonstrate understanding.
  2. Explain things to people in multiple ways. This leads us to think about tasks in more than one way (e.g., only the way we think is best) so that it’s understandable to a wider audience.
  3. Be patient with the learner as he/she/they attempts the task.  All of us learn through both success and failure.  You need to let both of them happen and that takes time.

We all learned what we do in our work with sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, teachers.  Our effectiveness in delegating or teaching tasks partially lies in putting ourselves in the position of the learner rather than the expert.  By thinking of ways to do that, we’ll be more effective in improving the skill levels in our organizations.

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