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Laws Of Learning Applied To Training

My only hope is that we review our approach every now and then to ensure that we do not take the fundamentals for granted

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Training is defined as a systematic process that enables learning and practice to take place with a clear objective to invoke change in the competency of another strategically through appropriate and acceptable methods. 

Learning may happen by accident. However, for a training session, the learning must be planned and thought through carefully. This is to ensure that the objectives are met and that no time is wasted on unnecessary actions or activities. 

In line with the above, the trainer – the person who is responsible to enhance the competency of another, is expected to create a safe and controlled environment for the participants to learn effectively. For this to happen, trainers must first equip themselves with the “Laws of  Learning”. A trainer should be aware of what are the elements that influence learning to occur. This would be highly beneficial in the efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the training conducted. 

Laws of Learning 

Edward Lee Thorndike, an American psychologist proposes through his studies in the 1920s that the process of learning has its own sets of conditions or “laws”. His learning theory has been the main reference in the formation of many teaching strategies in the field of education.  

Based on the studies, the “Laws of Learning” are: 

The Law of Readiness 

People are found to learn best when they are ready and willing to learn. Readiness to learn can be both emotional and mental. People who are emotionally ready when they feel like it or have a positive attitude towards it. They can be mentally ready when they have the necessary information, experience, or awareness of the subject matter. 

One of the reasons we have icebreakers in a training session is to allow the participant to open up to the idea of the topic or subject matter before introducing the heavier main contents.  

The Law of Effect 

People are more willing to repeat what they like and avoid what they do not. A pleasant feeling accompanying the learning process will enhance it further rather than a feeling of being forced or uneasiness.  

This why it is critical for us trainers to create an environment where the participants do not feel intimidated or forced to participate in any activities. As much as possible we should strive to at least get a “mental consent” that the training is not to find fault or expose their weakness unnecessarily.  

The Law of Exercise 

People learn by doing and purposeful repetition can strengthen learning. Therefore, it is critical to be conscious of the objectives and ensure every action and activities support the targeted learning outcome. 

We can expect to have better learning and engagement with practical exercises where the participants can straight away apply the lessons based on the concepts and theories that were imparted to them.

The Law of Primacy 

The first impression tends to have a more lasting effect and the same principle applies to learning.  What people learn first will shape their understanding of the subject matter – regardless if it is right or wrong. 

For trainers, it is best to be aware of any glaring argument points to the basis of the subject matter. This is to ensure that we are always ready and not caught off guard by questions or interjection that objects what we are about to present to the participants. 

The Law of Intensity 

The greater the impact or impression, the more vivid the experience becomes. The more vivid the experience, the longer the learning is retained.  

Although we must ensure some level of intensity in our training session delivery, it does not mean that we should be extreme in our approach. The impact can come in many forms – not just theatrics and shock value. Being deeply passionate about the subject matter can also help in transmitting the right energy to the audience. 

Further Enhancement to the Laws of Learning 

Many years after introducing the original “Laws of Learning”, additional supporting theories  also emerged later, such as: 

The Principle of Recency 

People remember most what they recently learned. Like the “law of diminishing returns” (a  term commonly used in economics), as time progresses, people tend to remember lesser and lesser of what they have learned. Due to this phenomenon, the closer the actual application is to the learning process, the higher the chance of it to succeed. 

We need to recognise the principle of recency so we can carefully plan a summary for a lesson in a learning process. As the trainer, we can repeat, restate, or reemphasize important points at the end of a lesson to help our participants remember them. The principle of recency often determines the sequence of the topic within a course of training. 

The Principle of Freedom 

People like the flexibility to touch, feel, and explore on their own when learning something new. This enables the participants to identify and unearth any potential gaps in understanding and possibly find a solution or answer to bridge that gap on their own. In return, they will have a sense of achievement that comes together with that discovery – an active learning process.  

On the contrary, if no freedom is granted, or if there is any feeling of restriction, our participants may have little or no interest in the learning process. 

The Law of Requirement 

The law of requirement states that “we must have something to obtain or do something.” It can be an ability, skill, instrument, or anything that may help the person to learn or gain something else – a new ability, skill or even knowledge.  

For example, if a person wants to learn how to draw, that person will need to have appropriate drawing equipment and materials to be able to do the drawing action – draw a point, a line, a  shape and so on until he or she reaches the end goal in a form of the intended drawing. Therefore, it is essential for the trainer to be aware of any prerequisite – physical or mental,  required by the participants before introducing the topic or subject matter.

I am sure many of us are aware of the above “Laws of Learning” and have embedded them in our training delivery over the years. My only hope is that we review our approach every now and then to ensure that we do not take the fundamentals for granted and assume that once an approach fits a group of participants, it will fit all – especially in facing the ones from a newer generation of employees that have entered the workforce in recent years. 

All the best! 

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Ahmad Fauzan Othman
Written By

Ahmad Fauzan Othman is the Lead Trainer for HRDF Train-the-Trainer certification course and has trained various level of employees from the private and public sector. Fauzan has been actively sharing content online since 2015 and has conducted numerous webinars which have had viewers from across the globe including Poland, India and South-East Asia. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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