I have talked before about working for a tech support organization and about KCS (Knowledge Centered Support). For the last two years with this company I have been a trainer in charge of developing, maintaining, and giving trainings. It has been a lot of fun and has been one of the biggest factors in helping me discover that I love teaching and want to become a teacher. I love knowing something and helping others to understand it as well. While I do give all trainings that a new employee needs, I have also been assigned as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) for a few specific trainings, in charge of creating the trainings and making sure they are up-to-date and I am the primary trainer when these trainings need to be given. KCS is my subject, Knowledge Management has been something that I have studied and learned for the last few years, and I’m pretty sure if my company wanted to pay for me to go and take the test that I could easily be KCS Certified by the Help Desk Institute. But that’s a different story. I want to talk today about the process of teaching that I discovered as I developed the KCS trainings for my organization.
As I developed this training, I realized that there was a lot of information that I wanted our new employees to know. There is an entire regimen of trainings that lasts 4-6 weeks with classroom discussion trainings, hands-on trainings, and listening to other employees taking phone calls. There is almost an overwhelming amount of information that they are expected to learn in a very short time. I began to realize that if I taught them everything that I wanted them to know all at once, the training would easily take 3-4 hours, and no one wants to sit in a training meeting for 4 hours. Not even me! So I decided to split the material up into different parts, no more than an hour each, and give separate trainings that build upon each other. And as I thought about it, I had to come up with an order to teach certain concepts so that they made sense. And what I came up with can be used as a pattern for teaching almost any subject. I’m sure it’s not anything new, but it was a novel idea to me and I’m pretty excited about it.
Why –> How –> Details
That’s the pattern. Teach them why it’s important, teach them how it’s important, and then teach them the details needed to understand.
Why – Why has to come first. How often do we hear students ask “Why are we learning this? When are we ever going to need this?” Students need to understand why they are learning what they are learning. The have to want to learn or they won’t learn. A good discussion about Why at the beginning can help students gain the understanding and the desire to continue learning. They will then put the effort in and do what they need to do to learn. They understand Why they are learning.
How – Once students understand Why they are learning a thing, they need to learn How to learn that thing. Or How to apply that learning. In My KCS trainings we cover Why KCS exists and Why our company likes KCS principles, and then we talk about How these principles apply to our organization and How we use them. In my ideal German class (the one that I hope to teach someday) I really want to start the first day – (after doing a quick introduction to the German language that helps students realize that they can indeed learn German – look for a future post on that idea) – I want to start with a discussion on Why do we learn German, Why is German still relevant. After we, as a class, have explored all of the reasons for wanting to learn German, I want to steer the discussion to How do we learn German. I want to briefly overview the language learning process with my students, help them understand How they will learn German, discussing phonetics, cognates, reading and writing and watching and listening to German, etc. All of the useful ways that I have learned over the years for learning a foreign language, specifically German.
Details – After students understand the Why and the How they can begin learning the Details. They now have a good educational foundation and can begin learning the actual Details of what they are trying to learn. This is what the rest of the semester is for: learning the language. Once you understand Why and How you are learning you are more likely to learn well. You are now prepared to learn all of the Details and concepts required. I would spend the first day or two of a class on Why and How, but the rest of the year is learning the Details, with occasional references back to Why and How to help students remember Why they are there and How they can succeed.
This pattern can be repeated with any subject. It provides an excellent model for explaining things to students so that they better understand. I’m sure this is nothing new, but I haven’t heard anything about this in any of my Teaching classes. But it seems to make a lot of sense to me. Maybe it’s just the way that I think, but Teaching just makes sense if you start with the Why, go on to the How and then advance to the Details.