The Curse of Knowledge – Avoiding The “Brain Dump”

“Brain Dump”.  It’s one sure-fire way to derail your training message and turn off your learners.  Let’s discuss how you can avoid this killer.

“Brain Dump” – The act of  a) reciting everything we know on  a topic for a grade, b) quickly bringing someone to speed on a topic, or c) showing others how much we know, or how smart we are.

a) Is what we were taught to do in school.  Tell the teacher verbally, in open discussion, or in writing what you have learned or memorized about the subject.  Then you are graded.  The more detailed and accurate the information,  the better the grade. 

b) Is often necessary with co-workers and is intended to help them get going quickly.  In this situation, the recipient wants just the information they need now to get the job done.  It’s done best by covering the key points and asking frequent checking questions.  If the questions reveal a lack of understanding, more information can be provided.  A quick demonstration can also be helpful.

c) Can be deadly when others have limited interest or knowledge, especially when you are teaching others about the topic for the first time.  Unless the topic is of personal relevance to your participants and they are motivated to pay attention, diving into the subject in great detail will quickly cause their minds to wonder.  All learning comes to a stop.  Try to remember that learning is about them, not you!

The Curse of Knowledge

The caution in the title of this post is to beware of dumping too much information on those you are teaching.  You probably know a great deal about many topics, but this can be a “curse” when you are training.  It took you a long time to learn all that you know about….let’s say ergonomics or hazardous waste management.  You can’t expect others to learn it in one training session!

The fact of the matter is that if you were able to add it up, it probably took you weeks or months to learn everything you know on just one subject.  Your learning probably involved classroom instruction, reading, group discussion, observation, writing, practice, providing some instruction to others, assessment and self-assessment.

Don’t Let Fear Get In The Way  

One big reason that so many new trainers, or those who train infrequently are guilty of overloading their class with detailed information is fear.  The most common fear is getting up in front of others and speaking, or in this case teaching.  Another fear that you don’t know enough to teach others on the subject.    Fear causes tension and thoughts about what might happen. 

Relax!  What is the worst thing that could really happen?  Believe me…. you’ll do fine.  Take a deep breath and remember the basics about teaching.

When planning any training program it is very important to create clear learning objectives, and if a skill is involved observable behavioral objectives.  With these objectives in mind, focus on the pieces of information or demonstration that must occur, and the sequence in which it will be provided. 

Try to narrow the content you will cover.  Ask yourself, at what point in learning (about ergonomics) are the employees?  How important is this to them and their job performance?  How can you frame the information so it is current and relevant to them personally?  How much is it reasonable for them to learn in a single session?  From there you can design the course content and decide on the number of sessions required and the methods you will use to teach.

Begin With An Outline

With any group of learners it is important to begin by introducing the subject, discussing how it relates to them, why it is important, and how it will help their job performance.  Then outline what you will cover and ask about their level of experience and understanding.  This frames the topic for the participants and orients them a bit to what they will experience.

It can be helpful to conduct a short pre-test or group discussion on the topic before you begin teaching.  This way you can verify their current level of knowledge and confirm your starting point.  If you need to make adjustments you still have the ability to do so.

When a skill or procedure is involved, provide instruction that is more hands-on.  Begin by discussing and demonstrating the skill.  Then have the individuals practice the skill with their peers observing and learning to coach one another.  This peer-to-peer approach speeds the process of learning and greatly increases retention.  It also encourages open communication and team leaning, and it gives them experience in coaching that can be helpful late on. 

Focus On The Goal

The goal is to teach and help each individual learn, so they will perform their work better and more safely.  Confusion, misunderstanding or incomplete learning won’t help or improve safety.  Most safety trainers I’ve met really care about their workers’ safety and want their classes to be successful.  That’s why using the K.I.S.S. principle is so important. 

Recognizing that you have the “Curse of Knowledge” and need to avoid the “Brain Dump” will not only make you a better teacher, but help make your training more successful.  Training and teaching so much fun. Relax, smile and have fun!