SECTION THREE Theories of training

This and the following sections of the manual will provide a detailed explanation of the intellectual processes behind training and learning. Although explanations are presented as “theories,” the principles actually are quite well established, and they have profound practical implications in training. It is because of this “real world” importance that trainers should understand and be able to apply concepts presented in the following pages. This will ensure that trainers are conscious of factors at work in their trainee’s learning capabilities, and will enable the most effective transfer of knowledge and skill.

Domains of learning.
In the 19th century, instruction tended to be a simple transactional process. Instructors presented material in a manner they considered understandable, and learners were expected to learn. At that time, trainers had nothing more complicated than this in mind. Those who did not learn well enough or quickly enough were considered somehow personally negligent, and methods were used to reinforce learning that would make failure quite uncomfortable. In Europe and North America slow learners were even punished. At the very least, those who had trouble learning were stigmatized or ostracized. You may be familiar with Charles Dickens’ novels that contained themes about the negative consequences of this simplistic and harsh way of enhancing learning. Inherent in the perspective of that era was the assumption that learning is primarily the responsibility of the learner, and the instructor’s role is merely as a conduit to material. Needless to say, punitive practices used to motivate learning usually have only marginal, short-term effects.

In the 20th century, a new movement arose that offered an alternative conception. This movement attempted to adapt scientific models and to apply them to the learning process. Adherents of this new philosophy espoused the belief that learning could be carried out with the same discipline and precision used in science, and that this would produce more consistent results. Such an approach to learning was mirrored in the application of so-called scientific methods to a wide range of fields. For example, there was a scientific management school that argued for strict application of the principles of physics and mathematics in organizations. These movements had many unfortunate outcomes, but they also led to some positive results. For one thing, in the field of education they focused attention on the nature of the relationship between the instructor and the learner. It soon became clear that learning was a much more complex task than had originally been thought. Additionally, the role of the instructor was recognized as important to the success of a learning exercise. One could not blame the learner alone when learning failed to occur. Teachers had an obligation to become skilful in transferring knowledge and to make learning as easy as possible for their instructional charges.

As the decades passed, and with the further application of science, most particularly the study of physiology and psychology, knowledge about the process of learning grew more complete. What emerged as research into learning continued was that there were actually multiple dimensions of learning, not just one. It also was realized that learning in each dimension was distinctly different, requiring contrasting sets of skills and abilities. This meant that a person might be brilliant at learning in one of those dimensions and not in others. It also meant that instructors could not rely on only one method of presenting material; they had to tailor their method of teaching to the nature of the particular dimension of learning involved in the instructional task.

These dimensions are usually referred to as domains, a term that denotes broad categories defining distinctive types of learning. Conventionally, three domains have been identified by researchers—cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills. There are also subdivisions within these domains recognized by researchers and other experts, but generally most instructional theorists accept the three as adequate descriptions of learning categories. Indeed, it is important to emphasize that most persons who study learning and learning behaviour believe that there is not just one mental aptitude, but many. Experts discovered long ago that an individual who has strong verbal abilities may or may not have good mathematics abilities. Likewise, the person who is recognized as a good writer may not seem to be very skilful when speaking orally on the same subject. Their spoken aptitude may not match their writing aptitude because the two capacities require distinctly different skills and mental abilities. The exact number of different mental abilities is not known, though some experts believe there are many, not just a few. This is an area of ongoing research, and there is still much to be discovered on the subject of learning types.

Cognitive learning. The first of the domains mentioned, and possibly the most familiar, is cognitive learning. This type of learning requires individuals to “internalize” facts and information. Generally, when you mention learning most people believe that you are referring to some adaptation of the brain that enables some new kind of thinking ability. It is this thought-based function that cognitive learning refers to.

Learning facts and information might take the form of simple memorization—how to spell a word or to name the capital cities of Asian nations. It might also mean gaining an understanding of concepts in which ideas are connected in some specific way, for example spatially or by some type of ordered relationship. Psychologists have studied cognitive abilities for about a century, but many questions still remain, and research continues into how the human brain actually works. Technically speaking, cognition is considered to be any kind of ability in which mental abstractions (words, propositions, images, and the like) of information can be processed and used. Intelligent learners are better able to process the abstractions and to do so quickly. Cognition has been defined as the process through which knowledge is gathered, including distinguishing, recognizing, devising, and reasoning.

Interestingly, it has become well accepted among researchers that the way human brains carry out cognitive tasks varies greatly from one culture to another. Even in similar cultures, for instance ones in Western Europe, tests meant to measure cognitive learning abilities in one society are known to be unable to measure the trait accurately in others. People who show high levels of cognitive learning may succeed in the academic setting but may not show higher levels of ability in daily work situations or in coping with everyday life challenges.

Training in the cognitive domain stresses improvements in the quality of thinking activities accomplished by moving trainees toward learning goals. The trainer’s role is one of adjusting the learning situation to enhance the pace of learning and to arrange the sequence of learning points to best fit the material being presented. Simplification and organization seem to be keys to the enhancement of learning in cognitive training. Many trainers also focus their attention on building strong motivation into the learning exercise—typically through tactics such as gaming and competition, structured recognition and reward systems, and the like. Other trainers emphasize the importance of making the learning engaging, especially through the use of puzzles and other intellectual challenges for the learner. In the end, however, the learner controls most of the factors that influence the outcomes of training. Learners must be encouraged to set their own objectives and to strive for these goals. In a constructive learning environment, these goals are influenced by the successes of others in the training group and by the supportive leadership of the trainer.
One of the most common types of abstractions included within the domain of cognition is the ability to learn or “memorize” meanings and associations of words. This can include the meaning of words, lists of terms, and so on. It includes any other kind of learning that involves acquiring facts and knowledge. Facts not only mean numbers and words—that is, the sorts of things we normally think of memorizing—but the way that a thing looks, such as its colour and appearance. It can include sounds, and other types of impressions that our senses give us. Cognition might involve such things as the steps in troubleshooting a piece of equipment, the proper way to light a set, the procedures for filing budgets in our organization, and so on. Beyond mere memorization, cognitive learning also involves problem-solving, decision-making, and explanation. These are obviously complex processes, but we can generally define a series of steps required in each. Take, for example, problem solving. First, must come an awakening of interest in the problem, then a review of the issues, an analysis of the problem, tentative formulation of explanations or solutions, weighing of these options, and finally selection of the best option. This is then followed by some kind of evaluation as the option is exercised—in other words by asking, does the solution work correctly as expected?

It is not enough to merely complete a problem solving activity, but the solutions developed need to be retained for future uses. Even the experience of developing solutions creates thinking skills that can provide improvements in coping with a wholly different set of problems at a later time. A way of understanding this phenomenon is provided by schema theory that asserts that knowledge is constructed in learners as an intricate network of abstract mental elements that are linked together in meaningful ways. The idea was initially offered by Jean Piaget has been elaborated more recently by educational psychologists such as R. C. Anderson. These networks (schema) are open, so that new knowledge can be added at any time. Hence when a completely new topic is learned, our mental processes try to fit it into a larger pre-existing network of understandings. Each schema can contain sub-schema and each sub-schema can have linkages that extend to other sub-schema. All schemas will be in a continual state of revision and reorganization as one acquires new knowledge or uncovers errors in knowledge. This then requires that the learner retain in memory the cognitive gains produced in the learning exercise by incorporating them into existing schema. Memory thus is an important aspect of learning and will be discussed in greater detail in the next section of the manual.

Psychomotor skills. There are some tasks that require a different mode of learning than that needed by cognitive abilities. Take, for example, the skill of riding a bicycle. Training a youngster to pedal and steer the bicycle so that they remain upright is an experience shared by practically every parent. It is possible for a child to understand what actions are necessary to keep a bicycle upright while pedalling, yet be totally unable to perform the movements. Consider what is expected in this learning task. This skill demands more than cognitive learning, it also requires an ability to use muscles in a very particular way, a way that is not necessarily “natural.” The actions necessary to accomplish tasks such as bicycle riding, playing football, or swimming demand special physical abilities. These are called psychomotor skills, also sometimes known as sensorimotor, perceptual-motor, or simply motor skills. Abilities such as these are associated with the sensory and motor segments of the brain’s cortex. Other examples of activities that require the development of psychomotor skills include keyboard touch typing, playing a musical instrument, and driving an automobile. In the realm of broadcasting, tasks such as operating a video editing console, news reading, and operating an audio mixer, all require the development of psychomotor skills to some extent, though naturally other kinds of mental processes are required as well.

It should come as no surprise that because psychomotor skills are so different from cognitive learning, the training required for their development must be different as well. Acquiring the skills needed to play a piano cannot be accomplished in a lecture hall; it has to be achieved while seated at a keyboard, playing and playing, perhaps repeated daily for years. Knowing how to play a piano is only the start of becoming a pianist; it must also involve honing one’s physical abilities so that pressing the keys (and the pedals) produces music of pleasing quality. Motor skill training aims to refine a person’s ability to produce coordinated muscular movements. We know that this coordination is governed by signals a person picks up from the environment. That is to say, the learner acquires the ability to sense needed movements and to match his or her muscular response so as to produce those movements. Pianists listen intently to their music in order to determine how they should move their hands and fingers to produce the desired sounds. Generally in building psychomotor skills, training tends to focus on demonstration and repetition of the specific physical acts necessary to perform tasks. This means that learners must acquire the ability to observe their own physical movements and to analyse and interpret them properly so as to correct and enhance their performance.

There are several characteristics of psychomotor skills training that distinguish it from others. First, the trainer ordinarily operates in a one-on-one mode, with the trainer working directly with only a single individual. It is not generally effective to work with an entire group at once. It may be possible to have a group of trainees working on their skills individually within the same room, and the trainer may be able to move from person to person, working with each one in turn. But the basic need in psychomotor training is to provide observation and feedback on an individual basis because each person will have unique errors that need correction. Secondly, the kind of feedback given each learner is in the form of “coaching,” to direct the trainee toward improved physical mastery of skills. Conventionally, this follows the model in which the performance is observed, the trainer looks for discrepancies, then advises on how to correct these deficiencies, and the trainees repeats the performance. This leads to another round of observation and correction, and so on. Progress in learning is often uneven, with learners’ abilities frequently reaching a plateau or possibly even declining before showing improvement. Direct sensory feedback plays a big role in this type of learning too. This occurs when the learner can observe his or her own physical movements and then determine individually what corrections are needed to reach the expected level of performance. For example, good pianists learn to improve their performance by listening to their own playing.

An interesting aspect of psychomotor skills is that once internalized, they remain a “learned” skill thereafter regardless of the passage of time. Such skills can be retained for years without regular use. Imagine what might happen if you tried to ride a bicycle after years of not using one. Your attempts would be awkward at first and you would seem a bit unsteady, but you should be able to keep the bicycle upright without too much difficulty. And if you rode the bicycle each day for a week or two, your skills would have returned to nearly the same level as when your abilities were at their peak. Hence you did not “forget” the skill entirely, and with just a little practice you would be able to restore most of your abilities in a short time. Recapturing that level of performance requires only a small fraction of the effort that was needed to achieve it the first time.

In some ways, the demands of learning psychomotor skills impose fewer burdens on the trainer than other types of training. The performance is usually easy to observe and therefore judgments about it are not difficult to make. There need be little guessing about what the trainee is thinking, or about procedures—if the performance matches the standard required, that is usually sufficient. There are a number of ways that standards can be stated, depending on the aims of the physical actions required by the skill. Sometimes, the performance would be evaluated on the basis of speed—how quickly the actions be carried out. An example here is touch-typing, which is usually rated by the number of words per minute that a person can accurately type. Sometimes psychomotor performance is rated by complexity of coordination. A skill of this type might be juggling—which is typically evaluated by the number of balls a juggler can keep moving. Or perhaps the skill might be evaluated by precision. An archer will be scored by the number of many bull’s-eye hits achieved by a given number of arrows. Or, performance might be judged by some other criterion, as in the distance a thrower is able to toss a javelin.

The main factors that seem to influence psychomotor skills learning are motivation and the presence of accurate feedback about performance. Successful skill development is dependent upon some essential attributes, one of the most important of which seems to be perception—the ability to sense cues that can be used to guide muscular actions. Learning how to receive and interpret such cues is perhaps the first step in gaining a psychomotor skill. It works this way: a good golfer swings the club, conscious of the motion and force conveyed by the sensation of muscle movements throughout the body. Tiny seemingly instinctual adjustments are made to correct movements so as to accurately send the ball in the desired direction and for the desired distance. Of course, the adjustments are not instinctive at all; they are the product of training that developed the sensory ability and the brain-muscle coordination demanded by the sport.

Of course, as in all types of learning a significant determinant of learning capacity is purely genetic. Not all of us can become great pianists; some people are simply born with more talent for a specific skill than others. But an individual lacking ability in one physical performance does not mean all other psychomotor skills are deficient as well. A person who plays the piano poorly might have excellent skills as a swimmer. On the other hand, it is normal that a skilful performer in one skill might be able to develop equal skills in a closely related psychomotor task. Thus, it is not unusual for an athlete who is capable of a high level of performance in football to demonstrate a talent for basketball. It is believed that the ability to read, interpret, and respond to muscle clues can sometimes be adapted from one sport to another.

There is usually a psychomotor dimension for almost any type of skill for which we might offer training. For example, skills such as explaining a diagram in making a PowerPoint presentation involve some degree of speaking skills, in addition to the cognitive functions that are required. And speaking skills are mainly in the psychomotor domain. Also involved would be physical abilities to operate the computer skilfully and with proper coordination and timing. For this reason, some attention should be given to the psychomotor dimensions of all training activities.

Attitudes. The training of attitudes is the third and final domain of learning. We define attitudes as the tendency to think and behave in persistent patterns according to one’s predisposition toward events, objects, persons, organizations, and the like. Attitudes are closely related to the concepts of opinion, sentiment, and beliefs. Most experts argue that the concept of attitudes is broader than mere opinion or beliefs. Attitudes refer to a consistent way of thinking about a general group of things, whereas opinion and beliefs are limited to a specific situation or thing. The concept of sentiment is even more expansive and less well defined than attitudes.

Another word often used to describe this category of learning is affect, though this is usually taken to mean something somewhat different. The affective domain is taken to mean the consistent patterns that govern the way that people respond to the world at an emotional level. Affect refers to any mood, feeling, or emotion that influences behaviour. It is a technical term borrowed from the field of psychology. In practice, the term refers to the states of mind that cause a person to behave in certain predictable ways.

Moods, feelings, and emotions might not seem to be the kinds of things that a trainer ought to be concerned with, but they can be extremely influential in the way people carry out their work and in the way people react to events in the workplace. For this reason, we believe that these are facets of human behaviour that deserve close scrutiny in training programs.

Attitudes influence action in many important ways. If we have negative attitudes toward our work organization, we will surely perform less effectively than if our attitudes are positive. Creating a positive atmosphere in the workplace is an important aspect of attitude training. More specifically, attitudes play a role in aspects of work such as punctuality, safety consciousness, performance precision, and motivation. Training aimed at attitude development or attitude modification can shape all of these. Consider the issue of safety consciousness. This is undeniably important in every job setting; we all want our staff members to be able to work without worry of dangers and to work in a way that ensures non-threatening conditions. Although few persons would disagree with the proposition that safety is vital in the workplace, yet some individuals knowingly behave in ways that compromise it. Attitude training about safety can raise consciousness of the importance of safety issues and promote positive attitudes that lead to less hazardous behaviours on the job.

There are other ways that a person’s affect can result in problems on the job. If a person feels negatively about their work, it is likely to alter the way that they respond to co-workers. Such an individual may possibly lose interest in cooperating with others and may become unwilling to listen and respond appropriately to fellow workers. Such an individual can not only undermine efforts of others to work effectively, but their behaviours can set in motion a chain of undesirable actions that range throughout the work group and beyond.

Attitudes weigh heavily in an individual’s judgment about what is important and what things are valued. A set of values that are out of step with an organization’s goals makes that person less useful in moving it toward its objectives. Of course, an organization should be tolerant of diversity of viewpoints and values, but if an individual’s values contradict ones needed to fulfil the organization’s needs it will be a recipe for disharmony and conflict.

Among the three modes of learning, training of attitudes is commonly thought to present the greatest challenge. The chief problem faced in this sort of training is that a person’s attitudes are internal states. A trainer cannot directly observe the attitudes of learners. At best, they can be seen indirectly through behaviours that hint at individuals’ internal states of mind. Although this is also the way cognitive learning is assessed, the means for making attitudes observable are not so easy to construct as ones for cognition. Evidence about attitudes can be compiled through questionnaires, and it is possible to infer attitudes from other kinds of behaviours or from physiological measures such as heart rate or Galvanic Skin Response (commonly known as lie detectors). But none of these are practical in the training setting. Broadly speaking, human beings tend to be shy about exposing their deeply felt attitudes to others. This is especially true if a person’s attitudes are considered unpopular or likely to arouse suspicion. In such situations, individuals tend to hide their attitudes or to send misleading signals about their true feelings. All of this may be done unconsciously. Attitudes are elusive and not easily understood, either by the person holding them or by others who observe them. Most people are not fully aware of their own attitudes, and they seldom reflect on their states of mind. Even if we do evaluate our attitudes on a particular subject, we tend not to judge them accurately.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of training in this domain is that firmly established attitudes are not easily changed. Training over a period of a few days or weeks cannot possibly much alter attitudes that have been formed over a lifetime. As a matter of fact, the definition of an attitude is an enduring pattern of thinking about a subject. So, if an attitude is truly enduring, by definition it will be resistant to sudden or capricious changes. For this reason, there is a very big difference in the strategies employed for attitude formation and for attitude revision.

Establishing a new attitude on a subject where no previous mind-set existed may only involve building a clear and compelling justification for the new attitude. Even this common sense approach may not be effective. When it becomes obvious to learners that the trainer is attempting to influence their attitudes, there is a natural tendency to become suspicious of the trainer’s motives and aims. Even if this were not the case, attitudes are not always built on the basis of facts. Indeed, the most firmly held attitudes can be formed in the absence of any sort of reliable information.

Bringing about a change in already held attitudes requires trainers to first offer convincing arguments against attitudes held and then arguments in favour of the new attitude. This sounds simple, but it is actually quite difficult. The entire exercise is based upon an appeal to logic, but as we well know, people do not always behave rationally. If people were truly rational, they would not drive automobiles recklessly, smoke cigarettes, or engage in other types of risky behaviour. Furthermore, humans tend to resist externally imposed changes in attitudes, because they disrupt individuals’ accepted norms. Disturbing these accepted positions can be uncomfortable and unsettling, so most individuals do not welcome challenges to their existing set of beliefs. Rather, people tend to seek out information and facts that support and reinforce their established attitudes.

Psychologists also have noted a factor called “instrumentality” in shaping our willingness to modify attitudes. Instrumentality refers to extent to which a thing or subject is valued by individuals. Changing your opinion on a topic of little importance to you will be easier than changing your opinion on a matter that you consider of great significance. It would probably be easier to convince you to change the brand of your toothpaste than it would be to convince you to change your attitudes toward members of your family or to change your views on political matters. The subjects like the latter are ones that are at the very core of our identity as humans and therefore matter a great deal to us. We are unlikely to modify our beliefs on those things, but our brand of toothpaste is something that counts for little either from a psychological point of view or from a practical perspective.

Features of learning.
The conditions that play into the effectiveness of learning can generally be divided into two categories: external and internal factors. Together these two explain why, on one day learners may adapt quickly to required learning tasks and on other days seem unable to achieve similar learning goals. Some factors influencing learning are persistent and others are ones that shift in response to changing circumstances and conditions. External conditions that can affect learning are environmental in nature (Is the training room comfortable, noisy, or hot? Are distractions present?) and conditions that influence motivation. Internal conditions are ones such as persistent behavioural patterns (learning styles, work habits, and time consciousness) and inherent individual characteristics that may affect learning (intelligence, ability to concentrate, and vision and hearing sharpness).

Learning is closely associated with stimulation of the senses. For instance, it is known that about 75 percent of knowledge that adults acquire is gained through vision. Hearing accounts for about 13 percent, and all other senses account for the remainder. Based on this, it is clear that training needs to focus its knowledge transfer on sensory perception, most particularly vision.

Studies have indicated that graphic representation of learning points and the use of strong colours do indeed produce improved learning. Moreover, it is theorized that if learning can simultaneously utilize multiple sensory inputs such as hearing and seeing, then even greater benefits will be realized in the transfer of knowledge.

Reinforcement in the form of rewards and punishments for meeting learning goals in the training setting is still advocated by some practitioners. This concept derives from the idea that any behaviour is influenced by an individual’s anticipated consequences. In this line of thinking, a learner will seek to demonstrate desired behaviours provided that either the benefits are great enough or the punishment for failure is severe enough. This approach is an outgrowth of the field of behavioural psychology. Although learning can be improved by the application of these principles, most training professionals do not agree that, in the long term, the heavy use of reinforcement is wise. It is quite likely that trainees will eventually feel manipulated by the practice and become resentful of the training methods, especially when there are negative consequences associated with failures to meet learning goals. For this reason, reinforcement may be more useful if applied with caution and integrated with other techniques for improved learning.

Generally, the authors of this manual prefer to accept the principles advanced by theorists such as Carl Rogers who founded the humanistic school of psychology. One of his key ideas was the one cannot impose learning on another person; rather the trainer can only facilitate learning. If the learners are not open to their own training, then there is little opportunity for learning to occur. Thus, the first step in learning is to cooperate with the learner in defining learning goals. Those goals must be seen as having relevance and benefit for the learner, or else there is little chance that the goal can be achieved. Finally, how those goals are met will vary with each person, as every individual will have unique experiences that can be employed in moving toward desired learning goals.