The number one way to learn

People are generally considered to learn in three ways: through observation, through reading, or through experience. Depending on what you are trying to learn, any one of the three methods could be number one. However, one method has proven to be, without a doubt, the best method: experience.

Every week we put a thought of the week on our company website. It is always a motivating saying to give people something to think about during the week. One attention-grabbing quote came from James Joyce. “Errors are the portals of discovery.”

Some people may have missed the whole message because they didn’t pay enough attention to the image that accompanied the saying. It turned out to be as exhilarating as the saying itself. An image below Mr. Joyce’s words showed a forklift that had fallen off a loading dock. What many people may overlook is the cargo being carried by the forklift, a missile lying precariously in a broken box.

This forklift driver could have read manual after manual to learn how to operate the forklift safely. You may also have watched video after video designed to teach you how to maneuver and operate the forklift safely. However, it is doubtful that any lesson had such a great impact or lives on in his memory as the day the forklift derailed at the end of the dock.

When people invest in their employees, they are making an investment in the only asset the organization has that will be appreciated. Equipment will depreciate, inventory will support maintenance costs, and while the property may increase in value, there is no way to capitalize on the gain without expensive new financing.

Fortune 500 companies have realized the importance of developing their employees through training programs. Many people have discovered for themselves the need to invest in themselves to expand and upgrade their skills. However, as with any investment, research shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to invest.

Safety videos, textbooks, manuals, online training and other modes of education do not provide a return on investment by themselves. On the other hand, statistics show that experiential learning has a return on investment of 42: 1.

Regardless of what lesson you are trying to teach someone, it is possible to find an instructional method that allows for experiential learning. Sometimes it takes creativity. However, my experience is that there is always a method available. Take, for example, the forklift driver. We wouldn’t think of handing over the car keys to a teenager without first starting to learn to drive on a test track or on a deserted road. However, normal training for forklift drivers is usually done by video and manual only. What if the forklift driver was first asked to gain experience in a remote corner of the warehouse using empty boxes? Perhaps even including test scenarios, such as a stack of empty boxes on a pallet that was too high for the container it needed to occupy.

For maximum results, be sure to review your training programs to constantly increase the level of hands-on personal experience to facilitate the best learning with the highest return on investment.


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