9 December 2013
One of the things that fascinates me about learning is how often things just stay with you, even when you don't always realise the significance, or sometimes that you've even learned them.
I try to think about this when I am training, coaching or mentoring people.
I had an example whilst out food shopping the other day. My companion was taking her time over choosing her wine and I, having offered my advice, had wandered of into a trance further down the aisle to give her thinking space. Then a voice at my elbow hissed; "Stop it!" My transgression was that I was facing up the display of bottles.
Why this bothered her I'm not sure, but whilst I was doing it quite unconsciously I knew why I was doing it. Many years ago we had a supermarket arrive in our village high street. Our mums had encountered this phenomenon in our nearest towns, but a supermarket in the village! For us teenagers it was a potential source of employment though, for there were not that many paper rounds and the interloper seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the likes of us on afternoon and early evening work that we could go to after school.
It was not work that suited all of us though; shelf filling involved a modicum of physical effort, handling packaging is grubby work and is not kind to hands or fingernails. It was also a mindblowingly boring job and one where you were constantly hounded over the speed at which you worked. But speed was not all, quality was equally important and your bottles or stacked cans had to be perfectly aligned, or faced up for the display had to look the part and, much as I resented the constant pestering and criticism I could not deny that a well done display looked good and a poor one didn't.
It was an early lesson in customer perception and in the importance of attention to detail. As jobs go it was one of those that I would rather forget in almost every way, but those two things that I learned back in the 1960s have stuck with we me. Although I may not have appreciated them at the time, those lessons were well worth learning. The teaching methods may have been unsubtle and alien to many people today, but they worked as was demonstrated by my actions in the wine section: forty-five years later and I still do it instinctively.
It also raised the question of teaching method, for facing up shelves was a lesson that I was taught through what would these days be called bullying, but it has stayed with me when other things taught perhaps more softly have been lost.
The times tables are another example, for we would chant those as a class, the teacher, having removed one of his shoes for the purpose, banging time with said shoe on his desk. They too are still with me, yet that is a teaching method that has been long derided.
For those of us in any form of education, and I include those who are teaching their teams in even the most informal way, how people learn and what makes them retain knowledge is a fascinating topic. Learning will always be our future, and we should be doing all that we can to promote it, whatever the teaching method.
John Bowen is an FM consultant