Course design 5: Tell ‘em what they need to know – not what you know

I was once asked to design training on ‘Mental Health awareness’ for support workers. The training was to be delivered by a fairly large group of trainers across the whole of UK. This presented its own problems in that each trainer had their own particular views on some very controversial aspects of the course.

The danger we faced as a team was that we ran the risk of becoming so bogged down in our own differences of opinion that we forgot the people we’d be delivering the training to. Let me give you an example.

One of the more contentious parts of the course involved the different ways we thought about psychiatric diagnosis. This is a specialist area and only as people become well versed in the fine detail of what’s known as ‘differential diagnosis’ do they realise just how unevidenced many of these diagnoses can be.

As a group of trainers we were all very aware of the different disputes about diagnoses such as schizophrenia or the various personality disorder diagnoses and not surprisingly we all had different opinions. It would have been really easy for us to argue about the pros and cons of schizophrenia or the meaning of recovery in mental health services but that would have been beyond the understanding of our trainees.

It took us years of experience in practice even to understand the issues, let alone form our opinions about them. It would be unrealistic, unfair and even cruel to demand that same level of discernment from support workers in a single day’s training course. It would also fill them with so much doubt that they would be unable to feel confident about the work they would still need to do the next day when they returned to the workplace.

We will never help to enhance anyone’s confidence by wasting their time on topics that don’t involve them – especially if the only reason we do so is to show them how clever we are. Trainers aren’t paid to prove how clever we are, we’re paid to help people to develop appropriate understanding and skills.

So remember the rule…

Tell ‘em what they need to know – not what you know


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