Tip #617: If At First You Don’t Succeed, There’s Probably a Good Reason

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” Confucius

The first time I tried to make yeast bread (using a written version of an oral recipe from my grandmother), I waited three days for the yeast to bubble. It had actually bubbled within the first few minutes, but I missed it. Feeling frustrated and foolish, I never tried to make her yeast bread again.

What brought this to mind was a meeting to discuss the effectiveness of a newly created participant-centered curriculum. The subject matter experts (SMEs) responsible for delivering the curriculum had essentially ignored it and presented their lecture-based curriculum instead.

Why? There were a number of reasons:

  1. They did not understand the learning activities;
  1. They saw no value in using the learning activities;
  1. They had no idea how to facilitate the learning activities;
  1. They were uncomfortable trying something new in the classroom;
  1. They were overwhelmed by the detailed facilitator guide; and
  1. They were not given sufficient time to review the facilitator guide, participant manual and complementary PowerPoint slides.

I, at least, had had a strong desire to duplicate my grandmother’s bread. The SMEs had little reason or desire to facilitate the revised training program.

It became clear to me at that moment that the SMEs had not been prepared or set up for success.

These SMEs were field supervisors. They were very knowledgeable about their programs, policies and procedures.

They had no knowledge of adult learning principles and accelerated learning techniques. The rationale for transitioning from expert lecturers to facilitative trainers had never been shared with them. So of course they saw no value in using the activities.

Besides which, they had never seen or experienced the learning activities. It is very difficult to duplicate something you can’t imagine or comprehend.

And, the crowning indignity: they frequently received the new materials less than a week before they were expected to use them! Given that they were actively engaged in supervisory activities, there was literally no time for them to become familiar and comfortable with their new facilitative role.

During our meeting, I was able to explain the activities in greater depth and clarify why specific activities were used in specific sections of the training program.

The training staff present at the meeting also acknowledged the validity of the reasons for the SMEs’ resistance and promised to take the following remedial actions:

  1. Provide training for the SMEs in adult learning principles, group facilitation and classroom management techniques;
  1. Ensure sufficient time for the SMEs to review the materials and seek clarification when necessary; and
  1. Give the SMEs the opportunity to practice in a mini mock program with internal staff, prior to the actual delivery of the training program.

In the years subsequent to my abysmal failure with my grandmother’s yeast bread, I have learned how to work with yeast. It took good direction and lots of practice. Some of my yeast breads have been delicious and others have been as dense as rocks. But at least I now know what I’m doing.

It is my fond hope that, once the SMEs learn how to facilitate rather than lecture and they become comfortable in their new role, they too will enjoy greater success. They will finally know what they’re doing and why it is important.

May your learning be sweet.


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