Military Instructor badge
U.S. Army, 1974
in Training is published by
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the years, I have conducted several thousand training events. I have
taught in many different environments: classrooms, ski resort lodges,
hotel conference rooms, garages, convention centres, churches, university
lecture halls, boardrooms, living rooms, a few tents and even once,
on a boat. To some groups I have lectured for just one hour, delivering
a keynote address; other groups have required seven days of intense
skill development; still others I have trained for a few hours each
week for many months. I have been both a sideshow in someone else's
conference and the main event.
have stood in front of small groups of twelve, and larger groups consisting
of thousands. I have delivered lectures on new research into human brain
function, trained engineers to use computer design tools, taught teenagers
to take notes more effectively, provoked teachers to raise their expectations
of their students, explored drawing skills with prisoners in the Hawaiian
women's prison system and even taught guitar to fifty beginners at one
time so that they could all play Rock Around The Clock with the back-up
band at the end of the first lesson. I have taught old people to juggle,
young people to think and a lot of people (amazingly, a lot of nuns) to
use personal computers. Today, I mostly teach others how to teach more
effectively and explore issues related to the training of adults - how
to influence others to learn and, ultimately, how to influence others
many trainers I meet, it is not a career I sought, nor one I would have
chosen. When I was young, lying in a field of grass dreaming about my
future, I never once - not once - fantasised about becoming a trainer. For
most of us, entry into this career stems from existing circumstances.
Many times we are selected because someone else has identified us as an
expert on a certain topic. In my case, having graduated at the top of
my computer engineering course, logic dictated that I should be a good
instructor of other budding engineers. In other words, there is an assumption
that a good guitarist should be a good guitar teacher; a good salesperson
should be a good teacher of sales techniques. That most trainers do not
choose their career, but stumble into it based on their competence in
a particular area, is in itself a fascinating phenomenon.
a military instructor, I had little experience to draw upon for my training
technique - only memories of how my teachers taught in school. My style
was therefore very much based on what I had seen others do, along with
my personality and the circumstances I found myself in. But the starting
point for my commitment to students' achievements - and the inventiveness
(sometimes sheer craziness) of the methods I used-goes all the way back
to those first days standing in front of a classroom of students: all
males, all of them older than nineteen, most with more stripes on their
sleeves than mine. It was most definitely appropriate in that context
that I took the blame, or blamed my own inadequate experience, for anything
less than successful results. It was equally appropriate that I did whatever
it took (with the exception of cheating) to ensure my students succeeded.
distinct phases in my training career
have primarily taught three different subjects during the twenty-one years
of my training career. The first phase centred around technology. I taught
my military students basic electronics and computer design, and how to
write simple software routines. After leaving the military, I taught service
engineers in Chicago how to install and troubleshoot nuclear medicine
imaging and cardiology equipment. I travelled extensively for another
company, teaching its clients (all from diverse engineering companies)
how to use the company's newest microprocessor design tools. In 1979,
I made what at the time felt like a risky move - I started my own training
company, in Los Angeles. The first private training contract I procured
was with NASA, which called for me to train a number of engineers to use
microprocessor design tools. I conducted the training in a small computer
room at Edwards Air Force Base, in the California desert. I spent one
morning a week for ten weeks working with brilliant aeronautic-computer
engineers and made enough money to live comfortably for three months.
I felt reasonably confident I would find another training contract before
my money ran out. Fortunately, I did - with ABC-TV. Others soon followed.
it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time to catch the
rising industry demand for computer literacy and computer applications
training. Companies and individuals were buying any old computers, with
no idea how to drive them. For perhaps the first time ever, there were
not enough training hours to meet industry demands. That led to large-audience
lectures - sometimes 500 people, split into 100 five-person teams, each
team with its own computer station, with me literally jogging from station
to station during the hands-on exercises. The rising interest in computers
and the attention it drew to adult learning and training led to my participation
in television programs and interviews, radio interviews and press conferences
at computer shows.
important things happened in my career as a trainer at that time. The
first was a request to give lectures - one-hour stand-up routines in front
of large audiences. Sometimes the topic was computers in general, sometimes
it focused on the effect they were having on industry, sometimes it was
about the phobic response some employees exhibited. I quickly learned
that lecturing is very different from teaching and requires a different
set of skills.
with this recognition came another observation, this time more to do with
the trainees than the trainer. When you take competent, otherwise successful
adults, and put them back in the classroom, they begin behaving in many
ways as they did as six or seven year olds in school. They rock back on
their chairs; they doodle on their papers; they avoid eye contact with
the teacher. If they do not understand a concept, most will not raise
their hand to ask a question for fear of being embarrassed. I learned
early on that many people prefer being confused (and suffering the consequences,
such as not learning) to being embarrassed. Essentially, my adult students
exhibited behaviours that went a long way toward inhibiting their achievement
in a learning situation.
was fascinated and befuddled: the more I observed my adult learners' behaviours,
the more I wanted to understand. In 1983, I disbanded my computer training
company and said goodbye to a dedicated staff of trainers, writers, sales
and support personnel. The next four years were spent off-stage, studying
the literature and working on projects in an attempt to understand more
about the process of learning for adults and how we, as trainers, could
assist them to learn more effectively.
experiences brought me to the second phase of my training career, which
centred around teaching learning strategies to adult learners. I transformed
from an expert in computer technology to a quasi-expert in learning technology.
I designed a program called Learning to Learn, which has now been conducted
throughout Australia and New Zealand for tens of thousands of adults of
all ages, from every level of education and from a wide range of occupations.
While teaching this program, I did almost everything a trainer can do
on stage and used most methods available to achieve the outcomes. More
than anything, I learned a lot about the experience of adults as they
re-enter learning situations or choose learning goals to pursue. That
work inspired my first articles for publication and even my first book,
Great Lies We Live By. My knowledge in this area also led me squarely
back into the academic environment as I began to train teachers who work
with students every day.
long after entering that second phase, the third (and hopefully not final)
phase of my training career began to bubble to the surface. I began receiving
requests to train other trainers. But being able to do something does
not necessarily mean you know how to pass those skills on to others. Once
again, I began studying and researching. What was I doing on stage that
worked? Did it have a name? And could someone else be taught to do it?
began seeking out others who had teaching or communication skills that
consistently produced excellent results. I found them in a variety of
careers: schoolteachers, university lecturers, corporate trainers, consultants,
ministers, nurses, therapists and coaches.
the past eight years I have been teaching these skills in the Training
To Train program around Australia. Once a year, over a four month period,
I work with professionals who are exploring adult education and adult
learning, with the aim of enhancing their ability to produce consistent
results. I am no longer surprised by the variety of careers represented
in my courses: psychologists, schoolteachers, radio announcers, business
owners and managers, counsellors and, of course, trainers, or those thinking
about a career in training. They all have one thing in common: they are
responsible for educating, informing or creating change in other people.
This book is an attempt to capture the experiences and lessons I have
learned from those people.
as a student and researcher
way I have personally been involved in this industry is as a student and
researcher, specifically in the disciplines of adult learning and adult
education. Although I've grown to be quite comfortable on stage - most certainly
it is how I am best known - on most days I am studying or writing. I like
thinking more than talking. I am also a stickler for ensuring that my
practice -what I do, or what I teach others to do - has theoretical grounding
and is based on rigorous scientific research. I study, design research
projects, experiment, discuss, argue and write; but mostly I think. In
the end, the goal is to make a contribution: report a new finding, refute
an existing theory or develop a new question. By no means am I a scholar,
but I am learning with the guidance of others to do scholarly work.
approached by Woodslane to write Artistry In Training, I was in the middle
of conducting three Training to Train courses, one each in Sydney, Melbourne
and Adelaide. There were 120 students participating in those courses and,
as with every other year, they came from diverse backgrounds and industries,
and had diverse reasons for doing the course. In addition to this training,
I was still doing the occasional short lecture for schools, companies
and conferences. But mostly I was in my office studying. I was just reaching
the halfway point in my studies for a doctorate degree in adult education.
As part of that work, I met with my volunteers every three weeks, read
hundreds of their written narratives, and spent hours on the phone conducting
semi-structured interviews. Together, we explored the effect of emotions
on the learning process and goal achievement of adults.
first day as a military instructor
a hot, sticky morning in August 1974 I woke on my bunk to a familiar cacophony - one
that could only be produced by thirty women soldiers living in close proximity.
Sounds of a blow dryer mixed with Mexican ballads came from the bay to
my right; elsewhere, Minnie Riperton's screeching voice sang Loving You
in competition with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra; Barry Green's
Rock The Boat Baby emanated from somewhere on my left. And unbelievably,
an alarm clock blared for someone still asleep in the back corner of the
bunk mate sat, dressed in fatigues, on her foot locker, eating a bag of
potato chips while teasing her hair. The bass to her munching melody came
from a floor buffer grinding along the corridor as it slowly followed
two Privates who were on hands and knees dripping hot wax from a tin which
they kept melted with a cigarette lighter.
was agitated and nervous. I hadn't been sleeping well for the past few
nights. It wasn't the noise; I had long ago forgotten that I disliked
music or any other kind of noise in the morning.
carefully dressed in my summer uniform - a lightweight bluegreen regulation-length
skirt and a heavily starched, perfectly creased, board-stiff blouse-jacket,
with too few stripes and one measly medal. The brass on my collar sparkled
from its daily encounter with Brasso and a soft rag. I had perfectly positioned
the brass the night before, using a tissue to keep my fingerprints from
showing. I clipped on my orange throat scarf, representing the colours
of the Signal Corps to which I belonged. I looked at my feet and could
see my reflection - I'd spent hundreds of hours spit-shining my shoes.
I clipped a round, engraved, silver badge onto the bottom of my name tag.
It was a new ornament on my uniform, presented to me in a ceremony just
the day before. It was also the source of my anxiety. It reminded me,
and announced to everyone else, that I was now Specialist Burns, Military
Instructor. I had just celebrated my nineteenth birthday, and it was the
first day of what would be a long career as a trainer.
what happened that first day as a military instructor
climbed the three flights of stairs and walked along the green hallway
to my classroom. I entered the room: tables and chairs all in tidy rows,
an instructor's podium at the front, computer terminals lining the walls.
I knew of nothing important I should be doing, so I waited. I checked
that my instructor's manual was in order and double-checked that the reviewer's
manual at the reviewer's chair was open at the proper section. It was
the first hour of the first day of a four-month course. I opened the windows
to the sound of a drill session taking place outside and tried to remember
my own experiences as a student in this very room, which had ended only
three weeks before. I was shaking, quite uncontrollably, as the chatter
of my students grew louder in the hallway as they waited for the morning
bell to ring. I prayed it would never ring. It did.
the students entered, taking seats randomly, I fiddled with my notes and
looked at myself in my shoes. The room was quiet and attentive long before
I ever noticed. My head was pounding; I could hear my heartbeat in my
ears. My lip danced to some odd tune, and my knees moved spontaneously
in directions knees were never designed to go, making my skirt do funny
things. As I looked up and attempted to speak I began to stutter, not
for the first time in my life, but certainly at the most critically important.
The harder I tried to control it, the worse it became. The only rational
thought that came to mind, as silly as it seems now, was to write my name
on the chalkboard. Without yet having spoken a single comprehensible word
I turned and walked to the board. I picked up a piece of chalk and with
every ounce of effort I could muster I attempted to glide the chalk onto
the flat surface. The next thing I remember is choking down chalk dust
and hearing a rapid-fire clicking as the chalk slammed repeatedly into
the board, shattering into thousands of little pieces. My name had been
forever changed to something resembling shots from a machine gun, still
firmly ingrained on a blackboard at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
I recovered some many minutes later, turning to face my class, I discovered
that my students, out of a mixture of confusion and understanding, had
all respectfully left the room.
say this with all sincerity: given that I have gone on to become a well-respected,
highly paid and sought-after trainer since that first experience, forever
cemented in my mind is the belief that those with perseverance and a willingness
to make all their experiences useful, will without doubt succeed.