Sam’s career started earlier than most. At 14, he was painting cars as a hobby. At 16, he joined the auto body shop.
In those early days, Sam rarely wore a respirator. He just didn’t think about it. He was young and felt more or less invincible. Besides, it seemed like a non-issue. He had seen the other guys take off their masks or forget to use them. And he did a lot of his work during the day, usually stepping outside at some point for fresh air. Sam figured he had nothing to worry about.
By his mid-twenties, things started to change. For one, Sam was busy. He was working upwards of 60 hours per week, regularly pulling double shifts at the shop. He had also developed a periodic dry cough—strange, considering the fact that he never smoked.
As the years went by, Sam continued working, and the problem grew worse. The periodic coughing turned into regular fits. The cough became painful. The fits happened more and more frequently. Sam often felt light-headed, tired, and out of breath—even when he wasn’t exerting himself.
Then, one day, Sam sat down on a bench at work, closed his eyes, and woke up in a hospital room. He had fainted. And while he was out, the physician had performed some tests and discovered a lump. At just 38 years old, Sam was diagnosed with lung cancer. His career ended earlier—much earlier—than most.
The Power of a Story
Sam’s story is thankfully fictional. But it is based on real events, and it serves a very real purpose. It demonstrates the importance of respiratory and respiratory protection.
At KPA, we like to use narratives like these at the beginning of our training courses. Stories like Sam’s serve multiple educational purposes. They not only help introduce a topic, but add character and detail throughout, acting as a framework for a particular subject matter. From broad strokes (e.g. what a respirator is, why it matters) to the finer points (e.g. respirator use checklist), learners can return to a palpable scenario and set of characters.
For these reasons and more, the use of real-life examples is one of the key principles of effective workforce training.
In part 1 of this article series, we looked at the first principle of training: know your audience. Let’s explore some of the ways real-life examples support learning:
Training Best Practice #2: Use Real-Life Examples
Why do stories, and especially real-world examples, matter? There are several benefits.
The first is higher engagement. It’s no secret that people are most engaged by content they feel is relevant to them—content that reflects their everyday experiences. Thus, real-life examples create buy-in from the first moment of learning.
Real-life examples also correlate with improved retention. People are able to retain information when they can relate to an experience, especially if they’ve had that experience before.
Third, examples give learners the opportunity to practice. Stories are safe ways to test ideas, make mistakes, and try again. People can apply what they’ve learned to a detailed practice scenario or simulation, without the risks of attempting it for the first time in their actual day-to-day work.
What Kinds of Examples Do Learners Relate To?
At KPA, we divide real-life examples into three general categories:
Stories are catch-all narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. They’re illustrative, serving to introduce a topic. They may have more fictional elements but are nonetheless based in real-world ideas.
Case studies are deeper dives into particular events. They’re more factual and detail-driven than the average story, often based on a real occurrence but with names and identifying facts changed. We’ll follow case studies with assessments and questions to test for comprehension.
Scenarios are bite-sized chunks of stories that center on a specific issue or piece of information. We might use a scenario to tee up a question about a certain regulation, for instance, or to give life to a list of step-by-step instructions.
Examples Are “Safe Spaces”
As discussed above, examples allow people undergoing training to act as if they were in a real-life situation—without the real-life consequences for screwing up.
Let’s use KPA’s “Investigating Harassment Claims for Managers” course as a representative case. The course walks users through the process from start to finish, at one point presenting learners with several dialogue options for convincing an employee to file an official claim.
At this point, a learner may not know the right approach. That’s okay. Not every manager has had this experience, which is why having a trial ground is essential. The training provides a safe space where the learner can make mistakes and not be penalized for them. Engaging in a real-life example also empowers the user to make their own choices and see the immediate ramifications.
Many training courses skip the experiential portion and jump from lecture to assessment. A learner reads or hears about an issue and is then asked to provide an answer, which is marked “right” or “wrong.” This approach doesn’t drive engagement or retention—people are compelled to simply regurgitate the correct answers, which they often immediately forget.
By framing the course as an example, with multiple activities and steps to participate in, we’re creating another layer of engagement. Rather than a simple question and answer, there are choices to make—an active learning journey.
Online content is one way to use examples in training, but it isn’t the only way. You could facilitate a live group discussion—pulling up slides, offering a few options to the “class,” and asking: “Which do you think is the correct answer?” You could liven the discussion even further, by asking if there may be other acceptable answers, or having members of the group share their own stories.
From knowing your audience to using examples, how you design content is essential—but it’s only one half of the training equation. In our next article, we’ll look at the importance of ongoing assessments and how to conduct them effectively.
Want to improve your organization’s training program as quickly and cost-effectively as possible? You’ve come to the right place. KPA offers award-winning training courses that are…
- available online and on-site,
- led by our safety Risk Management Consultants,
- designed to help employees improve their performance on the job and improve compliance,
- based on real-world stories and examples.