Training Unplugged: The Essential Basics of One-On-One Informal Training

Training Unplugged: The Essential Basics of One-On-One Informal Training

By George Saridakis

You know, training is nothing if not ubiquitous.

Amongst mandates for manuals, learning management systems, and e-learning modules, I happened upon a most intriguing training mission in the darndest of places: my own company.

Recently, we welcomed a new business developer to the team. Having been a top salesman in previous lines of work, his passionate and infectious personality has definitely added a new facet to our workplace that inspires us all.

The only caveat to his arrival was that he had no experience in instructional design or the other services we offer. My mission then, was to bring him up to speed with what we do, so that he can knowledgeably transfer his passion to us and let him work his magic from there!

So for the first time in a while, out went the manuals, the learning management systems, and the e-learning modules, and up went the sleeves: It was time for some old-fashioned, one-on-one informal training.

How would I go about training my new colleague without the fancy tools? Remarkably, it was in the exact same way I’ve done it everywhere else.

You see, the wonderful thing about learning is that it’s always a journey between where you are and where you want to be. As an instructional designer, I am an architect of that journey, entrusted with the task of making it as enjoyable as possible on the way to the established destination.

That journey for me, regardless of the means at my disposal, involves two metaphors: the staircase and the pyramid. The staircase starts at the bottom, where the learner knows little or nothing about the subject at hand, and must climb the staircase step by step to attain the desired level of knowledge.

The pyramid represents a body of knowledge, with the top representing the essence of that knowledge in its most succinct form, and the bottom embodying the most intricate of details.


Before I sat down to train him, my business developer had been jumping around from our website to our portfolio to multiple conversations with my boss in order to learn about us, and by the looks of things, he was getting rather in confused in the process. Having observed all this, I told him from the get go that we’re starting at the bottom of the staircase.

“First and foremost, we’re a communications company. We help other companies get their important messages across to their employees and clients.”

This simple, succinct way of describing the company represents the first step in understanding what we are. At the same time, it represents the tip of the pyramid of knowledge about us, from which all other facts unfold underneath to form the remainder of it.

“We help other companies get their important messages across in three different ways: corporate training, graphic communications, and digital solutions.”

Behold, the next step, which steadies itself upon the foundation of the first step, but takes you a little further. Behold as well that it’s the unfolding of the tip of the pyramid into the layer underneath: the basic concept of a communications company being elaborated to list our three essential services.

“Great George, now what about the cartoon, and what about the 3D environment, and what about the posters, and what do they have to do with…”

“Stop, stop, stop! Too much! Too soon! I haven’t gotten to that yet!”

As I explained to my enthusiastic student, what he was trying to do was reach the top of the staircase without me building all the steps he needed to get there.

What he was listing were a myriad of details, examples of our services in all our domains that were messing him up because he didn’t have enough prerequisite knowledge to connect all these examples to.

Because I didn’t build the next step in the staircase from where he was, not only was he not climbing it successfully, he was falling right through it.

And so, I resumed my architecture, and explained to him as simply as possible what corporate training is about, what graphic communications are about, and what digital solutions are about. One more step. One more pyramid layer.

Soon enough, through just a few more steps, I was able to lead him all the way down the pyramid where all the particular examples of our work trickled down to.

Since this training, I’m happy to report that we have ourselves one happy business developer, not that he wasn’t happy before.

I think it meant a lot to him for me to meet him where he was at knowledge-wise and bring him up to a respectable level. I think it’s also important to note that as instructional designers we should always respect our learners’ starting level, no matter how elementary it may seem to us.

After all, what they’re lacking in one domain they abound in another. To return the favor for my training, my business developer has been demonstrating his sales techniques to me, and I assure you, that in this case, it is I who am the much humbled student!

George Saridakis is a self-professed education enthusiast whose passion for teaching and learning has garnered him a Master’s degree in Educational Technology, the role of head course developer and trainer of Pratt & Whitney Canada’s training department in Quebec, and the distinction of being an author, having published his first book, Think and Learn Rich: Accelerated Learning in Higher Education. Currently, he serves as the director of e-learning at Studio 7 Communications.

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