For learning to take place there has to be some struggle, some friction, and some effort. If there is no struggle, friction or effort then you already know the material and are just going through the motions, or you don’t care to learn the material and you are going through the motions.
In The Little Book of Talent Daniel Coyle describes the Sweet Spot of training:
- Sensations: Frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You’re fully engaged in an intense struggle – as if you’re stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips, then reaching again.
- Percentage of Successful Attempts: 50 – 80 percent.
This is the Desirable Difficulties that UCLA Professor Robert Bjork talks about as one of the important elements to making learning stick. The caution here is going to far. Some instructors figure that if some struggle is good then more must be better. Going too far with this pushes the learner into what Coyle calls the Survival Zone:
- Sensations: Confusion, desperation. You’re overmatched.: scrambling, thrashing and guessing. You guess right sometimes, but it is mostly luck.
- Percentage of Successful Attempts: Below 50 percent.
When people are in Survival Mode they are not learning.
Coyle talks about the important of stretching yourself in training and playing on the edges of your competence. Brian Decker, former US Army Special Forces and now the Director of Team Development for the Indianapolis Colts, talks about training at the boundary of your ability. Andrew Huberman Ph.D., a Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford, talks about the importance of friction in the learning phase in order for neuroplasticity to take place.
As a trainer you need to find the Sweet Spot for the people you are training. It will take effort of your part and will be a continually moving target as their competence and confidence grows.
This also applies to your own training and learning. Are you continually stretching and pushing yourself? I have encountered a number of trainers over the years who talk about the importance of pushing their students “outside of their comfort zone”, but stay completely within their own comfort zone with their own training and learning. As trainers we need to practice what we preach.
Let the learners know up front about the importance of struggle and friction and their role in learning. This will help them embrace the struggle on their path to learning.
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