Teaching Tech: Put Your Learner in the Driver’s Seat

By Guest Blogger Suzanne Surina Baur

How many times have you ridden to a new destination as a passenger in a car and realized you have no idea how you got there? If you had to drive yourself to that location again would you remember the way? If it was a complex route, would you be able to repeat it? Most likely not. As a passenger, you are passively engaged in the process and by riding along you are not physically connected to the act of navigating. However, when you have to drive the car yourself, even with someone else giving you directions, you have a better memory of how to return to the location a second time.

The same concept holds true for teaching others how to use technology, whether it is a software program, an assistive technology device, or an interactive whiteboard. The best method puts your learner in the driver’s seat with their hands on the technology from the start. The physical act of navigating, planning the next move, seeing the landscape change, and motor planning to make something happen, all contribute to learning that is internalized and remembered.

As a technology resource teacher, I have attended many workshops where someone demonstrates, usually to a group, how to use a piece of software or a technology device. Typically the instructor presents at a pace too fast to follow and the presentation is a lot of: “First go here, then click on this, next select this tab, scroll down and find this, enter your information then click here, next go back one window and select this, etc. etc. etc.” Sound familiar? Sound confusing? Within one hour of leaving the demo I probably could only recall 40% of what was presented. Because I was a passive passenger I couldn’t remember most of the route taken.

So how, as technology trainers, do we make our training better? Put your learner in the driver’s seat. I often visit a classroom to train a teacher on a particular piece of educational software. As we approach the computer the teacher usually steps aside and offers me the chair in front of the computer. I in turn tell her “No, you will do the driving; I will tell you how to get there”. By giving the teacher the “hands on” experience, I know she will remember how to navigate the software once I am gone. By letting her drive, and at times get lost, she will be performing the physical act of navigating the software, the mental act of making a decision…"should I click this or that," the visual act of recognizing changing landscapes, and the motor planning act of repeated choices that bring success. By performing the navigation with her own hands her retention of the training will be greatly increased.

In my educational program, we often use voice output devices to help students communicate. Often the company representative will come to the classroom to train the teacher. Usually the representative does everything: turns on the device, navigates the keys, demonstrates how to add pictures, demonstrates how to add sound, turns off the device, and then is out the door in no time. The teacher sits there mystified by this piece of technology that now seems terribly complex. When I have been a party to one of these meetings the first thing I do is take the device out of the representative’s hands and give it to the teacher. I then tell the rep to start from the beginning, go slow, and repeat directions often. Once again, with the learner doing the driving the success rate is much higher. Once the company rep is gone the teacher can still remember how to program the device.

When I train a group, I have the advantage of using a computer lab where every learner has a computer to use. Even though I am demonstrating with my computer, each person is driving themselves to our destination. Each person gets to physically move the cursor to find their path and navigate their way.

So stop showing teachers, staff, and students how good you are at using a piece of software, a device, or an interactive whiteboard. They already know you are good at it. Your skill and speed at navigating has no bearing on how well they will be able to use the technology once you leave their classroom. Not to be blunt but let’s not show off. Step back, put your learner in the driver’s seat, and help them drive to the destination.

But what if you are training a group and only have one computer to use for the demonstration? Here are some techniques that can still help your audience participate and retain the information.

  • Allow plenty of time for the demonstration. If you hurry no one wins.
  • Stop many times during the presentation and ask someone to come up and repeat what you just did. If learners think they will be called upon to perform a task their attention increases.
  • Repeat the steps in a process several times before moving on. Demonstrating something one time will not help learners retain the information.
  • If the path is complex, teach it in several segments. Check your audience for comprehension of each segment before moving on.
  • The third time you demonstrate a path, remember – repeat steps in a process, ask someone to stand and verbally guide you to your destination. Again, if learners think they will be called upon to perform a task their attention increases.
  • After several demonstrations go back to the starting point and ask the class to act like a chorus and verbally guide you to the end point as a group.
  • Create good handouts that the learners can take with them which outline each step.

By participating in the demonstration process your students will have a better than average rate of successfully repeating your lesson once they are on their own.

As technology trainers who have driven to our destinations so often we could do it blindfolded, we must remember that first time learners have never been here before and they need the practice of hands on the wheel. You can coach and you can guide, but let your learner do the driving.

Suzanne Surina Baur is a Technology Resource Teacher from Southeastern Cooperative Educational Program in Norfolk, Virginia.