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Knowledge isn’t power – it’s how you apply it

Training is not about teaching skills or information, it’s about how to apply them.

In epistemology (the study of knowledge) there are zillions of approaches to classify, define and name the different types of knowledge. I’ll keep it simple: there are facts that we can recite, and others we can apply.

For example we can learn the equation of speed, memorise it, understand where it came from but the real value comes from being able to calculate whether it’s possible for me to drive to a meeting in a town 300 km away in 2 hours if there is no highway.

The same is true for any company training, formal or informal. As a trainer, my goal is not to teach the theory but help them apply it in their every day job.

Theory can be taught quickly. It can even be learned quickly. We can pass theoretical tests successfully. But that’s never enough. I don’t want a doctor who can tell me the names of the bones that are broken – I want one that can help me fix it.

Practice, therefore, is crucial. But what kind of practice, is also important. The closer we can bring the exercises to real life, the more useful it will be.

There also needs to be a safe place to practice in the beginning. A place, that allows room for mistakes. (See a previous post on the Freedom of Making Mistakes.)

For me, it’s like an upside down pyramid with theory at the basis, followed by example to explain how it’s applied, then exercise to practise the application without the pressure of real consequences, live cases that show how theory is applied in the day-to-day, live practice with a guide along every step of the way, live practice without time pressure, own work with support until we arrive to independent application. The higher we get in the pyramid, the more time we need to spend there.

If we think of training, we usually expect it to cover the first three. The rest, the bulk, is up to the leaders.

5 thoughts on “Knowledge isn’t power – it’s how you apply it”

  1. Absolutely right! I was a trainer for a software company until I retired, and always made sure that people understood what they were doing and how what they were doing would apply to their situation. Otherwise it’s just busywork.


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