Bastardizing Training

I hate Training.

The word, not the learning format. And maybe hate is a bit strong.

But still probably not what you expect to hear from a police Training Coordinator and Firearms Range Master.

I'm edgy about the word Training because it's inappropriately become a catch-all for a wide variety of methods used to develop employees for the workplace. Training just so happens to be a one of them, rather than the broader umbrella of human development and learning.

And I'm a stickler for language when I believe its ill-fitted application has farther reaching consequences. In this case, I contend the terminology gives a connotation of standardized programming, conditioning, and mechanization that should simply not exist in much of the development of our people.

Training is really but one delivery format used to change behavior or performance. What immediately comes to mind is a toddler's potty-training. There are clear standards...or at least expectations. Training is about ability or increased capability, but more so about disciplined, industrialized skill.  Laborers or factory assembly line workers are trained in their requisite skills.

So how can we label other delivery formats?

Well the trouble is that just as there are blurry lines between different skills, behaviors, knowledge, understandings, performances...there are equally fuzzy divisions between the delivery methods used to develop them. That's not to say we can't describe at least some of the characteristics.

Practice is about precise, thoughtful, purposeful repetition. Think: hitting a baseball off a tee.Practice builds consistency - as in firearms marksmanship. Or golf. Or playing the piano. There are research-proven ways to make practice more efficient. In short, frequency and duration matter...but not as much as quality.

Drills allow for the performance of singular, compound, or multiple skills learned in practice. Drills are tests that provide feedback - to see if practice is working at developing skill.

Memorization is similar to practice. It's a rote, repetitive act. I half-joking call this "info dump" - where objective information has to be known rather than understood. Much like practice, there are research-proven tricks to recall information better. (Self-testing is one of the tricks. Pulling an all-nighter is not.) With Google and other tech-accessed knowledge, memorization becomes less and less important.

Education is where we begin to connect or link various pieces of knowledge. It brings in principles, relationships, and concepts. This is more subjective than "info dump." Knowledge would be to recite the Constitution's Fourth Amendment and knowing that it relates to Search & Seizure. Education brings up the contrasting values of privacy and freedom - which are in tension with governmental intrusion and security.

Education is not about which values to hold; it's about understanding that there are simply opposing variables and tradeoffs in that particular environment. Education begins to make sense of complex or complicated issues.

Personally, I have been pushing and implementing Blended Learning for "info dump" and some aspects of introducing concepts, theories, and applications. Blended Learning uses specific techniques that develop memorization, knowledge mastery, and basic objective understanding -- like videos, interactive e-learning modules, webinars, and pre-reading. It essentially replaces the dreaded "lecture."

Case study allows us to learn from those who've gone before us. Case studies use historical situations to begin applying our education and knowledge. Wisdom is gained from critiquing both the historical actor as well as our contemporary selves and our peers. We seek causes and effects, and match up theories with problems and opportunities. Here is where we begin to collect imagined "experiences" that build up our intuition.

Scenarios and simulations are realistic games that allow for us to apply, in real-time, skills and abilities to unfolding circumstances. These are tests that gauge our decisiveness, performances, and behaviors. Some scenarios test physical performance. Others test awareness and decision-making. Some test both simultaneously. It all depends on the environment and your team's function. I've participated and moderated scenarios that last less than 30 seconds....and others lasting almost eight hours. Our stack of "experiences" get taller when we go through simulations.

Tactical Decision Games is a format based not on physical simulation, but mental. In many ways, we should file these under scenarios or simulations. They can be built on historical situations, but these are not case studies; these are unfolding situations where participants are forced into making and justifying decisions.

Mentoring is the least formal, and may work best when casual. (Does anyone really know of a formal mentoring program that has worked? Exactly.) Mentoring addresses character, mindset, and values. Mentoring may create the most lasting change in behavior, as it touches, nurtures, and provokes the most strongly held aspects of our human nature.

Are these them all? Of course not..but they encompass a majority of the tactics we use to develop people in the workplace. And like I said, there is much overlap and gaps between these described above.

So when I hear the word Training, it invokes an image of conditioning an athlete for sport or programming a robot for the factory. It requires meeting proficiency, qualifications, choreography, and blind performance of physical skill or rote mental recall. Training suppresses creativity and diversity, replacing it with uniformity and rigid benchmarks.

It's mildly insulting to call what my team does Training, because they do considerably more than that.  Training is but a small segment of what my staff relies on to nurture our people as a competent group of creative, emotional, critical thinkers and adaptive decision-makers...all with maintaining requisite physical skill and agility.

My unit has been pushing the theories of adaptability and individualized problem-solving for over a decade. In many ways, the "standards" have been lifted or loosened to allow for creativity in unique situations. It is NOT our goal to have compliant automatons who simply regurgitate information and rehearse unrealistic movements.

In the end, I want people who know how to break the right rules, in the right way, for the right reasons. That's a concept in complete discord with purpose and format of Training. But in harmony with human learning, emotion, and decision-making.

Do I use the word Training inappropriately? Of course. But most always with an internal cringe. (I also call facial tissue Kleenex and catch myself with a variety of other linguistic errors.) But when I use the word Training out of context, I do so because our police community (and most other industries) does not yet have a word that captures what we really do as Trainers.

I don't anticipate my unit being renamed Human Growth & Development anytime soon. Though it would surely more accurately represent what my team does...and the value they provide to their peers.

But it is time we, collectively, examine what we are trying to positively develop (& not inadvertently negatively develop!) in our people...and match those things up with the right tools, formats, styles, and techniques to get that result.

It's more likely than not, that what we need is...something other than Training.



Concept-Based Training & Education is an older piece explaining a short historical perspective of police training...and why our curriculum should be rooted in abstract concept and principle, rather than concrete details and techniques.

When We Started Treating our SHOOTERS Like THINKERS outlines a shift we as firearms instructors saw in our student officers when we gave them authority to solve problems, rather than simply perform drills.

Closed-Minded: Not All Training is Good Training explains why some courses, programs, and classes can do more harm than good. It's a fallacy that "all training is good training." We should all be more critical of who and what we allow into our heads.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedIn


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