Note: This is Part 2 in our series on helping your students retain more from your training sessions. Make sure you've read Part 1 - Teach the Important!

Once you’ve determined what are the most important things to teach, you need to be sure to teach in a way that is easily understood. The decisions on what to teach in order to be best understood need to happen on the front end, when you’re in the planning stages. It is important to:

Know Your Audience and Timeframe

Knowing your audience is key to helping them retain knowledge

Your focus could differ substantially given the make up of your audience. If you are presenting to managers, most likely your content will be different than if you are teaching hourly employees. The subject might be the same, but the “vital few” could vary depending on who is sitting in your class. Similarly, if you have one hour to present versus two days, your content will change drastically.

Know your Purpose

Think about what you want to accomplish. You could have very different purposes depending on your audience and timeframe. It’s helpful to plan backwards- start at your desired outcome and then decide how to best reach those goals.

Once you have established your audience, timeframe and purpose, you should think about the level of understanding that you want your students to reach.

  • Surface Awareness: “I’ve heard of that topic before and I know a little bit about it.”
  • Average Understanding: “I generally know how that concept works, but couldn’t explain it well.”
  • Thorough Comprehension: “I am an expert on this topic and could teach it to others.”

Remember, not all facts or concepts need to treated equally! Some items may only need to be understood at a surface level, while others should be thoroughly understood. You as the teacher need to be clear on which pieces of information fall into which level of understanding so you can allocate your time wisely. The higher level of understanding you wish your students to have, the more time you need to spend teaching those concepts.

You should also assess the levels differently. Surface awareness should be tested using multiple choice while average understanding can be tested using short answer or brief essays. The thorough comprehension level should be assessed in a discussion of the main components of a topic or a list of the complete facts.

An important piece of using the levels of understanding is clearly communicating them to your students. As with the Pareto Principle, your students should know which facts fall at which level. This enables them to focus their attention and their study efforts in the same way that you will be focusing your teaching.

Pay Attention to Body Language and Nonverbal Cues

While you are teaching, pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues. If your students are nodding off or whispering to a neighbor, they probably won’t have a thorough level of understanding what you are teaching. If they are making eye contact and listening closely, you’re doing a good job! If you can’t discern through observing, then ask questions to assess on the spot whether or not they are tracking with you. Remember, it is your job to cause your students to learn, so if it appears that they aren’t then you need to do something different in order to help them be successful!