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Mind the Gap: Learning Lessons from Riding The Tube

Returning from India last week, I had a 7 1/2 hour layover at London’s Heathrow Airport. I had little desire to sit in the lounge all day, so I made a dash through Customs to see some of the city.

As I bought a ticket for the Underground train service, I asked how I could get to the Tower of London. The attendant at the ticket office pulled out a map of the train system, told me to take the train to the Earl’s Court station, then transfer and get off at Tower Hill.

Tube Map

The directions seemed straight forward, but somehow I still managed to screw it up. As I reflected on this experience, I realized there were some important lessons in here for presenters and trainers. Here are my top 5 take-aways:

Motivation only goes so far. I was certainly a motivated learner. I wanted to see a castle-like landmark that was almost 4 times as old as the United States, and I didn’t want to get lost (or I might have missed my flight home).  Yet as badly as I wanted to follow the instructions that had been given to me, I still got lost.  I needed to ask several other Underground staff and consult several maps in order to get back on track. It reminded me that one-off training events where there is no follow up often fails, regardless of how motivated the learner is.

Learning styles matter.  There’s been a number of articles about the false science behind learning styles (here’s one example).  All I know is that I do need visual aids in order to process and retain important information.  When the attendant showed me the map, it was easier for me to understand his directions (I wasn’t used to his accent, which is a lesson for anyone presenting to multi-cultural audiences) and I pulled out my iPhone to make a note of the transfer station and the ultimate destination.  Had I relied solely on verbal instructions, I might still be in London today.

So does consistency. The map the attendant showed me had all of the stations for all of the train lines. However, when I boarded the train I found that the map posted on the train only illustrated the stations for that particular train line. Using only the map on the initial train, I had no idea where to find my final destination. This pared down map turned me into a confused and anxious tourist.

There’s often more than one right answer. In my adventure on The Tube, I ended up stopping at several additional train stations before I arrived at the Tower of London.  It wasn’t the most direct route, but I did get there and I even had an opportunity to see more of London (if only from the inside of several additional stops along the Underground lines).

There’s no replacement for learning-by-doing. Immediately after getting directions from the attendant, I could have easily recited those directions back to anyone needing to find the Tower of London.  I could have answered multiple choice questions about which stations that I needed to transfer and exit. But I obviously wasn’t proficient in how to navigate the transit system in order to actually arrive at the destination until I went through the process.

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

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