Teaching Hard Skills Simply

By Gideon Geerling

All of us have issues with learning new skills. The older one gets, the harder it gets, as the brain has less elasticity to re-wire pathways to retain new information.
This is true with learning hard skills.

A key part of learning new hard skills is retaining muscle memory, which is done through re-enforcing/ growing the pathways in the brain that allow our minds to control our muscles. As we all know, people have different ways that they assimilate information and there are three of the seven known learning styles relative to hard skills that we should aim to use. They are verbal, visual and physical/kinaesthetic (https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/).

When teaching hard skills, especially in an actual or perceived high consequence environment, the stresses of these situations can cause clients to, as we see it, ‘geek out’ on retaining simple skills that they need to operate safely.

There is a relatively simple way to deliver hard skills and maintain retention when guiding. It’s called the ‘Rule of Threes and Fives’ and it is derived from the concept of ‘span of control’ used in incident management regarding the maximum number of instructions/ pieces of information that a person can realistically manage and work with simultaneously.

Taking this on, we can apply it to teaching hard skills to our clients. When sharing hard skills for safety management and efficiency, think of the ‘Rule of Threes’. Break each task down into three key points/ outcomes that are the show stoppers if not done. For example, basic crampon technique. The key points would be: all points in; lift your feet; toes slightly out.

This way when its ‘game on’ for clients, they have a simple mantra of the three key points that will make or break the use of the skill. This also allows a simple way to review what has been learnt, by having the three key points repeated back.

When instructing a technical or complex skill, as opposed to ‘guiding’ clients, start with three points but consider expanding to a maximum of five points that help them remember how a hard skill is broken down. If you cannot breakdown the skill into a maximum of five points, then re-think your approach and/or break down the skill into smaller segments that can then be assembled into the final outcome.

Reviewing what has been taught is key to ensuring that information is being retained. This allows the guide to see if the information being shared is working for the client’s way of learning and that they are retaining the key points the guide is teaching.

Hard skills outcomes for clients are directly proportional to the quality of the information given and the appropriateness of the information delivery.