This post is part of the Effective Technical Trainer series
Context is King
Context plays a huge part on how we mean our words and how they are interpreted by others. If I tell a student in a Microsoft Word class that one can record one’s keystrokes as a macro, the student knows that I’m talking about Microsoft Word macros and not Microsoft Access macros because of the context of both of us being in a Word class. But not all contexts are so cut-and-dry and oftentimes, we might be surprised when we said one thing to someone and they’ve understood something completely different.
But That’s Not What I Meant!
In fact, context - or should I say the misalignment thereof – is one of the many causes for misunderstanding between people. Imagine that you are out on a date and are suffering from severe stomach cramps or feeling as though you’re coming down with something. You’re looking forward to the end of the evening so that you can crawl into bed and rest.
Now imagine that your date overhears you saying on the phone, “I’ll be glad when this evening is over.” Your date might misinterpret your remark in a completely different way than you intended it. He or she may not know that you’re feeling ill, thus misinterpreting your remark out of context.
The same words may have many different ideas behind them unless we understand the context in which they are spoken. I’ve found this especially to be true in a classroom of students who come from varied career fields. Energy may mean something completely different to a Yoga instructor than it does to someone who works at General Electric.
Give Me Your Questions!
An interesting method of making sure that you and your students are sharing the same context is to have them ask you questions after each lesson point. For smaller classes, I’ll have each student ask me a single question about the course material, stressing that it doesn’t matter how dumb the question might sound. In fact, the dumber the better! I’ve often been amazed by how different some students’ contexts are from what I’d assumed. Requiring students to ask questions about the course material is an excellent tool for getting everyone on the same page – and context – thus ensuring that nobody has veered off in the wrong direction.
So remember - what you say and what they understand may not always be the same thing.