Your Best Training Session Ever


thumb_COLOURBOX2909481My friend Jeff is a trauma surgeon, and he’s pretty good at his job. You can tell because a few years ago, President Obama was visiting town, and Secret Service agents stopped by to inspect Jeff’s operating room — you know, just in case Jeff was needed.

The other day I asked Jeff a simple question: what was the single best, most effective training session he’d ever witnessed?

Here’s his answer:

We were teaching medical students a class in emergency medicine, and instead of lecturing we did something different: we staged an accident.

Class began as normal, then we had somebody barge through the door and yell that there had been a car accident outside — they needed help, now! The students ran out — they could probably tell it was staged, but it was pretty convincing — fake blood, injured “victims” scattered on the ground, piles of debris everywhere. They had to read and react to what they saw — to do triage, to figure out who needed what, under live conditions. We even hid one “injured” person under a pile of debris, to test if they would pay attention enough to find him. 

The students went to work treating the injured for about 15 minutes, and we videoed the whole thing from a few angles. Then we all walked back in the classroom, and watched the video, analyzing exactly what they did right and what they did wrong. And then — and this was the powerful thing — we did the whole thing all over again. We re-staged the accident from the start and had the students go out again, to correct their errors and get it right. The whole exercise took two hours, and it was a huge learning experience for everybody.

Isn’t that great? Not just because it’s creative, but also because it vividly shows the gap between conventional learning (a.k.a. passively listening to someone lecture) and actual skill development (doing real things, paying keen attention to your mistakes, then doing those things over again.)

Jeff’s story reminded of my own best training experiences. I was just out of college, and wanted to be a better writer. I invented this method where I would attend baseball games and pretend that I was the sportswriter on deadline. I would watch the game, take notes, and then race back home to write my story by my make-believe deadline. The next day, I would compare my story to the story written by the actual writer, and see where I’d gone wrong, and where I’d gone right.  It provided, like Jeff’s make-believe accident, some of the most vivid and powerful training I ever had.

This kind of learning falls under the general heading of LARP — live action role play – and it has a few key features:

  • 1) You’re pretending to be someone you’re not (yet, anyway)
  • 2) You perform in “live” conditions, with real emotional pressure
  • 3) You get vivid, speedy feedback
  • 4) You repeat it over and over

Effective LARP requires something else: a certain immunity to embarrassment. It feels more than a little goofy pretending to be a sportswriter, or pretending to take care of fake victims. I think that’s one reason why LARP tends to be vastly under-used — which, in my opinion, is a missed opportunity.

With that in mind, I’m curious if anyone would like to share their own stories of their best training session ever. It could be LARP, or it could be something else that happened through invention or accident. Please give us a quick description of your session below, and why you think it was effective, and we’ll see what patterns emerge. Thanks!

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9 Responses to “Your Best Training Session Ever”

  1. Ryan Hockman says:

    When I became the offensive coordinator of an American Football team in Europe, I had never called plays. My head coach suggested I have our QB – an avid video gamer – bring the video game to our meeting where I would call the plays and the QB would then execute them. In the video game, a player has the capability to design his own offense and we set up our team’s offense. For the rest of that season, we “played” video games… I would call the plays and the QB would execute them. We even added our sideline signal caller who would relay my play call to the QB via the signals. It really helped the mechanics of play-calling and I improved my ability to go through the contengency plans immediately after each play call and in between series. The reason I mention that I was coaching in Europe is that being removed from the “conventions” of football in the USA, we coaches were emboldened to experiment (i.e. role play) which would have felt silly in the US.

  2. djcoyle says:

    Hey Ryan, Very cool — thanks so much for sharing that. I love how you were able to isolate the communication part of the skill and work on it — something that the more progressive teams in football (like the Philadelphia Eagles) are pioneering. It’s also amazing how powerful a force tradition can be. Getting away — as you did — is fuel for productive experiments. Awesome stuff.

  3. Jacob says:

    Sounds very much how the military runs a training operation before doing the real thing. Drill, drill, drill with fake bad guys and the like.

  4. Mat says:

    Many years ago at Police training school in the UK, half way through a particularly boring session a person burst into the classroom completely unannounced. We were all taken by surprise as he threatened our tutor. The tutor brushed it off as a personal issue and carried on as normal, not referring to what had happened and carrying on without missing a beat. I must say it was very well acted out and we were all taken in! 10 minutes later came the reason for the dramatic entrance, we now had to describe in detail the person, what they said and did. The intention was to mimic a real life situation where you could witness something, be distracted then have to recall what you saw later on, potentially under cross examination and scrutiny in a court. It worked and certainly taught you to stay alert. Up until then it had all been classroom based theory, this live action event gave us our first taste and experience of remembering detail in a pressured environment and gave us a taste of what to expect in the real world.

  5. James says:

    A friend of mine told me the hospital he volunteers at, the Royal Columbian, in New Westminster BC, had a drill where they pretended an airplane went down in the city. Your article reminded me of that drill.

  6. Sara Penny says:

    Playing, evaluating, and playing better the next time is how we teach violin and other musical instruments. Learning an instrument also develops listening skills, which is a huge advantage in problem solving and relationships.

  7. Daevid says:

    My experience was while doing a physical management course called ISR Matrix. While we drilled our technique (in itself a sort of role play repeated hundreds if not thousands of times) the instructor would walk around and at random times throughout the day pull out a gun. As soon as you saw it you had to yell ‘GUN GUN GUN’ and scatter. It forced you to stay aware, and while it was definitely goofy (I’m not in law enforcement or anything) it certainly worked.
    On a separate note, we always film out lifts in training- the instant visual feedback is more effective than anyone’s comments or tips.

  8. Robert says:

    spent 2 range sessions 4 hours total to build a new golf swing.

    Model developed from Mike Austin/Moe Norman
    Golf instruction from Darrel Klassen.
    Applying a single instruction providing intense and highly focused feedback during the cycle allowed progress to be made beyond what anyone tells me is doable.

    Feedback itself isnt enough as you also need to have proper reference for what to learn along the way so you can adjust current limited/old patterns faster.

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