In “Teach concepts before details,” I asked you to tell me whether you agreed that introducing concepts before details is an effective way to introduce new material. I thought you’d be interested in hearing what your fellow trainers had to say.

Teach concepts first, unless your students are above it
Corby wrote: “I thought your article was very good. I agree that teaching concepts before details is an effective way to get through to some students. I have been teaching computer-related subjects for almost 10 years now and have had good luck with that method.

“However, I have had some students complain about it. They feel insulted when you say that a device or task is like some real world or basic function. Also I have found that different students learn in different ways. Some are not very good at visualizing the concepts as you explained in your article.

“I once took a training course in the Army. It was called “teach the teacher.” In this course they suggested you use a three-step method for delivering the information you want to get across. First, tell/show the students what you are going to be teaching. Second, tell/show them the information you want them to learn. Third, review the information you just gave them. That basic outline, teaching concepts first with plenty of hands-on practice has served me well as a consultant/teacher throughout my career. Once again, thank you for a very interesting article.”

Relationships formed in the mind
Ron U. wrote: “Absolutely teach concepts before details. Contrary to popular public education methods, striving for the outcome only does not help us next time around, especially if any variables change. The human mind understands concepts and then details, and then afterward it creates new relationships between the constants and variables. This is according to the Trivium Method taught before evolutionary influences were blindly accepted, so it is not new. Thank you for your helpful reminder.”

Sawatson wrote: “Oh, I agree completely with the teaching of concepts before the details are presented. Not only does that give the brain something it already knows, to start a new concept, it also affirms the student’s ability. You want to elicit a response like, ‘Oh, I get that. Well maybe computer operation really is not such a bucket of muddy water, after all!’”

Learning by memorization is “ludicrous”
Terry F. wrote: “I recently went on a job interview where an MIS representative said to me that all she wanted to have staff workers in a department do is just press a button and not be able to figure out why they are pressing a button. I think this is ludicrous.

“In my career as an information systems specialist, I have trained people to understand the concepts behind the types of software they are using. Once they understand the concepts, they can then take what they do, which is part of the general daily flow of business, and possibly systematize what’s on paper and transform a mundane task into a technical task. When I train this way, users become more involved, much more efficient, and motivated about doing their tasks.”

Listen to the computer
Dale W.: “I’m going to try to pull off my first solo training gig in two weeks. The class is a troubleshooting class, but I think it will be more of an advanced Win 9x users class. The one major point I want to make is listen to your PC. Most users that I have had experience with click through dialog boxes too fast to comprehend what the machine is trying to tell them. (If you have any good analogies that I can pass along to them that would help them relate error messages to a non-technical experience, my students and I would greatly appreciate the input.) I like your container-on-a-shelf concept. The one I have heard and used relates hard disks and files to a filing cabinet.”
Here’s what Linda H. had to say: “Do you agree that teaching concepts before details is an effective way to get through to your students? Yes, it is—and it is so basic that it often slips the trainer’s mind.”
Making it fun to learn HTML table concepts
Here’s a great tip from Nita D.: “I used to find it frustrating to teach HTML table concepts. Despite my best efforts, most students did not seem to grasp creating and designing tables. Too much time was lost during class to this one area. That is, until I hit on a crazy concept that sticks in their minds and cuts training time in half. It proves itself when students create a complex table on their own.

“It’s called The Apartment Complex. After creating a simple table once or twice to get used to basic table tags, the class creates a two-by-three table. To fill the cells, they are asked for names, female for row one and male for row two. The story begins focusing on the pushy female in cell one who continuously makes demands (by fax, phone, e-mail, notes under the classroom door…whatever) for changes to her ‘apartment.’

“To keep her happy (her wealthy grandmother owns the complex), we grudgingly comply. By the time we’ve finished rearranging and designing the apartment, we’ve used every table attribute and it’s all hands raised for confidence in creating another on their own.

“You can imagine the results—especially when someone in the classroom puts their own name in the top cell without knowing what lies ahead. It’s crazy nonsense becoming a storyteller/actor, but it’s highly effective and it works every time. Class enjoyment for what could be a dry topic suddenly becomes interesting.”

Computers do as they’re told
On a more personal note, Christian D. wrote: “Yes, I do agree that teaching concepts comes first, details are to follow. For the absolute beginners I use this story. When my wife is angry with me, she punishes me by interpreting my words literally. In other words, she refuses to understand the meaning behind my words. Computers are like my wife when she’s angry: They never execute the command you mean, they always do exactly as they are told.”
To share your favorite training tips, please post a comment below or send me a note .