The Importance of the Training Cycle

Blog overview

By Ian Dunbar on Friday March 30, 2018

Regular readers of my blog (and yes, there are some!) will know what great emphasis I place on good quality training. I am passionate about upskilling people and feel very strongly that instructors should be knowledgeable, enthusiastic and have excellent underpinning knowledge in order to take people on a journey of development; I am fascinated by the mechanisms by which we deliver, absorb and retain information and knowledge.

Cyclic process
Training should be viewed as a cyclic process for a number of reasons. It should be repeated to update and refresh knowledge and (from a practical point of view) to fight the effects of skills fade which, in my experience, is the single biggest inhibiting factor when it comes to an individual’s ability to safely and efficiently perform complex tasks such as vehicle extrication.

Repetitive training
In learning and development there is a concept known as ‘The Spacing Effect’ which, put simply, means spacing out repetitions of learning points over time; this is generally the way fire and rescue service training is designed and delivered around the world. Research has proved that, if well designed, repetitive training is a very effective way of developing people. This applies to the presentation of learning material (e.g. presentations) and also skills that require motor output (e.g. rescue techniques). Research also suggests that this approach can be counterproductive if the spacing between learning events are not correctly identified. 

Not thought out
In my fire and rescue service career the training plan presented to me either by accident or design, (probably the former) reflected this concept, but I would argue that the spacing planned between learning events were not massively thought out and simply reflected ‘how difficult’ we thought things were to grasp and understand; the intervals also (quite rightly) reflected an element of health and safety.

The ideal spacing
So, what is the ideal spacing between learning events? How long should you leave it before taking your crew outside and re training them in a dash relocation. Well, the research also concludes that wider spacings are generally more effective than leaving it a little shorter. So those of you now thinking that ‘doing it every week’ is the way forward, may have to rethink that strategy. It is suggested that the ideal time to revisit a topic is the time it generally takes someone to forget it; the retention level.

Research concludes that wider spacings in your training program are generally more effective than 'doing it every week'.


Give it some thought
It is impossible to identify the retention level for every skill we know and learn in our careers but what this would suggest to me is that we likely need to give more thought to our training frequencies for certain processes and procedures that we are expected to recall and repeat in our daily work. I know from experience that there are certain training sessions on certain pieces of equipment or procedures that often started with relatively blank faces and limited understanding. With hindsight, maybe the intervals were wrong on these occasions.

Include new colleagues
Of course, the other reason that training should be cyclic (and not a simple linear progression of learning) is that we regularly have new colleagues who have limited experience. These people need to start their journey somewhere and a cyclic approach ensures that over a limited amount of time, they are exposed to the full scope of knowledge.

Content and planning equally important
I think the planning and delivery of training is as important as the sessions themselves. We should take every opportunity to look at how we present knowledge, how it is being retained over time and make any necessary adjustments to our plans. Remember this must be done in line with your organization and must take into account all of the people you train with an understanding of the needs of the less experienced.

For further reading on this subject click here.

As ever, I welcome your comments!

Ian Dunbar
Independant Rescue Consultant

Leave a comment: