Employee Training: The Power Of Facilitating Learning

Allen Summers

Say the words safety training and sooner or later what you’ll hear next is a comparison equivalent to watching paint dry. Day-long training sessions with 4-inch binders and delivered by Mr. Monotone have taken their toll on participants over the years.

Early in my career, I was exposed to some exceptional training that left quite an impression. In fact, the little old lady chasing me away from the mock spill scenario with a cane was completely unexpected and served its purpose of facilitating the learning process quite well. I’ve never forgotten that experience or the lesson learned that day. It was the first time I stopped to consider the difference between training and facilitating learning.  

The facts and skills associated with the typical training experience are of little use without understanding. The process of facilitating learning exercises the participant’s existing capacity to reflect on the problems they have encountered and engages them to apply their knowledge and skills to find workable solutions. Our experience has shown the best learning experiences come when we immerse the participant in an environment that is as close to real life as possible. When it comes to teaching the four-day Emergency Response to Agricultural Incidents course, participants are practically entertained by the real-life equipment and the wide range of spill/release scenarios based on actual incidents we have been involved with over the years. The course builds both in intensity and complexity over the four days. Participants love it because they are eager to see what is in store for them next. It’s obvious to both the participant and their employer when the learning experience is relevant and presented in a meaningful context, because a greater understanding is achieved and more importantly, retained.

An Agricultural Background

Being raised on a farm, I genuinely enjoy the agricultural industry, especially the people. By nature they are much like MacGyver, the talented TV star from the 1980s who, when given a pack of chewing gum, a roll of duct tape and two clothes pins, could repair a 747 airplane while in flight. This kind of unique skillset is what drives the need for hands-on learning experiences and makes participants receptive to opening their minds and willing to learn new things. Overall, the participants we interact with are mechanically-inclined and possess a very high level of problem-solving skills. While this can challenge non-ag instructors, it proves beneficial when participants are immersed in a hands-on environment rich in equipment, scenarios and other visuals.  

There are several ingredients to facilitating learning, but perhaps the most important is the lead instructor. It is absolutely essential the instructor has the experience of “been there-done it” over a respected number of years. Anything less isn’t credible and results in run-of-the-mill training. Delivering a high quality learning experience consistently, especially over a four-day class, requires passion and a certain charisma, not to mention stamina.

When it comes to scenarios and equipment, we’ve all heard about the training held in the parking lot at a hotel. You know the one where a 55-gallon drum with a hole in it is turned over creating a mock spill. I suppose it’s better than no training at all, but it’s not what we’re talking about when we describe the process of facilitating learning. One key to effectively facilitating the learning process, is having the right equipment available, in sufficient quantities, that is specifically designed to illustrate and support the points being made. This is critical to delivering a high quality experience, but often shorted due to the cost of the equipment. It’s also an important element to immersing the participant in a realistic environment.

We’ve responded to the needs of ag in building five hands-on courses. With the launch of the new grain course later this summer in Bloomington, IL, we will have invested more than $1 million over the past decade in scenario equipment, training props and related equipment.

The First Of Their Kind

Four of the five courses are the first of their kind to be offered in the U.S. In the case of the Ammonia Technician Course, a client approached us and asked that we develop a course specifically for the personnel responsible for the mechanical integrity of the equipment used to store, transport and apply anhydrous ammonia. There are any number of courses that teach product safety and transfer procedures, but none that met the description of the client’s request. In talking with the client, it became obvious that part of the issue is the information on how to properly maintain ammonia equipment isn’t being passed down from one generation to the next effectively. There seems to be the older, more experienced personnel that typically has 20 to 30 years experience with the product and equipment. This generation of workers is naturally aging and retiring, while the new younger generation entering the workplace doesn’t have the experience the desire to work with ammonia. This generational difference is essentially what precipitated the need for the new course. One year and $220,000 later, the Ammonia Technician Course was launched to sold-out classes.  

You don’t have to be down on the farm long these days to figure out that technology, especially that used in the spray application of crop protection products, has advanced at a rapid pace over the past decade. We were asked to bring back the old Professional Applicator Training with current new equipment, and an added emphasis on spray technology — especially nozzle and controller equipment. This course made its debut in November 2011 and there are 36 classes scheduled around the U.S. for 2012.

An important part of facilitating learning is monitoring and measuring the end result. In every course, we utilize evaluation sheets and require the participant to complete and hand them in at the end of the course. Participants are prompted for new ideas they would like to see or that would improve the course in the future. This has been an important part of our program since the beginning and I never get tired of reading the comments. Some of the best ideas come from participants feedback.

We’re excited about expanding the number and scope of real life training opportunities over the next decade. Education literally means “to lead forth,” but most instructors want to “pass on,” information which encourages “surface learning” of facts or the performance of narrow skillsets. I hope you will consider the switch from just training to actually facilitating the learning process.   

Leave a Reply

State of the Industry Stories

Liquid Fertilizer Storage tanks
State of the IndustryComplex Fertilizer Market Brings Mixed Feelings
January 5, 2016
Declining fertilizer prices and plentiful supplies should be good news for growers facing low crop prices. But they and their Read More
Asmus Farm Supply crop protection products in storage
State of the Industry2016 Crop Protection Outlook: The Guessing Game
January 4, 2016
One would naturally assume that retail sales of crop protection products in a contracted market would themselves be contracted, but Read More
Seed corn bags in storage
Special ReportsThe Outlook For Seed In 2016
January 3, 2016
Among all crop input categories going into 2016, the seed category has as many questions regarding which direction it will Read More
Wilbur-Ellis’ new fertilizer blending facility, located in Mott, ND, was designed by A.J. Sackett & Sons.
State of the IndustryBuying Intentions Survey: Retailers Taking A Prudent Approach In 2016
January 2, 2016
The CropLife® magazine Buying Intentions Survey made its debut last year to gauge current industry trends against the retailer’s plans Read More
Trending Articles
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Latest News
ManagementUpdates on Glyphosate Use in the EU and Bayer/Monsanto
June 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the latest important developments on these crop protection fronts. Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Names Protassium+ Sales Director
June 28, 2016
Compass Minerals, the producer of Protassium+ sulfate of potash, has named Scott Johnson director of sales for Protassium+ North America. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe British Leave Vote Impact On EU Agriculture
June 27, 2016
Like virtually everyone else in the world this past week, I’ve watched the global reaction to Britain’s vote to exit Read More
Valent David Nothmann
Crop InputsValent Names David Nothmann Vice President Of Marketing
June 27, 2016
Valent U.S.A. Corp. has announced the appointment of David Nothmann as vice president of marketing. Nothmann will be responsible for Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stew…
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Contributes To Mayo Clinic
June 27, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty agriculture products, has pledged a sizable donation to the Mayo Clinic Read More
ManagementReport: U.S. Farmland Values On Average Continue Gradua…
June 27, 2016
Land price movement has been in the forefront for farmers, landowners, lenders and land brokers for a decade now during Read More
AdjuvantsPrecision Laboratories Introduces Intact Xtra For Use W…
June 27, 2016
Precision Laboratories announces the launch of Intact Xtra, an adjuvant designed for applicators who want to maximize spray applications and Read More
Key Cooperative’s new liquid fertilizer, crop chemical, and seed facility in Grinnell, IA stores 1.5 million gallons of liquid fertilizer and 120,000 gallons of crop chemicals.
Retail FacilitiesKey Cooperative Facility Features The Latest In Murray …
June 27, 2016
When Key Cooperative wanted to improve the overall efficiency at its new state-of-the-art facility in Grinnell, IA, it turned to Read More
Allen Summers Asmark Institute PSM Training
EmployeesAsmark Institute Sponsors 25 ResponsibleAg Auditor Trai…
June 21, 2016
The Asmark Institute has announced plans to provide 25 scholarships through their affiliated State fertilizer and agrichemical associations to help encourage Read More
Kennebec Elevator
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Celebrates Kennebec Elevator Grand Openin…
June 21, 2016
Over 250 patrons and guests were on hand to celebrate Wheat Growers’ Kennebec Elevator grand opening. South Dakota Secretary of Read More
Land O Lakes
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes To Acquire Ceres
June 20, 2016
Land O’ Lakes, Inc. and Ceres, Inc. have announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement under which Land O’Lakes Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To …
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
LegislationVilsack Christens WinField Crop Adventure, Talks Monsan…
June 17, 2016
The WinField Crop Adventure grand opening ceremonies at Fair Oaks Farms (near Winemac, IN) welcomed USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Read More
Crop InputsFields of the Future: WinField Doubles Down with Agri-E…
June 16, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc., joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, today will host Fields of the Future, a live broadcast about Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Turns Back Bayer Again
June 14, 2016
Bayer AG’s bid to buy Monsanto Co. for more than $60 billion has hit an impasse that could pose a Read More
Young Corn Field
Crop NutritionNext Generation Of Nitrogen Efficiency Technology Conve…
June 13, 2016
Commodity price projections indicate farmers will continue to face tight margins again this year. Delivering higher yields and more bushels Read More