I am not the typical “Educationist”. I don’t have a PhD or a degree in Education or Psychology. I haven’t done any formal research. I haven’t published papers in some prestigious journal on education. I’m simply a Trainer. Which means that I know my technical stuff but what little I know about learning and teaching I largely picked up by trial and error along the way.
I have been teaching since I was 27 and have been in full time training for the past six years. Over the years in have learnt a lot about what leads to success and failure. I have gone through “phases” of learning, a paradox because most people mistakenly assume that the only “learners” in class are the students themselves.
Phase 1: I first thought the most important was the technical knowledge since CFA is technically demanding. Stuff like quants and accounting and economics. This was of course based on (and biased by) my domain knowledge. But it turns out that this was the least of my problems as a Trainer.
Phase 2: Somewhere along the way it struck me that motivation plays a big role. In fact a much bigger part than I’d initially thought. Students keep saying to me how invaluable that email or WhatsApp message or pep talk from me was and how it helped push them across the finish line. CFA can test the toughest mind and I thought motivation would work wonders. And I was bucked by students who told me motivation did play a big role in their success. It does seem that my knowledge then was incomplete. Enter Phase 3.
Phase 3: Turns out you can be highly motivated. And you can (as a Trainer) keep pouring a constant stream of encouragement. But all this is of little value if the student doesn’t have the ability to learn. Ability is a mix of many things- poor processing speed, poor memory, low attention span etc- that can quickly destroy the motivation of even the most inspired learner. And when you talk of ability you must also consider diet, exercise and sleep because all these together have a huge impact on learning. Many students have major issues in all these departments.
So after so many years in the classroom my current understanding (subject to change- watch this space!) is that real learning only happens when Knowledge, Motivation and Ability all happen synchronously. In truth the last two should come first. I also learnt some “truths” and also came up with some questions:
Learning isn’t simple or easy.
Every teacher was once a student. Most trainers hope and expect most students to have similar abilities, motivations and the basic skills the trainer had when HE began his learning journey. That is not always true.
At some point it hits you that there are so many elements that go into learning success.
You realize that given the time, space and cost constraints, Trainers are forced to focus more on the technical bits of learning and simply can’t devote time or resources to the other two bits- Motivation and Ability- which are equally important if not more.
If learning is so dependent on these three factors, how do you test a student for these at the outset? It can get quite complex.
Even after the Trainer gets the importance of these two bits, there is often little he can do. Some bits of Motivation and Ability are genetic and are beyond your control as a Trainer.
Assuming that you try to improve Motivation and Ability, the outcomes are uncertain in terms of nature, extent and timing. Who knows when the changes will happen, if ever? Who knows when the student may simply quit?
And even if you are able and willing to help out, the student may disagree. Most people have an inflated belief in their abilities and don’t think they need help when they actually do. Or may be unwilling to spend the time, cost and effort needed to improve
Too many challenges. So what to do? Well, like most things in life you have Options:
Option # 1: Simply shrug the shoulders and continue with business as usual. After all its not a Trainer’s job to get into these things and that’s not what you are paid for. And this is what most institutions of learning (Schools, Colleges, vocational training institutes, prep providers) globally do- just Train.
Option # 2: Quit this business and do something easier, probably herding sheep or farming.
Option # 3: Get involved.
The last option is the most likely. Not the safest. Not the easiest. The most likely. Because, you see, I can’t become detached and I can’t quit. If a student walks into my classroom, I feel responsible for their success and feel like a failure when they fail. I am probably taking it a bit too personally.
It’s a long, painful task and you will fail often. But it’s also an exciting and rewarding journey. Because you will also achieve a few successes and those who realize their dreams will remember you. And their success will justify all the efforts and make your time on Earth, this absurdly, shockingly short Life, so much more worth living.
Binod has been teaching advanced finance and accounting courses since 1996. He quit corporate life (where he worked for firms like KPMG, Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young in Oman, Nakheel in Dubai and Gulf Finance House in Bahrain) in 2009 to help set up and run Genesis Institute. Binod says that his focus as a Trainer, Mentor and Speaker is to deliver conceptual clarity, get to the core issues, build relationships, keep things simple (and fun!) and talk of practical and effective solutions.