So, what does ‘critical incident’ even mean?
As a trainer, a critical incident is an event that has significance for you. Critical incidents can change an outcome.
The name suggests something dramatic. You are not alone if you jumped to the conclusion of a critical incident = something really really really really bad happened and then the office caught on fire and then Karen from Finance filed a complaint about it.
This is not the case. Some incidents will be more critical than others, but in the context of training, we define a critical incident as an event that had significance for you.
Think of an event that was essentially a “light bulb” moment in your role as a trainer; an event that triggered a change or revelation about the teaching-learning process and your part in it.
This could be as minor as how words were formatted in a document. For example, discovering how the use of sub-headings under a larger heading can visually act to categorise and segment information clearly for the reader, rather than them trying to figure it out without any visual cues.
“Common critical incidents occur at both the design stage, when you are developing assessment tools, as well as the type of assessor conducting the assessment.” – Dr Bryan West, Founder of Fortress Learning
Here are three examples of critical incidents from a trainer who has been delivering group training in word processing for 40 years.
All three of these critical incidents resulted in a change within the trainer’s knowledge and understanding of how people learn, which then led to a change in his practice as a trainer:
Back in the old days, there was no such thing as an Undo key. So when the trainee made a mistake they would immediately try and fix it before they had thought their way through the actual problem. As a result, they made the problem worse.
What did I learn from this? I had two large signs made up and put on the wall of the training room.
Sign 1: Don’t Panic!
Sign 2: Sit on your hands.
When word processing first arrived, employers would send their experienced secretaries who were usually over 30 years of age. The groups would also have participants in their early 20s. The older participants lacked confidence. They felt they would be too old to learn computers. The young participants were confident, and this further eroded the confidence of the older participants.
I discovered that the older participants took longer to understand the concepts but once they had done so, they were able to apply them in a range of situations. The young participants were quick to say they understood, but in fact, did not retain and apply the concepts when given a range of activities.
What did I learn from this? To keep the group together. When the older participants discovered that, although they were slower, they achieved the result, this gave them confidence. At the same time, the younger participants began by being impatient and then learned to pay greater attention.
This is a story of when I trained a trainer to deliver word processing in the old days when the mouse was brand new technology. There was one trainee. The trainer was telling her how to use the mouse. She said, “point the mouse here”. The trainee promptly picked up the mouse and pointed it to the screen.
What did I learn from this? When training a trainer, it is essential to emphasise that what comes naturally to you does not come naturally to the trainee. In the case of the mouse, explain how it works first. It also made me question whether this person should be given a role as a trainer.
Something is critical if it is really important. It is important because it can change the outcome of something. A critical part of a game is one where the decisions made in response to it can determine who will win or lose.
It’s much the same for the work of trainers. The addition of critical incidents to the new Dip VET is very sensible. After all, quite often the biggest opportunities to learn and grow in our work happen in our day to day work.