Learning is in motion: Austria to Turkey

Learning is in motion: Austria to Turkey

After two weeks of attending extensive training in Vienna and prior to travelling to Istanbul to conduct training, a few of us decided to do something different. Over the weekend, we attended the Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. 

Knowing that the traffic would get rather busy as we approached the town of Spielberg, we decided to leave Vienna at 08:00 and get to the track ahead of the crowds, as more than 100,000 spectators were expected on the day. Travelling to the race, with our packed lunch boxes and snacks, and wearing shirts related to our favourite racing car drivers and teams, there was some excitement in the car for what lay ahead. 

One member of the party had no interest in Formula 1 racing, but was eager to see what our excitement was all about. As an Emirates Airline flight crew member, she had attended races before in a promotional role, but always in the background and mostly to be present during the awards ceremony. 

Despite this, as she put it, she never did connect with this sport involving fast cars and lots of noise. She had signed up for a learning journey about the sport, especially being in the presence of two F1 fanatics. Her learning would come from motion. 

All three of us had just completed two weeks of advanced training in Social Psychology of Risk, so although the aim of the day was to enjoy the racing, some of the issues highlighted and learnt during the training were still lingering in our thoughts. With that in mind it was clear that our biases would probably lead us to link risk and safety with our experiences on the day next to the track. 

During the two weeks of training, together with Dr Robert Long, the co-author of my first book It Works, I made a video about how learning is in motion. We used the well-known Newton’s Cradle as a visual to get the message across. For those who do not know what a Newton’s Cradle is, you’ve actually probably seen it on countless office desks: it is a rack with around five to seven metal balls suspended on wires in its centre. When one of the suspended balls is pulled away from the rack and released, it swings back and strikes the next ball in the row. The energy is passed through the balls and the last ball in the row is pushed away from the others. This starts a chain reaction with the energy being passed back and forth until eventually the two outer balls come to a standstill. 

Because of this video, my bias was leaning towards the subject of learning, coaching, and practising. This was evident as I observed the events of the race day at the Red Bull Ring. 

When it came to the race itself, well … what a fantastic day! It was filled with excitement watching not only the various car races, but also pilots flying with 100-hp jet suits strapped to their arms and back. There were also flyovers and manoeuvres conducted by the Czech Republic Aerobatics team, as well as various military aircrafts. All of these made for a good day, but at the same time could be related to the theme of how learning is in motion.

There is little to no learning without motion 

What do I mean by saying there is little – or even no – learning without motion? Sadly, in the risk and safety industry it is common for training to be a case of “Death by PowerPoint”. 

Most companies run induction training programmes for new employees and for contractors arriving at their sites. While this is a good initiative, unfortunately companies try to cram as much information as possible into the training in the allotted time. This often results in flooding, better known as information overload, which – if you’ll excuse the metaphor – goes in one ear and out the other. 

All this training is done by using text in slide after slide, with little or no engagement. After this kind of simple “telling” approach to an induction, training leaders sadly believe that attendees will now be safe when working on site. 

Unless there is motion connected to the training, there will be little learning. When the employees and contractors leave the training venue, nothing has changed, except a boosting of the trainer’s ego via a “tick box” exercise before they move on to their next induction. All of this is ultimately just a waste of time, money, and resources, undertaken for the most part with the view of: “Let’s protect ourselves against non-compliance with the various safety and health legislation.” I wonder how many of us would be comfortable being operated on by a surgeon who had only been trained by reading and watching presentations, with no practical training experience. I doubt any of us would take that chance. 

Inductions (as well as other training) would be far more beneficial if they were not aimed at cramming in as much information as possible in the shortest time. There would be more learning if relevant videos focused on selected main topics, and if practical sessions and group activities were included. 

I have been to some sites with practical learning rooms, where those attending can identify risks and physically see the equipment and tools to be used, as well as observe good and bad practices and sub-standard equipment. This is far more value adding and, by doing this, companies include motion and therefore move from training to learning. 

High-risk sports and activities 

All the events at the Red Bull Ring involved a high level of risk, but one fact is that the racing car drivers, the jet suit pilots, and the Czech Republic Aerobatics Team all learnt their skills by doing. Yes, they all attended theoretical training and read books, but I have no doubt they all had to pass lots of practical training to prove their competence and gain confidence. 

For all of them, neither did it stop at the training. Racing car drivers, for example, practice over and over on the track and in simulators to continuously improve their performance. The same applies to the pit crews of the racing teams: they continuously practice the pit-stops and tyre changes to be able to complete them within seconds. This is no different to the pilots of the aerobatics teams, learning to fly so close to each other’s aircrafts whilst performing a variety of intricate manoeuvres. 

As we watched the jet suit pilots flying in front of the crowds, one of them crashed onto the racetrack. Although he eventually got up, he was limping and clearly hurt. Even failure is motion and leads to learning – something that the belief of Zero Harm defies, as the Zero Harm mantra requires perfection and defies fallibility. 

Off to Turkey for more learning

On my return to Vienna after the race, I caught a flight to Istanbul to run some additional training with teams from around Turkey. The aim of the training was related to our journey in Social Psychology of Risk. Boarding the plane, I had unconscious faith in the pilot, knowing that they had learnt (and continued to learn) through motion. 

One of our companies’ tools is the iCue listening approach, also known as our Engagement Board Process. We have rolled this tool out at all our sites around the world during the past two years, but we were concerned that not all team members in the risk and safety field were understanding its use. As a result, some team members felt uncomfortable using the tool due to a lack of experience and competence. 

Similar to those listed earlier practising their sports and professions, we have been running learning sessions in various locations, including this latest session in Istanbul. There was a brief introduction to the fundamentals of Social Psychology of Risk, but the remainder of the day was spent practising using the tools provided. This included demonstrations by the trainers, followed by practice, practice, practice, and more practice by those attending the sessions. This was supported by additional coaching, constructive advice, and comments, as well as group activities. 

Unsurprisingly, by the end of the day we had seen a huge improvement in the understanding of the tool and in the use of the engagement tools. The competence and the confidence of all attendees had improved, all because the learning was in motion. It was not an overload of text, information, and “Death by PowerPoint”.

In summary

Traditional training exercises such as inductions are ineffective and are often regarded as “parrot learning”. In fact, they are not focused on learning at all, because there is little or no motion involved. “Death by PowerPoint” information flooding is in no way conducive to learning. It does not require much thinking, ownership, adaption, change, or intelligence. More importantly, no practical or coaching sessions are involved, meaning no motion and therefore no learning. 

If only those employed in the risk and safety field, as well as leaders in general, understood that for learning to take place there must be motion in the learning. Do away with the overload of non-value-adding information and stop the “tick box” approach. Stop having induction training that uses a “telling” approach and is more like indoctrination, and move towards understanding and learning through engagement and practice, as well as training with the understanding of trial and error. 

As my colleague Dr Long says, what many leaders do not understand is that there is no living without learning and there is no learning without some degree of risk. Practical training (like the training provided to the pilots and the racing car drivers) carries a degree of risk. Without this, however, they would not be as competent and confident as they are to be performing at the level that they do. This is no different to the employees or contractors who are required to operate factory and plant equipment: they too need the practical training, the coaching, and the motion to become good at what they do. 

How often do we hear people say they were bored at the safety training sessions and dreaded attending them in general? I have had people come up to me at the end of training sessions with comments like: “I was forced to come to the training. I thought it would be the same old boring slides filled with text, however – because of the practical sessions and group activities – I thoroughly enjoyed the training.” 

Returning to the Newton’s Cradle concept: without pulling and releasing one of the suspended balls there is no movement, no motion, and no influence or impact at all. Once the ball is released, motion and energy impact the ball suspended on the opposite side. Learning is no different: the more energy and engagement with others, the better the outcome and understanding.  

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Brian Darlington

Brian Darlington is the group head of safety and health for the Mondi Group, based in Vienna, Austria. He has filled the role since 2012 and is responsible for safety and health in more than 30 countries. Darlington started working at Iscor before joining Mondi in 1987, working in Gauteng. In 2000 he transferred to the Kraft Division in Richards Bay. During 2005, he transferred to Europe, taking up the position of business unit SHE manager, responsible for SHE in paper mills in Austria, Hungary, Israel, Slovakia, Poland, South Africa and Russia, as well as forests operations in South Africa and Russia.
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