The Reluctant Learner



In my experience there’s two types of training course. First the kind of learning that improves an individual’s performance in their role, and ultimately their career prospects. Second, corporate ‘sheep dip’ training for issues a large number of staff need to be proficient in. There’s no doubt in my mind which is the employee’s favourite.

We’ve all been there. An email lands in our inbox. It’s compulsory to attend. A whole day blocked out of a busy schedule. Possibly wasted? If the subject matter doesn’t tempt us, the buffet might. Just as long as role play isn’t involved.

I witnessed the perfect example of a reluctant learner in my daughter’s swimming class. Swimming could certainly be considered an essential skill, although it’s fun factor trumps corporate learning any day. It’s not only a competitive sport, but the cornerstone of many weekends and holidays, especially for children. It could also save a life at some point.

While people who can’t swim are in a shrinking minority, there can be numerous barriers to overcome before proficiency is achieved. Lots of children don’t like to put their faces under the water and can be infinitely stubborn when faced with something they don’t want to do. Although I am amazed at how diligently a group of four year olds will follow the swimming teachers instructions when only moments before they were ignoring us parents’ demands not to run and mess about on the side of the pool.

Of course there are the exceptions. This particular week the children were required to float on their backs and kick across the pool. For a few minutes, while watching the majority of the students complete the task, the teacher failed to notice one lone boy floating stock still on the same spot. “Kick!” she called out to him brightly “kick your legs!”. Then she went over to him calling “kick!”. He didn’t move. In the end she pulled him across the pool continuing to entreat him to kick, to no avail.

This reminded me a lot of the reluctant learners found in the workplace. They are carried along. They don’t engage despite repeated attempts. And therefore once the trainer steps away they are completely unable to master the skill on their own.

It’s a skilled trainer who can draw out a reluctant learner. They can’t hold the learner’s hand forever. In the end, it’s the learner’s choice – either they sink or they swim.


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