Monday, April 16, 2007

A painful lesson

Of course, as learning professionals, we know that we are always learning, and usually thinking about learning. And going away on holiday doesn't mean that we switch off our brains.

My own recent trip to Spain was no exception. I had a very painful opporunity to remember some key things about the learning process. It had to do with clarity of message.

We had a very relaxing holiday, marred somewhat by the fact that we had pretty miserable weather. The first couple of days were sunny-to-partly-cloudy but not hot. Thereafter, it clouded over and rained on and off until the last day, when the sun shone (of course). Feeling the need to acquire at least some measure of a tan, I decided to pay my first-ever visit to a solarium.

I popped in during the morning, and found a very pleasant German lady in attendance. Her English was excellent and she assured me that a single session would give me a hint of colour. I am very careful about my tanning, taking it gradually and building up my exposure. She assured me that a single session would do me no harm, and would lay the foundation I was seeking. Since I had one of my sons with me at the time, I decided to return later in the day alone. Confident that there would be no communication problems, I left my phrase book at home when I returned.

Big mistake.

There had been a change of shift and the lady now on duty was Spanish without a word of English or German to her credit. Uh-oh. In my best (non-existent) Spanish, I asked her for "instrucciones". Using very simple Spanish and sign language, she told me to pop my tokens into the slot machine, whereafter I would have "dos minutos" to strip off and lie down on the sunbed, which I would then pull closed over me, and that was all there was to it.

This was a breeze, I thought. Even I couldn't botch this. It all went very smoothly. When I emerged from the bed, I could see the signs that there would be colour in due course (I have a strange skin that doesn't tan immediately - it acquires a bluey-grey tinge, which over the course of the next 4 hours, goes brown or, if I've overdone it, pinky brown). Emerging from the booth, I found two German ladies trying to make themselves understood. They enlisted my help to try to get the attendant to understand that they each wanted 20 minutes at the highest setting. The alarm bells started. I hadn't known anything about settings. They were both well tanned ladies. The lady that used my booth before me was Spanish and well tanned. No doubt, she had opted for the "highest setting" as well, which I had not changed. So I had just had just subjected my winter-white skin to its first dose of sun to the tune of 20 minutes - which was in fact two sessions - at the highest setting.

Within an hour, the discomfort had started. By that night, I was lobster red (no exaggeration) in places and very pink in others. I could barely move, and I radiated heat. I had only once been more sunburnt and that was when I fell asleep in the sun after an all night party in my misspent youth many, many years ago. I was very glad that I had opted to wear my two-piece during the session, rather than opting for the all-over approach. Several days later, the lobster red bits are now brownish pink and only slightly tender to the touch.

So what has all this got to do with learning?

Well: it's important to ensure that instructions are clearly understood. Just as important - instructions must cover everything that will have an impact on the outcome. You can't afford to assume what your users already know/don't know, unless you have a process by which to check this at the outset. In my case, the result was a couple of days of severe discomfort. It could have been worse.

Lesson learned. If/when I ever visit a solarium again, I will make sure that I understand the recommendations for my skin type very clearly beforehand!

1 comment:

Michael said...

I know what you mean. Holidays are great, but it's greater to get home.

I had a go at driving on the wrong side of the road when I was 24 and brave in 1991. I don't think I'd do it again.