When we talk about training and learning within the workplace, the outcome we’re generally looking towards is to improve knowledge but most importantly to change behaviours: better customer service, improving efficiency, preventing dangerous injuries and so on.

For myself, I’ve had first-hand experience of how training can have a real impact on changing behaviour which I always bear in mind when I consider how any training I’m now involved in can be better delivered.

I mentioned in an earlier post (‘So how did that happen?‘), that I previously taught SCUBA diving for about 10 years. Every year, from about March through to October / November I’d squeeze in evenings giving presentations, facilitating quizzes, lugging dive gear to pool sessions and most weekends we’d head to the coast for practical sessions and assessments.

It was a lot of work to fit in around a full-time job, and the students would often ask me why I did it rather than just going diving for fun. The simple answer is that I enjoyed the teaching as much as the diving – sharing experiences, engaging newcomers and helping people progress from complete beginners (we even helped a few people who could barely swim when they started) through to confident, safe divers.

The training we delivered was split between theory – gas laws, how equipment worked, some basic physiology and so on; and practical training with skills around buoyancy, navigation and above all safety & self-rescue skills. The training followed fairly standard practice; start with simple, easy to grasp skills and build on them to more advanced, complicated skills with repetition to make sure that the important practices and skills became embedded, ‘second-nature’.

It was also a great opportunity for my own personal learning – as part of our instructor training, we spent time on some basic learning theories, how to engage learners, and so on. Not only that but interacting with the learners improved my own skills – obviously practice and repetition improved my own abilities, but answering questions from learners, developing alternate strategies for the students who didn’t ‘get it’ one way, all led me to reflect on the information and skills I’d been taught, to explore them in more depth to gain a deeper understanding.

Unfortunately, all of this came to a sudden end in 2010. I was having a rare pleasure dive with some friends on a small reef in about 12 metres (40 feet) of water when suddenly I realised I was finding it difficult to breathe. As you can imagine, this is not a great thing to happen underwater and it would have been very easy to panic and race for the surface which would have been the worst thing to do – you’ve probably heard of the ‘bends’ but there’s also a tendency to hold your breath when panicking and when breathing compressed gas that can lead to lung injuries as the gas expands as you ascend.

Fortunately, the training kicked in – I can distinctly recall hearing a voice going through the mantra’s we’d used in training – stop, think, act. Evaluate the situation, make a plan and act on it. I could no longer take a proper breath but I the training held and I controlled my buoyancy, made a safe ascent and held in my mouthpiece so my coughing wouldn’t spit it out into the water and once on the surface I could ditch the dive equipment to ensure I wouldn’t sink below the surface again.

Thanks to a fantastic rescue effort from those on the beach, coastguard and other emergency services followed by a helicopter evacuation and two weeks in hospital I’m glad to say I came of it fairly well – it turned out I’d suffered what is known as ‘cold water immersion pulmonary oedema‘, not a particularly nice condition but potentially fatal when it occurs underwater.

If I’d have followed my first instincts and bolted for the surface, I’d probably have not fared so well but well-formulated, practised training allowed me to overcome that and reach a safe outcome.

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