Generally, when we think of learning, we think of teaching. Most of us have established a concept of teaching or training with a vision of information or knowledge being given to receptive students. This method of learning embraces the transmission model of teaching in which the learning process is similar to playing catch with a ball. There is the throwing (training) and the catching (learning). Both have to be in sync in order for the ball to be caught successfully. In a transmission approach to learning, the trainer or teacher must provide the best possible "throw" of the knowledge, and the learner must be prepared, ready and willing to "catch" it. This ability to catch is often the focus of adult learning principles. As safety trainers, we focus a great deal of our effort on improving the pitch by making training fun, exciting and interesting. These techniques may improve the likelihood that the knowledge is caught but we know it does not always work. Estimates by Baldwin & Ford, and Hoffman showed that only 10% to 15% of the content from the training conducted in the workplace is retained after one year (as cited in Broad and Newstrom, 7).
While training and teaching provide one avenue, and often our greatest avenue, for providing safety training, learning does occur through other methods. Research has shown that a great deal of human knowledge is passed along through participation in everyday activities. Much of what we "know" we have learned through this process. We learned how to speak, eat, dress, ride a bicycle, drive a car, and often act within social settings through this process, known as situated learning. If you think about it, you realize that you've probably learned a great deal about your profession through this social learning process as well. Formally, educators and trainers recognize one form of this type of learning called apprenticeship. Informally, this learning process occurs all the time and has become so second nature that it often takes place without the learner realizing it.
Situated learning is a social learning theory that implies that people learn through observation and interaction with others within a social setting (Meriamm & Caffarella, 134). As people interact with those in the world around them, they develop concepts or schemas, which make up their knowledge about the world. When faced with a new situation, scenario or problem, they project their own understanding or collection of schemas on the new situation, framing it around what they already know. In the beginning, people have simplified schemas that become more complex as they learn. Think of how your knowledge about the safety profession has expanded since your first day in the profession. While considerable knowledge may have been gained through a formal learning process, a great deal was also gained through informal interactions with other knowledgeable professionals whom you have trusted and respected.