10 ways to better engage learners in your training workshops

December 21, 2017 11:14 am Published byazestauser

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Are the people on your training courses delegates or participants? Are they really connecting your content to what they already know and learning, or are they thinking about what they’re going to do at the weekend? Are they just passively listening to information, or are they actively creating, learning and planning for immediate application of learning?

Tip one: Never do for a learner what they can do for themselves.

Follow Dave Meier’s maxim and ‘never do for a learner what they can do for themselves’. For example, never read out a slide or flipchart, always show it and get them to do something with the contents instead.

Tip two: Get outside.

Get people outside whenever you can. The extra oxygen will help their brains and the variety will help them stay alert and the day to go faster. When you’re outside, you could have a group or small group discussions, have a pairs walk discussing an issue, do an experiential learning task, anything.

Tip three: Get a great room and positive people fuel.

Make sure the room that you’re using is large and with plenty of natural light. Make sure there are lots of different seating and standing options for different parts of the workshop. Tables on wheels are good. Favour open windows over air conditioning, and nuts, seeds, fruit and herbal teas over coffee and biscuits.

Tip four: Create interest in the room.

Set up your room with posters, quotes, books, pictures, puzzles that relate to your workshop, anything that might stimulate deeper thinking around the topic. I almost always put ‘Emotion Cards’ on tables and walls to help the room to be stimulating.

Tip five: Get people moving as much as possible.

Design your workshop activities to enable maximum variation between activities where people are sitting, standing, doing physical tasks, working on the wall, working on the floor, walking, jogging!

Tip six: Vary the type of mental activity as much as possible.

Change groupings, seat positions and body positions as much as you can in order to help people challenge their thinking. Vary between solo, paired, small group and large group work as much as you can and between type of mental activity such as discussing, creating, looking at case studies, thinking, taking part, reflecting, analysing, reviewing etc. I design my workshops to have a change in the type of activity both physical and mental at least every 15 minutes!

Tip seven: Do not present models!

Models will often seem meaningless unless people truly need to engage with them. Use a variety of methods to introduce and explore models such as giving individuals cards and getting them to behave like particular aspects of a model, giving groups part of a model and asking them to build something that makes sense to them and their experiences on the floor or wall, getting groups to design their own model to make sense of a particular situation. You can also create models physically using the people on the workshop, or use the four corners of the room to explore four-box models.

Tip eight: Use experiential tools carefully to provide maximum relevance to their working environment.

Before using an experiential task, think carefully about the best use of it to create the learning points you are after or the best possible lead in to a particular concept. Think about the name you will give the exercise, the roles people should take, the objective you should give and the rules that will affect how the exercise runs. Review actively and creatively using different methods every time and plenty of physical movement and allow space for them to develop metaphors and learning points from exercises that are meaningful to them.

Tip nine: Take full advantage of having a group of people in the same room at the same time.

Your workshop is not an e-learning module so make sure that you absolutely maximise group interaction. If you’re presenting and they’re listening, they might as well be on a webinar and there’s plenty of great research that points to that being nowhere near as effective. People are social animals and many learn best through discussion so I try to have at least 60% of the workshop taken up by group tasks, pairs work and group work.

Tip ten: Make sure you’re truly engaged and learning too!.

If you’re repeating things you’ve said before, you’ll be boring yourself and probably them. I have a rule that at least 25% of the content of any workshop has to be activity that I’ve never done before. That keeps me on my toes and engaged and interested in what’s working best and how it’s going down. Although I believe in meticulous preparation and a large amount of kit to help me (pinpoint boards, pictures, playdough, post its, pre-prepared laminated cards, things in envelopes etc.) I also believe that when you’re truly immersed in running the workshop, you quite often come up with better ways of helping people to engage in the content ‘on the hoof’. If you’ve got time to make phone calls to other clients in your lunch break, then in my opinion, you’re doing something wrong!

Following the tips above takes quite a bit more preparation time for your workshops, but pays off massively in terms of not only learner engagement, but the impact of the workshop on their working lives. The style of workshop described above will help people stay more alert and engaged and will also enable more of the material to permeate their longer-term memory. If you add to that getting them to really think about and make public commitments as to what they’re going to do as a result of the workshop then you’ll be delighted by your evaluation results at all levels.

Shirley Gaston

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