How do we make training stick? We know that investing in the human capital of our workforce by upping their skill level is vital to any organisation, but if you've ever sat through a boring training session - or when that brought back unpleasant memories of school - you know that there is high significant chance this time and money will be wasted. Here I list and explore seven tips to help your training sessions be impactful and enjoyable, for you and your trainees.
1. Step out of the expert role
Often we are asked to run a training session due to our expertise in an area. Strangely this can be a challenge as we encounter what is known as the ‘expert problem’. Essentially our own knowledge and skill are so integrated that we can’t easily separate out the elements to construct a good training path; and we have forgotten how new and challenging this all is to the novice. The danger is that we inadvertently overwhelm or confuse with our expert knowledge.
The trick is to step out of the expert role. Resist the pressure to download everything you know about the subject, and instead focus on co-creating a learning experience with your participants. The old adage ‘start where your people are at’ still holds true. Establish their baseline of knowledge and skill and go gently from there. It can help to think of yourself as ‘A Guide from the Side’ rather than a ‘Sage from the Stage’.
2. Limit the Teacher Talking Time
If you love your subject and know lots about it, you will have lots to say about it. One of the hardest challenges is deciding what not to share rather than what to share. People learn better when they are active in the process. Try to limit yourself to short bursts of input followed by some participant activity. Get them to work with what you are sharing, to roll it around in their brain, to manipulate it. In this way the learning is much more likely to stick with them. When I am designing a workshop, keen to share this amazing field, I constantly have to remind myself that, sometimes, ‘less is more’.
3. Ask Good Questions
Questions tickle the brain, questions trigger thought. Pepper your training with good questions and encourage people to engage with them in discussion before you build on that foundation with your own knowledge. Having discussed the question themselves people are keen to have their knowledge validated by you, the expert. We learn by linking new information to what we already know. By helping people bring what they already know to the fore you make that foundation accessible. People learn as much by hearing what they think about something as hearing what you think. When people hear themselves saying new things, making new links, seeing new possibilities the brain really fires up with learning.
4. Grow the Engagement
Not everyone loves learning, or being in a classroom type situation. Memories of school can cast long shadows. The transfer of information is a relational activity. It needs engagement from both parties. To grow the engagement you need to be positively responsive to any tentative sign of engagement, for example a first question, complaint about the room/challenge to your knowledge. Deal with the content in as generous a manner as possible and appreciate the engagement. As people see that you are supportive, encouraging and not in anyway punitive, they will get braver about expressing their views. In a word: Be generous with the peanuts.
5. Create a Visible Before and After Measure
These days I almost always create a before and after measure for a group session. Take the objectives for the session and turn them into some sort of scale question. Good starters are expressions like ‘To what extent...’ ‘How clear am I...’ ‘How confident am I...’ And ask people to give you their baseline measure on a scale of 1-10 at some point during your ‘beginnings’. It is best to ask people to write down their self-scores individually so they aren’t influenced by any group norms. Record them all publicly, emphasizing that low initial scores are a great sign of potential success for the session. If appropriate, discuss what this starting point tells you. Repeat the exercise that the end of the session.
It is highly likely that scores will have shifted to the right and spreads will have narrowed. In this way you can all see the impact of the session. Again encourage discussion of the shifts and what that means. I find that doing this affirms for both me, and my participants that learning has taken place. It also weakens any sense that ‘nothing happened and it was all a waste of time’ that anyone might be harbouring.
6. Draw out learning
At points during your session, and certainly at the end, encourage people to verbalise their key learning from the session. Questions that do this include ‘One thing I’ll take away from today’ ‘My biggest insight today’ ‘The biggest surprise of the day’... you get the idea. It is also often a good idea to ask a question that helps them focus on how they are going to use their learning immediately after the session. The biggest loss of the learning investment comes at this point of transfer, so encouraging people to think and articulate ‘next steps’ can be very powerful. I often ask ‘What is the thing you can do differently or do different from tomorrow to put today’s learning to work?’ Time permitting I might also ask about opportunities they can see to apply the learning over the next three months
7. Use our Tools to help you
And finally you can use tools and games to help make the sessions lively and interesting. We are developing a range of products to support internally led training. For instance we have a variety of strengths card sets, a happiness at work game, practical e-books, off-the-shelf workshop packs, and free videos. In addition you can pick-our-brains in a one-off coaching session to develop your workshop or you can commission a webinar input. In addition you can read Sarah’s books, packed with information and examples. Of course we are also happy to be commissioned to run a workshop with or for you!
Much more about the features of co-creative change, guidance on how to do it, and practical information about on the key methodologies mentioned here can be found in my new book Positive Psychology and Change
Much more about strengths and managerial techniques such as the ones mentioned here can be found in Sarah’s new book Positive Psychology and Change
Sarah Lewis is the owner and principal psychologist of Appreciating Change. She is author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ and ‘Positive Psychology for Change’ both published by Wiley. She is also the lead author of 'Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management', by Kogan Page, the second edition is out in September.
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