Training Snoozefest: Why your people aren’t learning
Think back to your last training experience and tell me if this sounds familiar: You entered the room and everyone attending the session were invited to sit in flimsy, plastic chairs, underneath blinding, hospital-style fluorescent lights. A stranger in a collared shirt stood at the front, casting shadows onto the projector screen which displayed a PowerPoint presentation overflowing with cringeworthy stock images.
For hours on end, the same monotone voice lulled you and your fellow participants into a daze while valuable information travelled in one ear and out the other, with no absorption in between. Even though the information was fairly important, quite frankly it was impossible to remain attentive within that environment.
If we can all relate to this scenario, then why are we still expecting people to learn in this way?
Ineffective learning environments
The classroom-style learning environment that we just described only allows people to engage in what is called passive learning. In any case of passive learning, participants are held accountable for paying attention and absorbing the information presented to them on their own terms. The information is usually presented in the form of a lecture or assigned readings. Sound exciting? Didn’t think so.
Despite the obvious negatives, there are a few benefits to passive learning including:
- Giving the facilitator more control over the delivery: As passive learning requires the participants to merely listen and observe, the facilitator has the ability to control the length of the session, as well as the direction of the content. The session is far less likely to go off the rails when there is only one person determining the direction.
- Allowing lecture notes to be pre-planned and reused: Following on from the point above, lecture notes may be recycled and pre-planned as the session has no room to stray from the original plan. Any time the session is run, the same notes will be relevant.
- Presenting a variety of information quickly: When presenting learning material in a lecture-style format, it is very easy to cram lots of information onto a slide deck or into lecture notes. With limited discussion or interaction, more time is allowed for additional information.
Although these points are beneficial for the facilitator, none of them actually help the people doing the learning. Making life easier for the facilitator is great and all, but if the participants aren’t absorbing the information, the training session is pointless.
Regardless of how important or interesting the content is, if it’s not being delivered in an engaging environment, the participants are going to switch off the second they walk into the room. If they aren’t engaged, they won’t learn.
So what can be done?
Gone are the days of using any old dusty space that houses a projector screen. If we want participants leaning forward in their seats, absorbing information like sponges, then we must design an environment that facilitates a much more personal, creative and engaging experience.
A conducive learning environment should:
- Suit the needs of participants, and be supportive of what the program
aims to do
- Be completely different from the participant’s day-to-day environment
- Make everyone involved feel equal, comfortable and trusting
- Have the learning material delivered in a fun and unusual way
Why they work
A well thought out learning environment works for quite a number of reasons. Not only does it allow participants to engage in an active form of learning, but it also makes people feel valued. By really taking the time to understand the interests and needs of the participants, it is clear that a great deal of effort has gone into making them feel comfortable. If the participants feel valued, engagement levels will be high from the get-go.
By having a fun and enjoyable training experience, participants will not only approach the next session with a positive and eager mindset, but their knowledge retention rates will be high too. Think about the last time you had a super fun day. I bet you can recount almost every part of it. But how about your most recent bored-out-of-your-mind experience? Can you remember the details of that day? Errr… no.
First things first, a successful learning environment will never eventuate from simply telling people how they are going to learn. Every organisation is made up of individuals, and with individuals come different interests and learning requirements. If you want to create an environment that will suit your organisation, make an effort to understand who they are and what they like, and observe when they’re most comfortable.
If you can find common ground between their interests and the learning content, craft the environment around that. They may not be directly related but they could still share similarities. For example, if you have a group of participants that are interested in sport, and are running a training program on teamwork, you may look at holding the session at an AFL ground and incorporate sporting drills that relate to teamwork. The point is, don’t pick an environment and force them to like it, craft the environment based on what they enjoy.
Finally, ensure that the participants feel like they are actively involved and taking part in the session. Utilising discussion style facilitation not only promotes active learning, but it also allows participants to share their own experiences and feel engaged.
To really engage participants and increase knowledge retention, we need to start moving away from traditional learning environments and take a more personal, out-of-the-box approach. It may be easier and cheaper to keep on doing things the way they’ve always been done, but unfortunately, if people aren’t engaged, the training session is rendered pointless… and what’s the point in that?
Best in class
To show you what we mean, we searched every corner of the internet (did some Googling), to bring you some of the best and most unique learning environments.
Life Education: Mobile learning centre
The Life Education Van is a perfect example of how successful an alternative learning environment can be. Healthy Harold and his unique mobile learning space has been an important part of Australian primary education since 1982. Each year, the program’s trained educators use innovative technology to teach 710,000 young people about nutrition, personal safety, emotional wellbeing, cyber safety, and more. Almost 40 years from its inception, the program is still running, and is just as sought after as it was in the beginning, which shows just how engaging the learning environment is. Children all over the country eagerly awaited their visit to the Life Education Van, where they could escape their day-to-day and immerse themselves in such a unique environment.
WesTrac: Clubhouse Training room
For the WesTrac cultural transformation project, Interchange spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the employees and observing when they are most comfortable. Since WesTrac employees regularly attend training sessions in class-room style rooms, the aim for this program was to completely transform one of the existing rooms into one that resembles somewhat of a clubhouse. The room was renovated, complete with picturesque wallpaper, student chairs were replaced with comfortable high-backed armchairs and a dartboard was installed. Participants were not only excited to attend these sessions, but they were engaged from beginning to end.
Convo: Self-facilitated discussion
Convo is an innovative social event that seats complete strangers together at a table to enjoy a three-course meal. But this is no ordinary dining experience. A series of question cards will be found on each table, asking a range of things to promote thought-provoking conversation. There is no facilitator, only a mere suggestion to get through two questions per course. These out-of-the-box dinner parties are designed to expand our horizons, see things from new perspectives and build connection through the joy of good conversation.
Although Convo isn’t exactly a training program, it does offer a very unique and engaging environment, where participants gain valuable insights within a non-threatening, discussion-based setting.
Bombardier: Mobile Learning Environment
For Bombardier’s “It Starts With Me” safety culture transformation project, it was important for leaders within the business to understand what the frontline working environment was like. To facilitate this, Interchange created a custom-designed mobile training space, inside a converted shipping container. The training space was placed into the middle of a site, with transparent walls, so that the leaders could experience the intensity of the sights, sounds and smells that the frontline workers experience on a daily basis. The mobile learning environment was unlike anything the participants had experienced before, so it left a lasting impact.