Many new factors affect the workplace today, ranging from globalization to new technologies and the next generation of young workers. All of these factors and more are changing the rules of training. As a result, trainers must seek new ways to share information with learners. In Energize Your Training, Robert W. Lucas offers many different approaches that trainers can use to improve their sessions and engage their participants. His recommendations are based on what researchers understand about how the human brain processes information and how adults learn.
ASSESSING LEARNERS’ NEEDS
The first step in designing a successful training course is to evaluate what participants need. To do so, Lucas has five suggestions: (1) use participant interviews, (2) distribute questionnaires either in advance or at the start of the session, (3) ask participants to identify priority interests on index cards, (4) create a list of workplace issues on a piece of paper that is distributed around the class, and (5) ask learners to brainstorm key training-related workplace issues in small groups.
Trainers should guarantee that the training objectives align with participant needs. Several ways can be used to accomplish the alignment. One option is to orient the learners before the training begins, perhaps by distributing an audio or video file with the topics that will be covered. Trainers should identify organizational issues that could affect learners as well as what motivates them. All session materials should address the participants directly, using the pronoun “you,” and wherever possible, content should be personalized. Trainers must make the learning environment interesting through the use of music or props. They should also make learning personally meaningful. Instructors must focus on learner needs and let the objectives drive the session. When engaging with participants, instructors can create session ground rules and encourage peer feedback. Before concluding a session, trainers need to review the learning objectives and reinforce the connection between the learners’ needs and what the training has delivered.
From his experience as a trainer, Lucas identifies ten ways to address learners’ expectations:
Conducting a pre-assessment.
Gathering information through an icebreaker activity.
Designing the training in a way that builds in involvement.
Preparing for multigenerational expectations.
Dealing with differences in cultural values.
Incorporating participatory activities into the session.
Providing equal access to all participants.
Creating a safe learning environment.
Focusing on the learners.
Using professional quality support materials.
MAKING TRAINING EVENTS MEMORABLE
One of the secrets to creating memorable events is to create a training plan in advance of the session. When developing this type of plan, instructors can consider nine techniques:
Eliciting input about what learners hope will be covered and excluded.
Establishing training goals at the beginning of the session.
Using a building block approach to content, moving from basic concepts to more advanced ones.
Building in time for learners to process what they have learned.
Selecting three to five key concepts to focus on.
Addressing all learning modalities, including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.
Using creative training aids that incorporate sound, color, motion and novelty.
Confirming that learning is happening.
Incorporating an activity that assesses whether the learners’ needs have been met.
Another way to ensure that training sessions are successful is to schedule them at the optimal time of day and time of year. Instructors must consider learners’ body clocks or “circadian rhythms.” The best time to hold heavy thinking activities is between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The starting and ending times for training should also take into account travel patterns and work hours. Trainers should also pay attention to the best month, the best day of the week, and the best time of the month to schedule sessions. Onsite training is convenient for attendees, but the proximity of the office can also be a distraction for participants.
To make the most of classroom time, Lucas offers fourteen suggestions: (1) ensure that all details are set, (2) rehearse the instructions, (3) plan all the class activities in advance, (4) create flip chart headers in advance, (5) send forms to participants in advance, (6) bring extras of all materials, (7) be prepared to control the heat and other aspects of the environment, (8) use creative ways to select volunteers and form groups, (9) manage learner behavior, (10) draw learners back to the classroom on time, (11) ask learners to assess their assignments, (12) gather learner feedback throughout the session, (13) monitor time, and (14) flick the lights on and off to attract attention.
MAKING AN IMPACT WITH LEARNING AIDS
Because the human brain needs constant stimulation to absorb knowledge, trainers should use a variety of learning aids. These could be low-tech tools, flip charts, handouts, slides, or video clips. Lucas has worked with all of these and has numerous ideas for making these training aids more effective.
Low-tech training aids include cloth boards to which instructors can attach information to spur discussion, such as sticky notes, graphics, stickers, flip-chart border-tape, magnetic letters or numbers, or illustrations.
Flip charts are often used in the classroom, and Lucas identifies fourteen ways to make these aids more memorable:
Creating a title page.
Limiting the amount of information on the chart.
Using only the top two thirds of the page.
Improving visibility by using letters at least 1.5 to 2 inches high.
Adding relevant illustrations.
Adding graphic organizers, such as circles or rectangles.
Highlighting pages with borders.
Planning the pages before creating them.
Using water-based markers.
Proofreading in advance.
Transporting flip charts safely.
Tearing pages evenly.
Facing the audience while speaking.
Handouts are a good way to engage visual learners. The content on handouts should not distract learners from the content. Handouts are more stimulating when they conform to the following guidelines: the fonts used are readable, punctuation is used sparingly, the text is easy to understand, the text is in both lower case and upper case letters, plenty of white space is used, key text is highlighted in color, and graphics are used to strengthen the message.
Slides are also used frequently during training. Lucas offers six tips for making slides more powerful:
Ensure that slides are readable and visually appealing. Use eight to ten lines of text and six to eight words per line. Use a font that is at least 30 points for text and 36 points for titles.
Build in periodic changes of pace. Use sound and animation sparingly to energize participants.
Adjust lighting. Dim lights over the screen to prevent glare.
Plan to be mobile. Using a remote control enables trainers to move around the room during the session.
Use laser pointers correctly. If an instructor is nervous, he or she should avoid using a laser pointer, which could reveal a shaky hand.
Devise a backup plan to overcome technical problems. In the event of equipment failure, always have backup training aids, such as transparencies.
Video clips are a way to enhance learning for both visual and auditory learners. To use video clips to their best advantage, trainers should always preview videos to ensure they are accurate and current. They should get copyright permission to show a video. Clips should be no longer than 20 minutes. Instructors must prepare learners to engage with the video by offering introductory comments and providing handouts that capture the important content. To prepare in advance, trainers should ensure that the video equipment works and cue the clip to the opening scene. While the video is playing, the trainer should stay in the room.
CREATING STIMULATING LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
When the classroom is a welcoming place and provides a stimulating sensory experience, participants are more likely to retain and use the information they learn. The room must look organized. Any obstacles that exist between the trainer and learners should be eliminated. The lighting must be good, and seating should be organized in a way that encourages participation.
Research suggests that color improves mental recall. Lucas lists twelve ways to add more color to a training room. These include (1) using colorful posters, (2) adding graphics to visual aids, (3) placing toys on tables, (4) using colorful training aids, (5) incorporating party decorations, (6) using colored markers, (7) using colored paper for handouts, (8) wearing bright colors, (9) brainstorming with colored sticky notes, (10) using fluorescent highlighters, (11) capturing ideas on colored index cards, and (12) controlling discussion with traffic-type signs.
Scientists also have discovered that music can increase attention levels and reinforce concepts that are shared in the classroom. To take advantage of this fact, trainers might want to use music in the following situations: