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.
- Tracing images.
- 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:
- When learners enter the training room.
- As a speaker or learner comes to the front of the room.
- When the instructor wants to boost learners’ enthusiasm.
- After a game or activity.
- During breaks.
- When learners’ motivation levels are decreasing.
- During a visualization.
- During an exercise where participants work in teams to create songs that incorporate key terms.
- When the instructor wants to signal the end of an activity.
Lucas identifies other effective ways to enhance the classroom environment. These include choosing the right type of room for the session, keeping the temperature between 70 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, adding nonflowering plants, using full spectrum light, adding pleasant aromas, providing food and drink for learners, using movable furniture, and knowing where the climate and electrical controls are located in the room.
DEVELOPING STRONG INTRODUCTIONS
The first steps to a successful training event are introducing the topic and getting attendees to focus on the content. Lucas suggests using novel introductions. For example, the instructor could use a magic prop called “slush powder” to illustrate how training will fill a void in learners’ knowledge. Other useful props include a magic light bulb, magic coloring book, or change bag.
Lucas identifies several ways that learner interaction can be facilitated: (1) using a buddy system to pair learners, (2) playing “get to know you” bingo, (3) creating learner résumés that highlight participant experience, (4) matching people by work skills and personal interests, (5) playing “who I am” charades, (6) posting photos of participants where other learners can post positive feedback, and (7) incorporating personal affirmation throughout the program.
To gain and hold participants’ attention, the author recommends using the following tactics:
- Assessing the engagement factors of the content and delivery.
- Identifying the training’s added value for learners and how it will benefit them.
- Using transition phrases to move from one topic to the next.
- Altering the delivery format at least every 15 minutes.
- Creating an opinion survey that covers the key topics and asking for learner input.
- Using creative noisemakers to attract learners’ attention.
- Using nonverbal cues, such as silence or gestures.
- Delivering a memorable conclusion that restates the concepts that were covered and provides an opportunity for final questions.
CONNECTING WITH LEARNERS
When participants feel connected to an instructor, the training is more likely to be highly effective. Strong teacher/learner bonds are based on trust. Lucas outlines eight strategies that trainers can use to build trust. These include (1) starting sessions on time, (2) being consistent with expectations, (3) paying attention to learners’ needs, (4) respecting all attendees, (5) monitoring participants’ behavior, (6) mirroring learners’ behavior, (7) showing credibility, and (8) empathizing with participants.
Since verbal communication is such an essential part of training, the author suggests different ways to improve this aspect of a session. Instructors should provide an overview, verify learner understanding, and tie information to participants’ past experience. Even though things might go wrong, instructors should not blame others or apologize. In terms of delivery, trainers must avoid verbal fillers, think before speaking, speak loud enough to be heard, and enunciate each word clearly. When explaining an activity, clear instructions must be provided.
Nonverbal cues are also powerful. In some instances, they can override the instructor’s spoken word. Lucas identifies ten ways that nonverbal cues can be harnessed in a beneficial way. Trainers should (1) smile, (2) think about the cultural meaning of hand gestures, (3) use movement to manage inattentive participants, (4) use open gestures, (5) avoid pointing, (6) use gestures to indicate size or proportion, (7) use gestures to emphasize a strong point, (8) use gestures to make learners pause, (9) use gestures to indicate number, and (10) monitor learners’ nonverbal cues to gauge attention levels.
Questions are one of the best ways to increase participants’ involvement and to evaluate their understanding of key concepts. Tips for using questions to maximum advantage in the classroom include:
- Planning questions in advance.
- Keeping questions simple.
- Asking one question at a time.
- Using open-ended questions.
- Using learners’ names when asking questions.
- Asking a question, pausing, and then calling on a specific participant.
- Calling on a specific person, pausing, and then asking a question.
- Encouraging questions from participants.
- Practicing active listening.
- Ensuring questions are heard.
- Guarding emotions, if a challenging question is asked.
- Respecting differing points of view.
- Never embarrassing a learner.
- Taking ownership of a question that is confusing to learners.
- Not bluffing when one does not know the answer to a question.
- Showing appreciation for participants who ask questions.
Another way to ensure transfer of learning is to provide participants with feedback. Lucas outlines eleven useful ways to offer feedback. He recommends (1) providing positive praise, (2) giving feedback that is meaningful and immediate, (3) using peer feedback, (4) avoiding activities that rank learners, (5) allowing self feedback, (6) encouraging self-assessment, (7) allowing for self-correction, (8) ensuring that learners master the material, (9) asking participants to keep journals, (10) providing periodic observations, and (11) avoiding the use of red pens for feedback which could have a negative connotation.
ENGAGING PARTICIPANTS’ BRAINS
One way to aid information processing is to incorporate challenges, novelty, and creativity into training. Instructors should create comfortable environments that promote learning and build variety into the program design. A helpful approach involves tapping into participants’ current knowledge and making materials learner-centered. After presenting key information, instructors should give learners time to process it. Incorporating music into the classroom can improve information retention. Trainers should consider using teasers to stimulate curiosity, employ movement effectively, and create content that is flexible. They should address the three main learning modalities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (learning through touch and movement). Creative instructors teach to the senses and capture learners’ attention with novelties like magic tricks.
Based on Lucas’ experience, he relates 22 ways to engage participants with different learning modality preferences:
Strategies for Visual Learners
- Animate visual presentations.
- Quote memorable sources.
- Add color to course materials.
- Make materials visual.
- Demonstrate something.
- Create flash cards.
- Design mind maps (a graphic showing how concepts fit together).
- Use photos.
- Incorporate video clips.
Strategies for Auditory Learners
- Invite an outside expert to speak.
- Use group musical activities.
- Reinforce key points with recorded information and music.
- Use memory aids like acronyms, rhymes, and acrostics.
- Provide verbal instructions.
Strategies for Kinesthetic Learners
- Incorporate games and other action exercises into the course.
- Use fun and novelty.
- Include interactive strategies.
- Develop activities that require sorting and decision-making.
- Use different props.
- Use role play.
- Find activities that mimic real-world situations.
- Invite learners to stretch and move.
Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner has published research on eight intelligences he attributes to humans. Lucas identifies classroom strategies for tapping into these different skill sets:
1. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Incorporate physical activities into training to engage the brain and stimulate learning.
2. Interpersonal Intelligence. Use activities that improve bonds between learners and expand their resource networks.
3. Intrapersonal Intelligence. Include self-assessment activities and journaling to help learners who are more introverted.
4. Linguistic Intelligence. Encourage participants to take notes, analyze, discuss, and present their thoughts about the training topics.
5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence. To engage these learners, use problem solving and decision-making activities.
6. Musical Intelligence. Suggest that participants work on a musical skit based on training topics.
7. Naturalist Intelligence. Encourage participants to explore the natural environment, perhaps through a scavenger hunt.
8. Spatial Intelligence. Use visualization activities for learners with this intelligence.
When participants feel engaged in a training course, they are more motivated to transfer their learning to the workplace. One way to energize learners is to get them involved in activities. Lucas suggests using an icebreaker with a “Clever Catch Ball,” giving a pop-up survey to the class, giving attendees noisemakers to use at different times, incorporating exercises that use the right and left sides of the brain, randomly pairing learners, including dancing, and playing verbal volleyball.
One of the keys to good training activities is keeping them short and focused on the session topic. Instructors can employ 12 methods to use energizers more effectively: (1) connect energizers to the learning objectives, (2) address the three different learning modalities, (3) keep learners engaged, (4) teach content through energizers, (5) keep energizers brief, (6) make activities fun and relaxing, (7) use music, (8) provide adequate space for energizers, (9) allow sufficient time, (10) have a variety of energizers to draw from, (11) encourage risk taking, and (12) use teams.
Props are a proven way to add interest to a training session. Examples include animal hand-puppets to lighten the mood, play-money, prize-wheel spinners, game-show games, clay for kinesthetic learners, party hats, noisemakers, animated co-facilitators like battery powered animals, glittery doorway curtains, balloons, rubber chickens, smiley-face toys and props, and humorous animal masks.
MAINTAINING A POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE
When instructors project a positive image about themselves and the training program, the probability of a successful event increases. To make a positive first impression, Lucas recommends dressing professionally, preparing mentally for success, acting as an expert, preparing a biography, anticipating ways to re-engage participants’ attention, expecting the unexpected, being ready when participants arrive, and projecting confidence.
Instructors who have a positive attitude display seven behaviors: (1) they assume responsibility for successful outcomes, (2) they are willing to help, (3) they ask thought-provoking questions, (4) they display humor appropriately, (5) they have an approachable style, (6) they share stories with participants, and (7) they use positive communication skills.
Trainers should have a positive attitude, but just as importantly, they should develop a positive atmosphere in the classroom by keeping training materials organized and using an organized approach to the session. In addition, good instructors appeal to learners’ senses and multiple intelligences. They use only that content that adds value. They strive to make the learning environment fun and colorful.
To end a course on a positive note, Lucas suggests the following:
- Encouraging learners to engage in continued peer support.
- Using music to create a festive conclusion.
- Using puppets to recap and review.
- Throwing a party.
- Rewarding learners with prizes for the most creative, most helpful, or most knowledgeable.
- Incorporating a humorous video.
MANAGING DIFFERENT TYPES OF LEARNERS
During training courses, instructors encounter a wide variety of learners of different ages, from different cultures, and perhaps with special needs. Trainers need skills for dealing with all of these groups.
Younger learners seek an active learning experience as well as one that applies to the real world. Young adults like to take creative approaches to solving problems, and they like activities that are fun and encourage risk taking. In contrast, mature learners often possess knowledge that others do not have. To work with older learners, instructors should seek their ideas, be patient, recognize generational differences in values, be respectful of time, and display confidence and focus.
When working with cross-cultural participants, Lucas provides nine strategies. Instructors should (1) plan for communication challenges, (2) honor learners’ name preferences, (3) speak slowly and clearly, (4) use a normal volume and tone when speaking, (5) listen actively and patiently, (6) paraphrase and ask questions for clarity, (7) use open-ended questions, (8) give clear and concise instructions, and (9) be careful when offering constructive feedback.
Trainers have a legal and professional responsibility to make learning accessible to all people. The best ways to do this include identifying needs early, creating a safe environment, accommodating physical needs, not assuming what is needed, and allowing flexibility in seating.
Different personality styles can also affect the classroom environment. Participants might be quiet, class clowns, talkative, know-it-alls, inconsiderate, or domineering.
- Quiet learners. Lucas recommends modeling social behavior, building comfort through the use of small tasks, involving quiet participants gradually, incorporating small group activities into the course, providing positive reinforcement, and making journaling a recurring exercise.
- Class clowns. The author suggests ignoring the behavior, appealing to the clown’s serious side, switching activities frequently, using nonverbal cues to manage behavior, and allowing the clown to play a leadership role occasionally.
- Talkative learners. Lucas has been successful with talkative learners by setting ground rules against conflicting conversations, controlling participant behavior with nonverbal communication, actively engaging the talkers, setting a tone of acceptance, using direct questions, and appealing to the talker privately.
- Experts and know-it-alls. The author advises instructors to identify learners’ knowledge, acknowledging their expertise, listening professionally, engaging peer pressure to control the expert, avoiding embarrassing the experts with questions they cannot answer, using experts as coaches for others, and speaking to the expert privately.
- Inconsiderate participants. Lucas recommends addressing inconsiderate behaviors in the ground rules, posting a “no cell phones” sign, announcing break times at the start of the session, using humor where appropriate, and encouraging rescheduling.
- Domineering learners. The author suggests bonding early with learners, reducing the domineering learner’s sphere of control, rotating leadership roles, monitoring participant behavior, being fair and firm, using dominant body language, and focusing on other participants.
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF REVIEW AND REPETITION
Learners remember information best after experiencing it numerous times and in several different ways. To review key learning concepts, trainers might want to develop a “learning wall” on which learners can post key topics, use group songs, host a game show to review important ideas, or encourage the use of a “bright ideas page” where participants record key concepts.
Props can help learners with content review. Lucas has successfully used flash cards, a game spinner, a battery operated “hot potato,” rubber ducks, a ring toss game, darts, ball toss, and a milk bottle tumble game.
At the conclusion of a training course, instructors should test the knowledge that attendees have acquired, ask learners to build a mind map of what they have gained, allow time for peer feedback, and ask participants to share their feelings about the session.
USING SKILLS ON THE JOB
The best training courses link directly to return on investment for companies. Lucas provides twelve strategies that lead to participants transferring their learning to their jobs. Instructors should (1) relate training to the organization’s strategic plan, (2) customize the training for the company, (3) conduct training when the need is immediate, (4) create a job-focused agenda, (5) generate awareness of training as a process, (6) break key concepts down into manageable chunks, (7) use real-world examples in the training, (8) provide lots of practice, (9) aid participants in making connections between what they learn and their jobs, (10) incorporate an integration activity, (11) encourage ongoing thought about how learning can be applied in the workplace, and (12) track and share success stories.
To enhance the transfer of knowledge and skills to the workplace, trainers can employ specific tactics. These include garnering organizational support, getting learner buy-in, including incentives that appeal to participants’ motivations, removing obstacles to learning, building on participants’ prior knowledge, encouraging relational learning, segmenting information, incorporating practice time, using mnemonic devices to help learners remember information, and capitalizing on vicarious learning.
Involving supervisors in the learning transfer process can help guarantee that learners use the information gained in training on the job. Lucas has had success using the following techniques:
- Involving supervisors in the training from the start.
- Training supervisors to coach performance.
- Getting supervisors to reinforce learning, as long as it is applied.
- Giving supervisors opportunities to express their support for training.
- Including senior management in the show of support.
- Asking supervisors to provide employees with re-entry time after training.
- Encouraging supervisors to stress accountability for skills transfer.
- Helping supervisors remove obstacles to success.
- Cautioning supervisors not to use discouraging language, even unintentionally.
- Asking supervisors to assess trainees’ performance.
- Encouraging supervisors to recognize achievements.
- Having supervisors send an e-mail stressing the value of training.
After employees leave a training course, they need ongoing support to transfer their learning to their work. Instructors can aid in this area by having trainees discuss transfer before the session ends. Trainers can also follow up with supervisors and employees, hold a brief refresher after a few weeks have passed, set up a Web site with relevant resources, use mobile technology to send out monthly quick tips or podcasts, create a training-focused newsletter, publicize trainees’ accomplishments, create job aids for use in the workplace, and design a program that encourages employees to use training knowledge on the job.
EVALUATING TRAINING RESULTS
Instructors are responsible for determining how well the training content is meeting learner and organizational needs. As the training is in progress, instructors can monitor learners’ feelings in a variety of ways. These include identifying learners’ receptiveness to training, watching for nonverbal cues, gauging feelings about content, eliciting participant reactions, asking learners to vote on important information, asking for reactions at the end of the session, discovering how learners will implement what they have learned, and gathering suggestions on learning initiatives to start, stop, or continue doing.
To measure employees’ progress, Lucas has used five techniques successfully: (1) tracking the group’s progress visually on a chart, (2) having learners graph their own progress, (3) asking participants to develop progress logs, (4) gathering completed materials into individual learner folders, and (5) providing feedback on attendees’ assignments.