Tip #177: Introducing Interactive Training

I’m glad you had the privilege of taking Deb’s training class. It was one of the most fruitful training events I ever attended in terms of what I could bring back to the work place. I don’t know if I can offer anything beyond what Deb may have presented in class. But I can tell you my experience.

The content I deal with is technical in nature, related to data management. Some call it IT training since business systems are involved, but much of it is conceptual and all about explaining models – like data models.

Anyway, I got good at putting together PowerPoint presentations to explain changes in our processes and systems. And for big changes, we’d bring users into a conference room for 1-3 hours to explain. Believe it or not, this was a big step forward than what we did in the past. But it was mostly (yawn) lecture.

My audience is primarily engineering – manufacturing, materials, technical, R&D – and I have a good sized group of users in Germany.

After Deb’s class, I was eager to try some interactive training. I knew people weren’t ready for play-doh on the table or that sort of thing, so I started off small.

Here are a few tips:

* Do arrange the classroom into table groups, instead of rows of chairs. People love it.

* If possible (this has nothing to do with interactive training) have some sort of refreshments, even if it’s a couple bottles of soda. Maybe you do this already. If I get a lecture from the boss about ‘budget’, I go to the grocery store myself and for $20 or less can supply some cookies and juice or coffee cake.

* Playing music before/after class and during breaks is very well received. I play instrumentals and it seems to give the training event a nice ‘feel.’

* Let people know up front that you recognize “how difficult it is to sit in a chair being lectured to for two hours so we’re going to try something a little different today to make it a little more interesting for you and hopefully improve the learning experience” (this way they’re not surprised).

* A simple questionnaire is a good way to start. Have 5 or 10 questions written on a handout. Distribute them to each table group. Ask people to fill them out with a partner, at the table, or alone if they prefer (remember what Deb says about giving your audience as much control over the classroom experience as possible).

Keep things moving quickly so, as soon as you see people are finished with the questions, wrap it up. Then debrief with the large group. “Table One, what did you have for question one . . . good . . . did anyone have anything different?”

* I had one event a few months back that involved this chart that showed a few different dimensions of part lifecycle. Instead of showing the chart on a PowerPoint slide and explaining it . . . I had poster sized copies made and cut up all the boxes and put it in a folder. As an exercise, I gave each table group a folder and asked them to put the chart together at their table. As with most of these things, I was especially worried about our German audience, that they’d think it was childish. But I was told they loved it.

* I had another event related to manufacturer part numbers (how boring). Anyway, I had a list of numbers on a sheet of paper and passed them out asking people to circle the ‘good’ numbers. The fellow that did the presenting said it went really well. He said he was afraid people would think it was trite or foolish. But not at all. They liked being involved.

* After we got used to questionnaires . . . I graduated to flip charts. So in a recent training ,I had prepared a flip chart at every table group and buried inside an exercise where each group had to circle the ‘good’ answers and cross out the bad. In this case, it had to do with revision formats. Now this sounds like it would be very easy. . . we had shown slides saying this format is acceptable and this one is not.

But do you believe some tables still made mistakes on the flip chart? So it was good that we did the exercise and it really made it crystal clear what the new requirement was.

* People like competition, especially men. So often I’ll have a ‘prize’ for the table group or individuals with the most right answers. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.

* I’ve also done a lot more with handouts. Rather than explain some concept or model, I’ll hand it out to people. Give them some time to absorb it, then ask a volunteer to explain it.

* Visual aids are nice. We’re working on something to do with hazardous materials, so I got examples of the special paperwork and shipping containers from the logistics group to pass around during training.

I didn’t mean to write this long message. But all I can tell you in summary is this: Be brave! You’ll truly be surprised how much even the most conservative people enjoy being involved in the learning.

Janis Taylor

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