Tip #369: Why Audience Size Should Not Affect Training Methods

“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” Aristotle

There is a misperception that lecture is the only practical training method for training a large audience- particularly when the audience is seated in an auditorium or lecture hall. In fact, size has very little to do with the choice of a training method. The only impact that audience size should have is on the manner in which the selected training method is facilitated.

The selection of a training method should be based on the desired level of learning, not the number of people in the audience. It makes no difference whether there are 30 or 500 audience members. If comprehension is the desired level of learning, the trainer must use a training method that will give the audience an opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension.

However, the size of the audience will definitely affect how the trainer facilitates the selected training method.

For example, suppose that the trainer wants to use a questionnaire to assess the participants’ level of comprehension. In an auditorium or lecture hall setting, the trainer has at least three different facilitation options:

1. Directed large group discussion: After the trainer reads a statement, the participants can signal their answers (thumbs up if they agree or down if they disagree).

2. Small group discussion: The participants can create a small group with the people seated around them to discuss their responses to the questionnaire. Spokespersons for the small groups can subsequently report their responses.

3. Participant pairs: The participants can pair up with someone seated near them to discuss their responses to the questionnaire. The pairs can then volunteer their answers during a large group debriefing.

It is generally understood that a role-play is ill-suited to a large group. However, if a role-play is the best method for the audience members to demonstrate their ability to apply their new learning, possible facilitation options include:

1. Front of the room: Various volunteers can alternate participating in different role-plays in front of the group.

2. Triads: The participants can create triads with two other participants seated near them and then take turns role-playing and observing. If space permits, the triads can even leave the auditorium to practice someplace else. At the conclusion of the role-play practice, the triads can reconvene in the auditorium and discuss their experiences during a large group guided discussion.

Hopefully, it is clear that almost any participatory training method can be adapted to work effectively with a large audience. It just requires a clear focus on the learning objective and a willingness to experiment with different facilitation approaches. It also helps if the trainer has strong facilitation, time management and classroom management skills.

Given the planning and preparation required to use participatory training methods with large audiences, presenting a lecture may seem an easier option for many trainers. However, if real learning is to occur, the relative comfort of the trainer should have no bearing on the choice of the training method, and neither should the size of the audience.

May your learning be sweet.


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