“Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.” Earl Nightingale
It is a trainer’s nightmare: you prepare a participant-centered lesson chock full of effective learning activities and then realize you have misjudged the timing. This may be due to the fact that there are too few participants, so there is less time needed for debriefing or discussion. It may be due to the fact that the participants are able to complete the activities faster than you anticipated. Regardless of the reason, the planned training content has essentially been covered and yet there are still two hours left in the training day!
If you can’t simply let the participants leave early and you want to make the learning experience as rich and useful as possible, there is one surefire way to fill that training gap.
The solution is very simple and stems directly from the participant-centered nature of successful training: Give your participants an opportunity to discuss their challenges and it will become apparent what they still need to learn! The group and the facilitator can then pool their knowledge and experience to help each other out. The learning that occurs will be much more meaningful and effective because it is directly relevant to the participant’s needs.
For example, a recent lesson on the topic of motivation skills for managers was originally designed for a class of twenty-five participants. However, there were only twelve participants in the class, and they were a very perceptive bunch. As a result, they sailed through the small group activities that were designed to enable them to learn how to set employees up for success, assess different motivators on the job, analyze seven motivating factors and when to use them, and determine when coaching is an appropriate response.
These learning activities provided the necessary theoretical motivational knowledge and some opportunity to apply this knowledge to simulated on-the-job situations. However, the meat and potatoes of the training had to be the participants’ demonstration that they could apply their new learning to address and resolve their real job motivational challenges.
The large group conversation about their challenges and how best to meet them opened up an occasion for powerful learning that easily filled up the remaining training time. During this discussion, the participants discovered that they had common motivational issues. They shared their experience and recommendations to help each other problem solve their situations. The facilitator was able to provide value-added information that was not part of the planned curriculum yet was relevant to the identified challenges.
Ideally, participant-centered training programs are designed to increase participant content knowledge and skills, check for comprehension, and then let the participants apply what they have learned in order to build their confidence in their own competence and, thereby, set them up for success back on the job. In this case, the lesson easily accommodated the additional discussion about how to meet specific motivational challenges.
The key take-away from this article should be that participant-centered training programs offer facilitators broad leeway to take the time, when it is available, to more deeply explore the participants’ interests and concerns. The one surefire way to fill a training gap is to give the participants the floor so they can ask pressing questions and, together with the facilitator, seek to find satisfactory solutions.
May your learning be sweet.