It seems these days that all new articles that come out about corporate learning have to do with the electronic version of the activity. It’s natural since it is the way most companies choose to go these days. They have all the reasons to, with technology constantly at our fingertips and the endless possibilities it offers.
However, classroom training is not altogether obsolete and it does still have its strong points.
I think it is pretty much like theater and film. Granted, much larger crowds fill the cinema halls and watch movies on their laptops and tablets when they want. Yet the live feeling of watching a play without the possibility to stop and rewind, seeing the actors performing on stage is an entirely different experience. And it’s not a difference that comes from quality, rather from the sentiment with which one leaves the show.
4 tips for successful classroom training
E-learning is a personal experience, classroom training a more interpersonal one. Just like on Broadway there are good actors and mediocre ones, some trainers have the power to move and inspire while others achieve high levels of boredom in the audience.
Here are some pointers for being a successful facilitator.
Know your stuff
Being prepared is the most important thing when you go in front of people and try to teach them something. Regardless if the method of the session is experiential or academic and if the subject is as specific as technical skills or as broad as communication, the trainer should always know everything in the presentation and beyond.
The ability to think on one’s feet and improvise is also very important but that only works with a good background. An actor needs to know not only the lines of the part but also understand the context – nobody can play a convincing Romeo if they have no clue of how people lived at the time in Verona and how marriages happened.
A trainer needs to know very well what he is talking about and be able to find quick answers to participants’ questions. It’s all right to pin some questions until the end of the session but an appropriate answer can only come if the facilitator knows where to search and how to put the information together.
A trainer’s expertise on the subject should be like an iceberg – in order for that small tip to shine brightly on the surface of the water, there needs to be a lot more building it up beneath.
Teach don’t lecture
One of the dangers of knowing your subject really well is that you might want to give away as much information as you can in a limited time. In their turn, participants may welcome the long soliloquy on your part because it’s the least challenging. They get to sit and listen, maybe write something down (but more probably doodle something in a bizarre shape) and perhaps take some time to think about their groceries lists and take a wide-eyed nap.
If your goal as a facilitator is to have the participants take something with them at the end of the session (apart from their weird drawings and the complimentary ballpoint pen) you need to alternate methods, keep them engaged and encourage them to participate in the conversations and ask questions.
One of the best perks of classroom training is that people can really share experience and learn from each other. A long lecture backed up only by a snoozy power point presentation on the wall will not achieve much. Learning is an active process, not a passive one. It takes effort and as I have mentioned in a previous article may involve some degree of pain.
Manage the learning environment
At first glance, the space where any training takes place is the real-estate people’s concern. While that may be true whereas reservations are concerned (because they know best all that conundrum about contracts and approved service providers) the rest has to be dealt with by the trainer.
All electronics must function properly so they need to be tested in advance. Ensuring a stable internet connection is also a must. Depending on the type of activities that have to go on, furniture will most probably need to be rearranged. It is not the easiest or the nicest thing to do but poor table and chair alignment can really take a toll on the learning experience. Ideally this can all be done before the session.
If it is too hard to do by yourself (I often found myself in this situation in a huge conference hall at seven in the morning with only twelve expected participants) it’s ok to wait for them to arrive and involve them in this activity – move stuff around to fit the training needs. I have found it to be a rather efficient ice-breaker.
Give and get feedback
Improvement is always possible and is seldom achieved individually. Constantly giving feedback to participants (during the training or in follow-up sessions) and getting feedback yourself about the experience, your performance, the materials and the relevance of the topics are sure ways of providing better learning opportunities.
If the training goes on for several days, the feedback from day one can serve to adjust or make changes for what follows. If it lasts only for one day or several hours the participants’ thoughts will help with the following sessions. What’s important is that apart from that standardized form everyone gives out the end you get some ‘spoken’, informal feedback both about the materials and the way they were presented.
Plays need good reviews in order to ‘live long and prosper’ on Broadway. Nobody enjoys bad reviews but they help making the changes that will lead to success.
All in all
Just like an actor, a good trainer will need to know the part and the context of the play, be believable and engage the audience, move well on the stage and adapt to what the public wants.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.