If You Want Training to Take, Explore Experiential Learning | TechWell

If You Want Training to Take, Explore Experiential Learning

Training class with people's hands raised, photo by Nicole Honeywill

Often people think of training classes as passive activities, where someone talks, others listen, and, if you happen to have some engagement, the odd question or two will occur. Passive learning is one way to teach and learn, but it isn’t always the best way.

Recently, while leading a class to introduce Scrum to my team, I added an exercise to demonstrate the importance of self-organization. The exercise—which involved the group performing an activity twice, once with a “manager” and once while self-organizing—was brief and required people to move around, which I knew would help keep them awake. The chance to keep the room engaged was good, but I was thrilled to hear people referring to the exercise and asking questions relating to it during later parts of the class, and even later in the week. The activity seemed to connect with people more than simply explaining the concepts would have.

Experiential learning is a powerful tool for conveying information, yet many training sessions are passive. There are a number of reasons for this, and a big one is familiarity. Lectures are a traditional way of conveying information. While the familiar is sometimes the best choice, we often do things out of habit without regard to effectiveness. Even something as simple as interjecting more questions for the audience into your session can increase relevance and engagement, improving the learning experience.

People often have concerns over time management. While one can be confident that a lecture class will keep to a schedule, a group activity is harder to predict. For those new to experiential learning, trying out the activity beforehand and building some slack into the class schedule can help. This is more work than simply creating slides, but preparation will make for a better experience for the trainer and the trainees alike.

Distributed teams present another challenge. Activities that work without everyone in the room are harder to design than a simple lecture or demonstration. In some cases you can design activities that can be done without a lot of moving around so that everyone can participate easily. Another option is to add a proxy trainer at other locations to coordinate activities for the remote group. And sometimes the answer might be that some lessons are best learned in person.

As I’ve added more interactive elements into the classes I teach, I’ve realized that many groups learn as much from each other as they do from me as they collaborate on activities or share experiences in response to questions. Including interactivity makes this type of knowledge exchange possible.

While adding experiential activities into a training class takes more preparation and makes time management more crucial than a simple presentation, active experiences increase engagement, which can help people retain information. The next time you have the opportunity to share knowledge with your team, consider how you can do it in a more interactive way. It can make the session more fun and more valuable—both for those you are teaching and for you.

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