Here are some tips on how to create the best learning environment in an adult learning engagement.
Rearrange Your Space
Nine times out of ten, when you get to the training venue, there will be something about the arrangement of tables and equipment that won’t be helpful for learning. Arrive early (with a helper if possible), and rearrange tables, chairs, projectors, screens and other things to make sure that every participant will be able to see, hear and engage. Make sure there are no obstacles in the way, that everyone can see the screen and facilitator, that your voice will carry to the furthest participant or that you have microphones. Sit in participant chairs to see what they see. Make sure they have enough space so that they don’t feel too cramped.
Expect the Unexpected
Things will always go wrong, so prepare for them. Test all your equipment (especially LCD projectors, microphones and speakers). Test and cue your videos to the right places. Get extra batteries for the microphones. Bring extra markers, and test them all to make sure they write well. Decide what you will do if lunch is late, if the power goes out, if a senior leader decides to take up some of your time, if your printouts aren’t ready or unreadable. Always have a Plan B.
Put Someone in Charge
Participants may be uncomfortable in the learning environment but too polite or shy to let you know. At the beginning of your workshop, ask someone to volunteer to be the person in charge of the environment. If participants are having trouble hearing or understanding you, they can tell the person in charge, who will let you know. If they need a break or they need to adjust the air, they can tell the person in charge, who will let you know. This gives adult learns more control over their environment, which increases their engagement.
Get Feedback Everyday
At least once a day (and more if you can afford the time), make time for participants to give you feedback about the content, the pace, the facilitation and the environment. There are many ways to do this, but a few that we have found successful are a Rapid Evaluation Form at the end of the day (a one-page questionnaire on the four topics mentioned above) and a flipchart with a +, -, ? at the top (participants write what they like, dislike and have questions about on different sticky notes and post them as they leave). Make adjustments based on what you learn, and tell your participants what you are doing so that they know their feedback counts.
Move Frequently from Big Group to Small Group
Try to keep your lectures to 10-15 minutes at the most. Then, let the table groups discuss what they are hearing or do some type of activity with it. This has multiple benefits. It makes the most of short attention spans. It helps those who are behind to catch up with the rest of their table. It reinforces the learning through repetition and contextualization. It balances learning for introverts and extroverts. It surfaces questions that might not have been asked out loud. It socializes the learning. (This is the 20% of The Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL’s) 70-20-10 model.)
Contextualize Your Content
Whenever possible, use local, relevant examples to illustrate your points. If you don’t know them, ask for a subject matter expert (SME) to provide some before the training. If you don’t have time to do that, let groups discuss the content and come up with their own local examples. When we train on concepts that are new and different, it is harder for the learning to transfer from the classroom to the work environment. Relevant examples help participants see how to apply the learning to their work.
Know Your Audience
Do the research to learn about who will be attending your workshop. What do they know already? Who are the experts in the room? What is their work context? What significant things are going on for them right now (at least in their work life)?
Only Teach Those Who Need to Know
Are the participants the right people to be attending this training? If they are not, negotiate with your customer to get the right people in the room. Participants who don’t participate can ruin the learning for everyone else, because they may be distracted, disinterested and disengaged. If you have to keep them in your workshop, assign them something to do. Acknowledge their expertise, and ask them to be table leaders or SME’s. Let them help you manage the room or pass out materials. Ask them to help you record meeting notes, parking lot questions or feedback from the others. Invite them to join you for your facilitator debrief session at the end of the day. Keep them busy.