Training Activities: A Waste of Time or Necessary Part of Learning?

July 7, 2015 in Delivery, Facilitation, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Talent Development, Training

I recently attended (and spoke at) the Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference in Orlando. I overheard this conversation, one trainer to another:blog pic 7-7

“I need better training activities. Every time Leadership sees me coming down the hall, they hide. I hear them say things like, ‘There comes Laura; [not her real name] she’s going to waste our time again with one of those stupid games.’”

The two individuals were deep into their conversation, and I didn’t want to interrupt, but I couldn’t help thinking about how backwards Laura’s thinking was. She doesn’t need more activities in her trainer toolbox, she needs to stop wasting her learners’ time.

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If I Were Coaching Laura
If I were coaching Laura, I’d start by throwing out all of her training activities, then together we’d find relevant ways to design learning transfer. Finally, we’d work on her facilitation skills so that she doesn’t feel the need to fall back on those rusty tools in her toolbox.

Is There Another Approach?
A dear friend and colleague at the ATD Chicagoland Chapter, Matt Elwell, and I often spar over learning activities. Matt and I have a lot in common. We both have a theatre background, we’re both passionate about adult learning, and we both have a preoccupation with the need for better communication, but we’ve taken slightly different paths on this one issue.

I asked Matt to sum up his position on Learning Activities. His response was, “Blaming learning activities for bad delivery is like blaming the electric guitar for Nickelback. Learning activities are powerful tools, but they need to be chosen and modified with the learning outcome and needs of the participants in mind. Like any other element of talent development, it requires honest discovery, insightful design, and expert delivery.”

So where I’m skeptical of activities in general, Matt’s skeptical of the way trainers handle training activities. However, we both agree that activities:

  • Ought not waste peoples’ time.
  • Should show a return on investment (ROI).

The Unintended Damage of Poorly Executed Learning Activities
Poorly received activities don’t just fail to meet the needs of the business, they can actually cause harm in the form of wasted time (money) and squandered goodwill both for the trainer and for training itself.

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So Now What?
Matt actually spoke at an ATD Chicagoland Chapter (ATDChi) event last February about this very thing, and I’ve been encouraging him to speak more about it. He makes a great case (and he has a calculator!) for ensuring each segment of training is worth the time, money, and effort and that training has a positive effect on the business.

What do you think? How do YOU feel about training activities? I’d love to hear from both learners and trainers, both pro and con.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Melt the Icebreakers Already

June 18, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg 200x300I have had the pleasure to present a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” for several ASTD chapters this year. It’s designed for an audience of trainers and those who coach trainers and SMEs.

A common discussion that comes up during this session is around the use of icebreakers and energizers that our industry has become so fond of. (Just google “ASTD icebreakers” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some people in our industry love them. Some don’t.

During the session I make the case that if we, as Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, want to be respected, we need to value learners’ time. One way we can do that is to not waste it with silly and irrelevant icebreakers.

There’s one particularly awful icebreaker that I’ve suffered several times at conferences. People are to pair up and spend 10 seconds looking at each other. They are then told to turn away from each other and change 5 things about them. For example, move a ring to another finger, take off a jacket, and so on. Then they are instructed to turn back to each other and discover what has changed about their partner.

The point? Change is hard. And here’s the thing: we’re adults, we know change is hard. So how might we make that point quicker? I’d say something like “I think we can all agree that change is hard.”

I suppose I could agree that we need to lighten the mood once in a while. I could also agree that we need to energize learners from time to time. But, as a learner, if you ask me to do irrelevant and/or embarrassing things such as laughing yoga, sharing my favorite Christmas gift as a kid, tell you something unusual about myself, do jumping jacks while yelling “ha,” or recite a nursery rhyme multiple times using different voices and inflection, I may do what I’ve seen others do in these very common situations:

  • Sit there with my arms crossed
  • Roll my eyes
  • Check my phone
  • Walk out

I might also:

  • Question your judgment
  • Think twice before attending another session with you

So, what are better ways to lighten the mood, energize learners, and earn their respect?

  • Explain why they’re there, what they’ll learn, and how to apply it to their jobs. Do this first thing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. Remember: they are not blank slates.
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for not wasting their time.
  • Send them on a break.
  • Listen fearlessly to their ideas.
  • Connect dots.
  • Respect their differing points of view.
  • End early.

There’s always at least one person in each session who will defend their use of icebreakers by saying that they only choose ones that are relevant to the training content. OK, I’ll go along with that as long as the activity doesn’t waste time or make people feel awkward in front of their peers. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve seen don’t meet those criteria.

So, what are your thoughts? Are icebreakers ever OK with you? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”