Adopt active learning strategies in your training
An activity in a training session is anything that involves the participants actively in the learning process – in other words, as more than a listener/observer. It could be something as simple as a group discussion or it could be a scenario, a role play or a complex simulation.
It may take a couple of minutes - in a course I ran previously we made a strong and memorable point about self esteem by asking participants to catch a ball. At the other end of the spectrum it may take half a day or longer - structured experiential learning activities such as Lasseter's Reef are an example of a longer program.
Activities are central to a quality training philosophy because they make learning participative. Every facilitator in our team carries a facilitator's kit containing all the resources they may need to create a memorable learning experience - including a series of activities they can draw on at short notice.
When is it appropriate to use an activity?
A well structured learning process could really be one long rolling series of activities - so long as each of them makes a valid contribution to the learning outcomes you are trying to achieve. That doesn't mean that a corporate training session should be an endless series of games - remember to take a broad approach to activities using approaches like scenarios and group discussions in addition to the more obvious training games.
Activities can be used for many purposes in a corporate training session - including:
- Get the group to mix or even meet each other – these are obviously most appropriate early in a session
- Create energy or to reinvigorate a group – this is especially effective if there is also a learning outcome
- Practice a skill or implement the information that you have just covered – in this situation, the information comes first but the real learning comes through trying to use it
- Help the participants become aware of how important something is – by doing the activity they see that the skill is important and they see the consequences of doing it or not doing it. The activity could then followed by a debrief and some concise theory which they then have the opportunity to apply in further activities to build the needed skill.
There is a rough order to this list - with the first two being more about room dynamics and the last two being more specifically about creating or reinforcing learning.
Why, why, why?
This is the big question in the minds of most participants: they don't feel they have time to be at training and now you are 'wasting their time playing games'. To be useful from a learning perspective, participants need to be able to see the relevance between the activity and their real life. A key skill for a corporate trainer and learning facilitator is in making that link. In fact, if you can't make that link you will lose credibility and engagement.
Every activity should have a debrief - again this may be a couple of quick questions or a long structured discussion about what could be learned. The debrief is critical in making the link and is the key learning phase. In fact, we could even argue that the only reason to do an activity is so that we can have a debrief.
What, what, what?
This is a simple process to ensure your debrief extracts the available learning from the activity. It involves asking three 'what' questions which are designed to take the participants through the experiential learning cycle designed by David Kolb.
Once people have had an experience (which could be real world or could occur as an activity in a training room), they can learn and apply lessons from that experience with the following reflection:
- What happened: discuss the activity and the results people got. When I gave them some feedback, they reacted in a really defensive way and the discussion broke down
- So what: what does it all mean. They appeared to get defensive because they thought I was criticising them. That wasn't my intention but I may have created that feeling by being too direct
- Now what: how are they going to use this realisation in their working life. I need to recognise that I can be very direct and that I need to adapt that style based on the communication style of the person I am giving feedback to
Managers who invest in corporate training are rightfully concerned about how much of what is learned actually gets reflected in workplace behaviour. The stronger the link you can make between the experience in the activity and tangible workplace behaviours, the more likely they are to use what they have learned.
Remember - the activity is the platform for learning, the debrief is the process by which learning occurs.
A few final tips for running high impact learning activities
- Do your preparation - activities are a platform for the two critical skills of a great corporate trainer: engagement and relevance (contextualisation). Achieving these through activities takes good preparation
- Make sure you understand the way the activity works and the specific outcomes you are looking for
- Try to do a test run on colleagues, family, friends - or even the dog
- Make sure you have all of the items you will need to run the activity – and that they are well organised
- An activity should be fun – people learn better when they enjoy the process
- Don’t leave people exposed – it is usually better to have small groups or even pairs responsible for outcomes than to have an individual feeling silly
- Where you can, keep linking back to the activity through the rest of the session – the more you link the more they learn.By definition, an activity can’t fail – whatever the outcome it provides a platform for learning
If you are already a corporate trainer and learning facilitator - or would like to become one - and want the satisfaction of doing it for yourself, please take a look at our License Partner information packs.
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