Chances are you’ve attended or even designed quite an amount of trainings in your life. Not all of them are created equal.

Trainings – the excellent, the not-so-bad, and the ugly ones

Let’s look at some experiences, from a learner’s perspective:

  • Ugly trainings are not about learning. They’re about covering topics. Their learning objectives feel quite off target: Appreciate what the trainer had to endure while preparing the training! Understand that the topic is very complex! Realize how much reading you’ve still got to do before you can create anything of value!
  • Not-so-bad trainings try to be about learning. Somehow, sadly, they wind up in entertainment and variety. You’ll get to know a lot of fun activities that were bundled, lacking a cohesive training structure to make them effective. What did we learn about the topic? Ummm… you forgot. But it was entertaining!
  • Great trainings are about learning, and it shows weeks before you even enter the classroom, because you already feel connected to the topic and to other learners. Time for your learning and for collaborative practice is maximized. Trainers keep their egos, their slides, and their companies in the background. You can’t wait to apply what you tried out, and you already have a plan for that.

How do you create great trainings?<--break->

Great trainings are much more than entertainment

Yes, it is still work to create great trainings, but it’s the type of work that draws trainers into the flow. What’s even more satisfying: giving the training becomes a gratifying experience, too. What a relief for learners as well as for trainers, compared to traditional, awful routines: Slideshow. Practice. Any questions? Rinse and repeat…

As a trainer, I was always struggling with how to integrate engaging activities into a cohesive, effective course. I liked the activities and that made me bear with incompatibilities and jerky transitions within the courses I created. And I believed that if I can bear with it”, the course attendees should be able to do the same. Which means that the learning objectives were compromised for the sake of entertaining the learners. Is that an indispensable trade-off to be made? No other ways for trainers to keep learners awake in the classroom? I’ve learned it’s not like that.

Enter Training from the BACK of the Room!

Training from the BACK of the Room! is a pretty straightforward way of designing and giving trainings that help people learn as effectively as possible. Sharon Bowman created it by utilizing two profound resources:

  • Her decades of training and teaching experience with adults and kids; yes, she’s a real trainer – and a great one, as I can tell from personal experience!
  • Her continuous, impartial evaluation of up to date cognitive neuroscience studies and literature; yes, most of what we know today about learning was only discovered within the last decade!

Let’s face it: as trainers, quite often we stumble upon tidbits of the type “In a recent study, it was found that…” But as a matter of fact, we only manage to integrate some fragments into our work, on an ad-hoc basis. I wanted a better structure or framework than the one I had been using for years.

Simple structure, maximal learning

So, what’s the structure that Training from the BACK of the Room! suggests? Wait a minute. There’s something to consider before that.

Begin with the end in mind: What’s a learning objective?

Know? Understand? Learn?

Attendees understand how to use a fire extinguisher.

One can’t smell, hear, taste or see understanding. As Sharon Bowman puts it, learning objectives must be a combination of observable behavior, plus a desired skill or knowledge that becomes apparent in the behavior:

All participants safely and quickly extinguish a burning wastepaper basket, using a fire extinguisher.

Take your time to capture your personal learning log

Take your time to capture your personal learning log

Now that’s a learning objective. Once you have it, but not before, you can conceive the training.

Using Sharon Bowman’s 4Cs structure, you’ll create trainings that will be effective. They’ll be fun. And neither trainers nor participants will tolerate the old style of ex-cathedra teaching anymore. The 4Cs are easy to describe, as you’ll see below. But it takes practice and experience┬á to master them.

Together with 16 fellow coaches, I was participating in Sharon’s trainings in Stockholm, to become a certified trainer. Since I believed I was already following the good advice from her books, I admit I felt insecure whether the courses would really provide any additional benefit. Especially given that they’d cost me a decent amount of money and time. Well, the courses simply blew away my doubts. Sharon used the thing to teach the thing – and I ended up with her plus 16 co-trainers in some of the most productive trainings I ever participated in.

C1 – Connect

Imagine yourself entering a training room, wanting to learn something. How do you feel, still at the door? Excited? Anxious? Slightly plan-less? Bored in advance?

Good trainers enable learners to make connections, as early as possible. Connections with other learners. Connections to the topic. Connections to learning objectives. Connections to personal goals. Isn’t it sad how the first 15 minutes of a training, when your brain is full of anticipation, usually get wasted talking about lunch break schedules, past achievements of the trainers and of their companies, and other boring stuff? I learned how to use Warm-ups, Fast pass and Start-up activities instead.

C2 – Concepts

Ask yourself how many slides you can endure before you reallyreallyreally want to start doing and practicing something yourself. If you are any like me, your patience and your attention have clear limits. Unfortunately, some trainers are challenging those limits, to say the least.

So I learned how to pace myself as a trainer and teach only the need-to-know. How to help learners apply more and retain more by making it fun for them to take parts of the teaching into their own hands. I learned how Concept maps, Interactive lectures, Jigsaw activities and Concept centers can turn consumers into learners.

C3 – Concrete Practice

Teaching back fosters deeper learning

Teaching back fosters deeper learning

Do you like to be put on the spot, as a learner? The probing eyes of the trainer and the rest of the group, silently screaming at you: “FINALLY GET IT???” Probably not that much. Competition and fear of failure have no place in a training. Collaboration and the joy of failure have. As soon as learners become afraid, bail out and keep watching others (or the trainers) demonstrate something, you can tell that a training has gone astray.

Collaborative, concrete practice comes in many shapes: Teach-back activities, Skills-based activities and learner-created games, just to name a few categories. This is where learners realize that it’s up to them to make a decision, team up with the others and participate actively.

For me as a coach and trainer, that was definitely a hard lesson to learn about course design. Even though I knew better, I always felt somehow responsible for the learning of the participants who chose to stay passive. Which made me try myself at motivational speaking (kind of), which in turn made them even more passive and harmed the overall learning effect.

C4 – Conclusions

Start designing your own courses - immediately!

Start designing your own courses – immediately!

5 pm is not a conclusion. Silence after Any questions? isn’t, either.

My definition of a conclusion is rather to see learners

  • Apply evaluation strategies to what they experienced.
  • Create their own useful summaries and action plans.
  • Celebrate success together.

I feel that a training was successful when participants feel torn between the urge to celebrate with the others and the urge to run home immediately and try out what they’ve learned.

Want to train with like-minded people how to create great trainings?

We’re looking forward to meet you in our training – see you!