You have seen it before
Do you remember one very boring class from school? What about a hardly comprehensible talk you have recently been to? Or maybe a training you took, having the hardest time to stay concentrated?
Probably all of these have two things in common. First, the people you were listening to are likely to be very knowledgeable and delivered a lot of content by talking a lot.
Second, you hardly remembered anything after a while and would therefore not really recommend the experience.
Content delivered vs. content learned
“We talk too much.” This is how Sharon L. Bowman’s book “Training from the Back of the Room” starts. Well, great books have great beginnings. I took it personally what it says because I learned early that my training designs, as well as talks, were at risk to be overfilled with content – and more content usually means more talking.
Yes, there might be great and engaging talks, workshops or whole school programmes despite the speaker (trainer, teacher) talking a lot. But when it comes to scientific evidence on learning, our brain just does not seem to store the information if just listening. It could remember being engaged, or having fun, even some bits and pieces of the content, but it is a long way from engaged listening to real learning. Truth to be told, it is less time consuming to deliver content by talking a lot than helping people to learn properly in an experiential, brain-friendly way.
How can we let people learn?
A fellow trainer told me after her first training delivery: “My highlight was delivering the big icebreaker game. But when it comes to reciting all those facts, I struggle with it.” I delivered the same training before and could not agree more. While we find it hard as trainers to recite facts, can we expect our trainees to learn it easily that way?
Trainers like us, who wish to learn to train more “from the back of the room”, can learn two major lessons from Sharon L. Bowman.
It is scientifically proven what the human brain requires to have a long-term benefit of what it is learning:
- short learning sessions and enough breaks,
- active body during the learning process,
- positive emotional experiences to build the knowledge on,
- changing and informal environment,
- using the dual channel based on audio-visual stimulation (kinesthetic is useful as well),
- active participation and collaboration of the learners,
- learners picking the way they want to learn.
What also helps the brain to learn:
- getting or giving concrete examples,
- hearing novelty and noticing errors.
For example, you deliver a 10-minute learning block using visual material while talking about the most important things the learners need to know. You give concrete examples and ask them to give their own. The next learning block is an activity which they can choose themselves, while moving around and feeling positive and collaborating safely, and actively learn this way.
A useful model described in the book to achieve brain-friendly learning is the “4C”: connection – concept – concrete practice – conclusion.
When it comes to connecting, you help the learners to connect to each other, the topic, their personal goals or the training outcomes.
- Before the training, send them a quiz related to the topic with at least one question that will puzzle them.
- At the beginning of the training, ask them to share a few things they already know about the topic.
When teaching concepts it is important to teach only the necessary, keep it visual, have the learners participate, have shorter blocks and very short reviews.
- Use a concept map or graphics to illustrate the concept.
- Instead of explaining the concept, let them teach it to each other.
Concrete practice means that all learners participate actively, collaborate and understand the expectations.
- Let them repeat by teaching each other in pairs.
- Prepare cards with facts and myths and let them identify them.
Conclusions are used to let the participants summarize, evaluate and celebrate what they have learned, but also to plan their next step of using it in real life.
- The learners write their own learning log of the training.
- Do an evaluation with them, for instance, based on Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model.
- The learners build Lego sculptures as metaphors of the training.
Let us practice now
If you want to walk the talk, this is your chance to pick a topic of a short training block you delivered before and write down how you would do it in the 4C format.
- What would the wanted connection be?
- How would you teach the concept?
- What would the concrete practice look like?
- How could you conclude the block?
So, what can you take away?
After what you have read here, the time is right to answer a few questions. I recommend writing the answers on a post-it and putting it on a visible place, like your mirror, fridge or monitor.
- What is one thing that would be most useful for you if you were the trainee or student?
- What is one thing you want to use when teaching at your next training or class?
- What is one thing your fellow trainer or teacher could find useful? When will you tell them?
Now that you have written down your conclusion of the newly learned training format, maybe the time has come to read the whole book. Highly recommended.
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