Advocates of the ‘new’ learning models often remind us that ‘learning doesn’t take place in the classroom’ – that instructor led training is a resource intense waste of time.

Obviously, as a training facilitator I would disagree with this, but I would add that learning doesn’t take place by clicking a button or swiping a screen and answering multiple choice questions. This is equally as offensive and both statements amount to glib over simplifications of how learning and behavioural change takes place.

On-line and micro learning are economically sound and allow organisations to give the impression they have developed staff. If the choice is between two options that don’t lead to behavioural change, then you might as well choose the one that doesn’t chew up too many resources.

There is nothing wrong with any of the methods, but they are often delivered with an essential element missing that turns information into behavioural change … Experience.

Learners who get to practice new skills in real situations are much more likely to retain the skill. Obviously, some skills are easier to ‘experience’ than others. On-line learning would be ideal to learn how to do conditional formatting in Excel by allowing users to practice using real life examples. The art of dealing with difficult customer behaviour may not lend itself to the on-line learning environment as there is no one size fits all – right and wrong response (as there may be with software). Having said that – even the funkiest set of PowerPoints won’t cover every possibly.

I’ve been involved in sessions where actors were used to role play the difficult behaviour of a customer or a belligerent manager etc and I must say I find them very enjoyable and engaging, but some don’t share my enthusiasm and feel intimidated in such programs (or don’t enrol). In addition, it is an expensive exercise. That said, better to spend the budget on a few expensive programs that work than lots of cheaper programs that don’t (unless your only metric is attendance numbers).

I’ve also found that inviting a difficult customer or belligerent manager to the program can be disruptive and ever so slightly unethical.

The difference

So, while instructor led training can fall short on ‘experience’ it has the ability to approximate it more effectively than a generic pre-packaged on-line program. In fact, with a skilled presenter who understands human behaviour and group dynamics, with a high level of Emotional Intelligence and fair degree of improvisation skills it can work very effectively.

Such a facilitator can read the group and can bring out real life examples from the group to apply to the topic at hand. They challenge participant’s assumptions in a safe environment by gently asking the tough questions.

When the participant’s needs are central, the facilitator can adapt the program on the spot to better suit the needs of the group. They know the difference between the needs of an individual participant and the greater need of the group and adapt without losing the individual. Where relevant they can take an individual’s example and expand it to be relevant to the wider group. Ensuring that one person’s comment or answer results in learning for everyone in the room.

They can tap into their vast reservoir of stories and anecdotes to illustrate a point spontaneously generated by a participant.

A skilled facilitator can assess the group’s readiness to move on from a topic or whether they need a little more time by asking probing questions and reading the non-verbal communication of the group, and then adjust the timing appropriately.

They centre on the learner, not ‘compliance’ or ‘training metrics’. As an external consultant, my client is the organisation that hires me … right up until the first participant enters the room … at that point my client is each and every participant. My role is to create a warm and safe environment where open communication and risk taking open the opportunities to experience and learn.

The learning event should be an ‘experience’ in and of itself!

The program content and the visual aids are just the skeleton of the event. The participants provide the rest guided by a skilled facilitator.

Article by Adam Le Good, Director of Fundamental Training and Development

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