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Tip #348: Avoid Mistakes When Timing Learning Activities, Part One

Tip #348: Avoid Mistakes When Timing Learning Activities, Part One

On November 8, 2010, Posted by , In learning activities, By ,,,, , With Comments Off on Tip #348: Avoid Mistakes When Timing Learning Activities, Part One

“If you have made a mistake, cut your losses as quickly as possible.” Bernard Baruch

There are ten mistakes that trainers frequently make when they plan and schedule time for learning activities. We will consider the first five mistakes in this Tip and cover the remaining five mistakes in next week’s Tip.

Mistake #1: Not Telling Participants How Much Time They Have

The best way to keep an activity on schedule is to tell the participants how much time they will have to complete it. Then project a countdown clock on the screen, so they can track their own progress. [Basic countdown clocks are available for free on the Internet]. Since the time you give them is simply an educated guess on your part, you can always increase or decrease the amount of time if necessary and tell the participants the adjusted time frame.

Mistake #2: Allowing Too Much Time for Simple Small Group Discussion

Experience has shown that small groups who have more than eight minutes to complete simple discussion activities, such as a brief questionnaire or a brainstorming activity, will do one of two things. Either they will take an extra break or they will start personal conversations that have nothing to do with the training content. A basic rule of thumb is 8 minutes. If you unobtrusively monitor their activity and listen to their discussions, you will know if they really need more time.

Mistake #3: Allowing Too Little Time for Active Application Activities

The timeframe for active application activities, such as case studies, role-plays or simulation activities, typically needs to incorporate enough time for at least five different elements. First, time to introduce the activity and prepare the participants, such as moving them into different or smaller groups, providing special handouts, or briefing participants who will play certain roles during the activity. Second, time for the participants to read the relevant materials and gather their thoughts. Third, time for the actual activity. Four, time for group report-outs. Five, time to discuss the groups’ general conclusions and summarize their key learning. [Keep in mind that elements four and five may be reversed if the members of the small groups debrief among themselves before they report out to the larger group.]

Mistake #4: Not Giving Time to Reflect Before Brainstorming Activities

Some learners will jump right into a brainstorming activity. Others need time to reflect before they are ready to participate. Make sure to give some time for the participants to collect their thoughts before beginning the brainstorming. If you don’t, some individuals will always participate verbally and others will be silent.

Mistake #5: Omitting Debriefing Time After Activities

After participants work through an activity, they need time to reflect and create their own theories and then articulate them. It is not enough to assign an activity, such as a role-play, and assume the participants learned what they needed to learn through the practice. Debriefing not only gives the participants an opportunity to hear their own thoughts about the practice, but also to learn from others’ experiences.

When planning how much time to allot to a learning activity, it helps to keep David Kolb’s learning cycle in mind: Experiencing, Reflecting, Theorizing, Experimenting. It also helps to remember that different learners are more comfortable at one stage than at another.

Special Announcement: Our four-day Train the Trainer: Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning is now scheduled for January 11-14, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. There are discounted rates for early bird registration and ASTD members. The brochure with registration form is posted on our website: If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at (608) 255-2010.

May your learning be sweet.


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