Tip #395: Why Foreshadowing Is Important In Training Programs

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” Denis Waitley

While there is nothing wrong with occasional surprises, few people like to be caught unaware. Participants in a training program are essentially at the mercy of the trainer and, as a result, can feel especially vulnerable. It is a courtesy, a measure of respect and a wise move for a trainer to give the participants advance warning about the training format, content, learning activities and time frame.

Here are four areas in which trainers can put foreshadowing to good use.

1.  Format Foreshadowing

Participants appreciate knowing what to expect during a training program. It is beneficial for both the participants and the trainer when the participants have a clear understanding about:

(a) how the program is structured (i.e., theory in the morning, practical application in the afternoon; or large and small group interaction, alternating with individual worksheets);

(b) what is expected of them (i.e., they will need to apply new skills to their own real life situation; or they will be videotaped while practicing interactive skills; or they will be expected to complete and return home practice assignments);

(c) what the break time schedule is (i.e., when breaks occur and how long they are; and when they will break for lunch and how long they will have); and

(d) when certain activities will occur (videotaping will be done during the first half of the second day; or some preparatory work will need to be done during the lunch break).

Format foreshadowing can help the trainer lay out the game plan, thereby eliminating any element of surprise and smoothing the way for transitions during the program.

2.  Content Foreshadowing

When a trainer tells the participants at the beginning of a program that “we will be covering (this topic),” this can:

(a) raise their expectations (telling them that there is something to look forward to) and at the same time

(b) allay their concerns (assuring them that they don’t have to worry if this content will be included).

The trainer can accomplish this by:

(a) reviewing the agenda and learning objectives; and/or

(b) asking the participants: “What can we discuss that would make your participation today worthwhile?” ; posting their responses on a flip chart; and identifying when each item will be covered during the program.

When a trainer tells the participants that “after the break, we will be discussing (this topic)”:

(a) the participants will unconsciously think about the topic during the break and

(b) they will return from break ready to discuss the topic without the need for reentry time.

Content foreshadowing can help the trainer engage the participants, determine the areas of greatest interest to them, and keep the program flowing with limited interruption.

3.  Learning Activity Foreshadowing

This is particularly necessary if the participants will be involved in learning activities that are unfamiliar to them. However, to be effective, the foreshadowing comments need to both: (a) identify the new activity and (b) explain the purpose of the activity. The intention is to obtain participant buy-in.

For example, participants who are accustomed to lecture may need to be alerted to the fact that they will:

(a) work together in small groups to problem solve a case study (what) in order to test new skills in a real life situation (why); and

(b) report out their findings and conclusions (what) so that each group can benefit from the others’ insights and perspectives (why).

Learning activity foreshadowing can help the trainer predispose the participants to have an open and hopefully positive mindset about taking part in a different learning experience.

4.  Timing Foreshadowing

Participants can better pace themselves to complete a learning activity if:

(a) they know how long they have for the activity and

(b) they are given time alerts when there are only 5 minutes and then 1 minute remaining before the activity should be concluded.

If the participants complete the activity faster than anticipated, the trainer always has the leeway to adjust the allotted time: “It looks like everyone is almost done, so we’re going to just take one more minute to finish up. Then we’ll discuss your findings with the entire group.”

Time foreshadowing can help the trainer adhere to the lesson plan (i.e., cover specific content and include scheduled activities within the planned time frame).

Participants will appreciate receiving information about the format, content, activities and timing of a training program so that they know what to expect. As a result, they will be much more likely to actively and constructively participate.

May your learning be sweet.


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