Tip #236: Debunking Myths About A Comfortable Learning Environment #1

There is a myth that it doesn’t really matter what a training room is like or how participants are treated, because people will learn what they need to learn. I disagree. I believe that unless participants are treated with respect, which means that sincere efforts are made to address both their physical and emotional needs with courtesy and care, they are much less likely to learn or to retain anything they learned. The reason for this is very simple. If they don’t feel that anyone cares about them, why should they care?

I think that a learning environment becomes “comfortable”when the trainer, through both word and deed, shows the participants that they are important.

This Tip focuses on how to create a physically comfortable learning environment, despite real constraints. Remember, the mind can only absorb as much as the butt can endure!

Next week’s Tip will focus on how to create an emotionally comfortable learning environment.

It would be lovely if all training rooms had comfortable chairs, large tables with plenty of space for training materials, lots of windows, art work or nicely colored walls, good lighting, great ventilation, effective heating and air conditioning, unobstructed views of audiovisuals, and easy access to restrooms and water fountains. However, for many trainers this training room ideal is only a dream.

The reality is that many training rooms have less than comfortable chairs, tables that are either too small or too large and unwieldy, no windows, drab and/or colorless walls, poor lighting, little if any ventilation, ineffective heating and air conditioning, views obstructed by columns, and restrooms and water fountains only within jogging distance.

Although trainers may have little control over many aspects of the training environment, they have a great deal of control over the physical learning environment by the choices they make:

  • If the chairs are uncomfortable, the trainer can give frequent breaks and incorporate learning activities that enable the participants to get up and move around.
  • If the tables are too small, the trainer can put two or more tables together to give participants more space. If the tables are too large and unwieldy, the trainer can angle them toward the front of the room and ensure that chairs are placed in a manner that maximizes group interaction and audiovisual visibility.
  • If there are no windows, the trainer can place colorful kites or peripherals on the walls to add color and interest.
  • If the lighting is poor, the trainer can take care not to dim the lights for audiovisuals, or to turn them on immediately afterward.
  • If the ventilation, heating and/or air conditioning is less than adequate, the trainer can request fans or keep the doors open to increase air movement. If it gets too hot (or cold) in the room, the trainer can give additional breaks or move the group outside the training room to a cooler (or warmer) location for some activities.
  • If views are obstructed by columns, the trainer can place tables and chairs in front or or to the side of the obstruction in order to ensure adequate visibility. If this isn’t possible, the trainer can make sure to place movable audiovisual equipment (such as flip charts) in more visible locations- and to stand where s/he has eye contact with each participant.
  • If restrooms and water fountains are a distance away, the trainer can give ample and adequate break times- and encourage participants to bring beverages into the training room if water pitchers and glasses are not provided in the room.

Through his or her courteous and caring responsiveness, the trainer makes it clear that the participants’ physical comfort matters. These actions also let the participants know that they matter to the trainer.

Tip #237: Debunking Myths About A Comfortable Learning Environment #2

Last week’s Tip focused on how to create a physically comfortable learning environment, despite real constraints. This week’s Tip focuses on how to create an emotionally comfortable learning environment.

Let’s face it. Participants can feel incredibly vulnerable when they enter a training room, because they have no idea how they will be treated. If school was not a highlight of their lives, they may automatically revert to feelings of inadequacy. If the class is mandatory, they may feel resentful and resistant. None of these emotions create a very fertile ground for receptivity or learning.

However, if they are treated with respect, validated as individuals, and clearly set up for success, they can relax because they will feel that they are in a safe environment. Learning then becomes a real possibility.

So, how does a trainer make this happen? The following list just hits the highlights, but it should give a good idea of the approach to take:

  • Treat the participants as adults, not children: give them choices, draw on their expertise, and ask for their examples and perceptions.
  • Let them know at the very beginning of the training that you are committed to meeting their needs: create a learning contract, encourage them to tell you if their needs are not being met, and then either make the adjustments to the content or the activities as requested or explain the rationale for continuing with them.
  • Have the participants discover the value of the training: let them identify what will most benefit them rather than telling them.
  • Make learning a mutually shared experience: create activities that enable them to self discover what they need to learn, and ensure a continual give and take of information between trainer and participants.
  • Coach for success: take “no”out of your vocabulary, and if a participant volunteers an incorrect answer to a question, coach the individual to the correct answer.
  • Build their confidence in their own competence: move them through the stages in the learning process, help them experience small successes at each stage, and provide ample opportunities to apply what they have learned.
  • Incorporate a variety of learning activities to meet the needs of different learning styles: keep the training varied and interesting for the participants and for you.
  • Avoid teaching what they already know, wasting their time and adding insult to injury: ask questions and check to see if anyone knows the answers rather than assuming that no one knows.
  • Accept questions and critiques without becoming defensive: make it really true that there are no unwelcome questions or comments.
  • Enjoy the participants: get to know them as individuals, learn from their insights and perspectives, cheer them on, and exult in their successes.
  • View each training session as a new opportunity for you, the trainer, to learn and to grow, both in terms of the content as well as your ability to teach it.

In summary, we create an emotionally comfortable learning environment when it is clear that we sincerely care about the participants, respect them, and want to help them be successful.

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