The better a man is the more mistakes he will make for the more things he will try.
One reason that participatory learning activities get a bad reputation is the fact that some trainers incorporate them solely to add an element of fun and excitement. For participants who are stretched thin at work and feel that every minute of training should be of practical use, having to participate in extended fun and games that have no relevance to the training content is a waste of their time.
Please avoid these three mistakes when thinking about participatory learning activities:
Mistake #1: Believing participatory learning activities are pure entertainment rather than a training necessity. There are four reasons for using participatory learning activities, and none of these are merely the result of the curriculum designer’s whim:
1. Participants have to be actively involved to demonstrate their comprehension and ability to use their learned skills to apply, analyze, evaluate and create. If the desired learning level is higher than knowledge, the only way to achieve this is through participatory learning activities.
2. Brain studies have determined that the memory is based on emotions. The more senses involved, the more effective the learning and the greater probability of retention. That is why the “whole body” learning experience of participatory learning activities is so important.
3. Only participatory learning activities will satisfy the needs of different learning styles to do more than simply sit, listen and read the PowerPoint slides accompanying a lecture. They also enable participants to verbalize, have a hands on experience, and move.
4. Participatory learning activities are the best way for a trainer to determine if the participants are learning what they need to learn during the course of the training. At the very least, lecturers can check participant comprehension using questionnaires, pop ups, shout outs, or case studies.
Mistake #2: Thinking participatory learning does not belong in technical training. Training based on an expert lecturer has been the paradigm for technical training. However, it is a mistake to think that the delivery of technical training needs to be driven by a subject matter expert rather than by the participants.
The subject matter expert is most significant during the design of the training program. Why? Design decisions regarding the training content, the desired level of learning, and the best way for participants to demonstrate their learning are all based on the subject matter expert’s knowledge and experience.
The other problem with this paradigm is that lecture can only achieve the learning level of knowledge. All higher levels of learning (comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation and creation) require participatory learning activities. In fact, programs that are intended to build technical skills have the greatest need for participants to demonstrate their new degree of competency in the classroom.
Mistake #3: Overlooking the recuperative power of energizers.
Learning is hard work. An energizer is a fast and simple way to reinvigorate participants when their energy starts to lag. This includes any brief participatory activity that physically engages the participants. The brain needs a lot of oxygen to function at peak efficiency. Getting participants up and moving around will cause them to breathe more deeply, resulting in more oxygen in their brains.
Have them stand up and throw balls to each other for the duration of a short upbeat song. Have them line up by the month and day of their birth and then count off to create new table groups. Plug in a relay race, where teams of participants need to identify key content that begins with each letter of the topic. All of these activities take only a few minutes and generate a lot of new energy in the group.
The decision to incorporate participatory learning activities is not based on a whim. The desired level of learning for the key training content determines the nature of the learning activities. Participatory learning activities are essential for successful learning in any training program. They are not intended, and should never be used, simply as gimmicks irrelevant to the learning objectives and the learning process.
May your learning be sweet.