Tip #569: Participatory Training in Inhospitable Locations

“It is time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever — the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it.”  Vince Lombardi

Last week, I conducted a train the trainer program in a very large training room with two screens in front of floor to ceiling windows that overlooked a stadium with continually running electronic signs. The lights over the screens were inoperative.

The large windows, even with mesh blinds, let in a lot of light. Without overhead lights near the screens, I became a silhouette standing in shadow. The constantly running signs created a ubiquitous visual distraction for every participant.

I had to stand between the two screens, which projected the same images, and remember to look from one screen to the other and use my laser pointer equally on both screens.

When it was time to videotape the participants as they practiced facilitating participatory learning activities, we had to move all of the tables and chairs so that they faced a side of the room with no windows.

We were able to do this because there was no need to use a screen or an LCD projector. Otherwise, since the audiovisual equipment was stationary, we would have had to find a portable LCD projector and project on the wall.

Needless to say, the training room was less than ideal and our options to address the challenges were very limited. That made me think about how it can be a challenge to use participatory learning activities in certain types of training rooms.

Let’s look at some of the training room configurations that can inhibit participatory training- and what can be done to enable productive small group discussions and engage the kinesthetic learners who need to move.

It is fortunate that there are a variety of different participatory learning activities that can be used to achieve the same desired level of learning. There may be times when a planned learning activity needs to be replaced with one that will work better in the space. However, participatory learning activities can and should still be used in any setting.

Training Room Type #1: An auditorium with fixed seating at long tables on different tiers.

The challenges:

  1. The long tables make it difficult for participants to easily move around.
  2. The tiers make it difficult for participants to turn around and get on eye level with the people seated above or below them.

Possible solutions:

For small group discussion: Set up paired activities; create groups of three who are seated next to each other; have two participants on one level turn around to face two participants on another level (this is really not that awkward or uncomfortable for the participants).

For movement: Use pop ups; employ “throw the Koosh” as an energizer; make sure to give 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes; ask for volunteers to write on flip charts or demonstrate learned skills in the front of the room right after breaks, before they go to their seats.

Training Room Type #2: A conference room with one large rectangular or oval table.

The challenges:

  1. It is difficult to create small groups.
  2. There is frequently little space for participants to get up and easily move around.

Possible solutions:

For small group discussion: have the participants seated on one side of the table move their chairs into a tight circle for discussion- so there are two smaller groups on either side of the table; have half of the participants on one side of the table create a discussion group with one of the participants at the end of the table- so there are four smaller groups at each end of the table.

For movement: employ pop ups; use table flip charts so participants can stand and write without moving away from the table; for an energizer, have the participants move clockwise to the seat next to them; for another energizer, set up a variation on musical chairs that requires the participants to slide into the chair next to them when the music stops; have standing paired discussions.

Training Room Type #3: An auditorium with chairs set in classroom style and no tables.

The challenge:

  1. The lack of tables means that there are no surfaces for kinesthetic tools or for participants to write on.

Possible solutions:

For small group discussion: have the participants move their chairs to create small groups; provide participant packets that are firm enough for the participants to write on them while the packets are on their laps; have each participant turn a chair in the row either in front or in back of their row, to create a make-shift desk surface.

For movement: create groups and have them stand for discussion; provide flip charts so the groups can post their results; use a gallery walk; set up rotating flip charts; put kinesthetic objects on every seat or on random seats in each row.

Training Room Type #4: A ballroom with large 10-person round tables.

The challenges:

  1. The large tables make it difficult for the participants to hear each other during table group discussions.
  2. Participants are typically seated around the table, so a few of  them have their backs to the front of the room.

Possible solutions:

For small group discussion: have the participants seated on one side of the table move their chairs into a tight circle for discussion- so there are two smaller groups on either side of the table; use small groups of three participants seated next to each other; use paired discussions.

For movement: Since movement is not restricted, in addition to pop ups, any kinesthetic activity can be used that involve the participants standing up and moving around: for example, gallery walk, small group brainstorming at a flip chart, snow ball toss, rotating flip charts, scavenger hunt for information, Koosh toss energizer, etc.

May your learning be sweet.



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