We talk a lot on this blog about ways to design effective trainings that are also–imagine!–relatively fun for trainers and trainees alike. A lot of this advice deals with the nitty-gritty of designing courses from the ground up or doing major projects like overhauling a course to teach it online for the first time.
Often, though, what trainers need are quick ways to jazz up a training or an easy way to get learners more involved in a particular activity. In this new series, we’ll offer quick tips for things you can do in about five minutes or so. No re-designing trainings or massive file updates, just easy ideas you can put into practice right away. Think of it as microlearning for the trainer.
Quick Tip #2: Check in with your trainees
Hopefully, your trainees aren’t quite as tough a crowd as poor Ben Stein’s fictional high school students in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but I’m willing to bet that most of us can identify with both sides in this clip.
Here are some ideas for checking in with your trainees in an, ahem, slightly more effective way.
1. Wait for it
This teacher’s instincts are good–polling the class to see if anyone knows the answer–but once you ask, you obviously need to give trainees adequate time to respond. Known as “wait time” in pedagogical lingo, this pause lets people process what you’ve just asked them and then formulate a response.
It’s also one of those times when, I guarantee, there appears to be a warp in the space-time continuum.
What feels like a perfectly reasonable amount of time to a trainer who’s taught the course multiple times and knows the material inside and out will seem like a nanosecond to trainees who are still struggling with the basics. Allowing adequate wait time–and pacing in general–is one of the hardest things for beginning trainers to grasp at first, but obviously experienced teachers can struggle with it too.
A subset of this category is emotional awareness. Your check-in questions should help trainees recall key points, but they should also give you info about how they’re processing information, including how emotions like frustration or confusion might be interfering with the learning process.
2. The polls are open
Whether you’re training in person or online, a poll or survey can be a great way to get a read on the group’s progress.
When I’m working with a group in person, I’ll often have people take either the first five minutes or the last five minutes to write briefly on a topic related to the training course. If you’re using an LMS or other online training software, these platforms make it easy to do these quick check-ins electronically. When I just want a read on group progress, I’ll often have the poll be anonymous.
These kinds of activities are a great way to make sure that what you think trainees are learning is actually what they’re able to articulate back to you.
Depending on the nature of what you’re tracking, it’s often fun to share the results with the group. Too often, learning takes place in isolation, a feeling that can be amplified by the online environment, so sharing results can be a good way to create a more social atmosphere. If you do decide to share results, let people know your plans ahead of time and give them the chance to opt out.
3. Show me
How many times have you seen people reply that they’ve understood something when the look on their face clearly says they’re still confused?
There are all kinds of reasons why people have a hard time asking questions, so it’s not always helpful to put out a generic call for questions. Instead, find ways to get trainees to show you what they know!
There’s a fair amount of evidence for the idea that frequent, low-stakes testing actually helps us retain more information. Here’s the thing: those “tests” don’t have to involve No. 2 pencils and nervous sweat. Look for ways to test trainees’ knowledge in multiple, low-key ways.
One of my favorite ways to do this is simply to ask people point-blank questions. (And then allow an appropriate amount of time to answer, of course!) I always give people the chance to pass on answering a particular question, but over time it does reinforce the idea that advance preparation is required for each training session. If you do this, it’s helpful to establish a good rapport with the group so that people don’t feel attacked when you fire away with questions.
The act of recalling information on the spot acts as a sort of mini-test that helps reinforce the information for trainees, something I also let them know at the beginning of each course so that they know what to expect and aren’t overwhelmed.
And here’s the thing: Once you’ve done the work of establishing rapport and making it clear that you actually want people to contribute and ask questions, they’ll going to be a lot more likely to volunteer questions and not give you that blank my-head’s-nodding-yes-but-my-face’s-saying-no look.
If you’re working online, you can build in micro quizzes that pop up at the end of a module or between concepts. Another quick check-in is to have trainees restate a concept in their own words or to imagine they have to describe a process to someone outside the organization, like their mom. Another way to get feedback is through the use of clickers or a group social media hashtag; these can both be used for quizzing, for friendly competition, or for polling and surveys.
Even if you’ve already created your course, most online training software makes it easy to add quizzes or other survey-type assessments after the fact. Just be sure to communicate clearly with trainees about what the assessments are and how they’ll affect their completion of the course.
With all three tips, make sure to actually use the information you get from trainees in order to improve your courses! Let’s keep that boring “anyone, anyone?” pseudo-question where it belongs–on the big screen–and keep your trainees’ attention focused where it matters: on the material that will help them do better work.
For more posts in this series, click here.
I'm endlessly fascinated by how people learn, and I'm happiest when I'm in the process of learning something new myself.
When I'm not working on marketing for Avizr, I can be found teaching Spanish, working with my student teachers, hanging out with my dogs, and exploring the many trails around Bellingham.