In order to have a chance at creating a positive learning environment, we must first reach the hearts and minds of participants. Not impose out-dated (and plain stupid) classroom rules.
Stupid classroom rules is why the continuous erosion of trust in trainers and training is ever present. We all laugh at the crazy rules and warnings we see on basic day to day items. But as we all know, usually with some rule or piece of instruction there was a method behind the madness.
On a hair dryer:
Do not use while sleeping.
On frozen products:
Product will be hot after heating.
On packaging for clothes iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.
On a sleep aid:
Warning: May cause drowsiness.
On a chain saw instructions:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals. (Genitals? Ouch)
And my personal favorite:
On a toaster:
Do not use underwater. (What if I’m Aqua-man?)
Seriously? What’s sad is that these warnings exist because some crazy person tried it, and then tried to blame the company involved. Sigh. Such is life.
Then there are those stupid classroom rules we still around, not because adults can’t focus but because the facilitator is unable focus their attention. Mostly it’s about power. As the facilitator, I have power over you for the next 8 hours and you will abide by my rules. Not unlike our parents. My house, my rules. Why? Because I said so. No, seriously, why? Seriously, because I said so. Because that’s the way my parents did it. Because that’s how instructors/teachers/facilitators before me did it. If it was good enough for them it’s good enough for me – and look at me, I turned out okay.
Here are the power plays – um…rather rules, we need to break away from:
No technology – Why are we still playing the technology card? Facilitators will tell me they want the students to focus on what they are saying. Here’s the deal. First, if I have to tell people to put away their laptops and mobile devices to keep their attention, then I need to refresh my facilation skills. My job is to create an such an engaging environment, people won’t want to check their email. We’re talking about adults (or adult like humans) and if we cannot trust them to manage their own cognitive load without us putting into place ridiculously out of date rules, then why are we here? People have a variety of reasons for needing or wanting their technology. Their handwriting is poor, it’s easier to manage notes after the session, they want to research information on the fly, they want to catalog resources, they want to take pictures of your wall charts. The list is endless and all in the name of improving the learning environment. Why risk losing that for the few who may be checking their email? Let your class be the guide.
Seating assignments – What? Are we in the 1800’s here? Who cares about who sits where? Some places do this on purpose because they want to keep the distractors away from other distractors. This is lazy facilitating. You are the one responsible for managing your session, and if you can’t manage distractors, there are plenty of presentation skills courses out there to learn this skill. Besides, any good facilitator will mix up the groups after the first day anyway – people will then rotate away from distractors and by the second day peer pressure will keep those annoying people under control.
Dress code – I worked for a company that required people attending “training” sessions to be dressed in business formal. Yep, your eyes didn’t blur out – I typed “business formal”. So let me get this straight. You are going to keep people locked up in a windowless basement for 8 hours with the occasional break, forcing men to wear a suit and tie and women wear panty hose? Talk about distracted learning. Frankly, if you’re in one of my workshops – I don’t care if you come in your jammies and fuzzy slippers, just be on time. The more comfortable you are, the most likely I will have your interest and attention.
Forced note taking – PULEEZE. Just stop with the forced note taking. You know what I’m talking about, there are strategic blanks in the participant guides where people must fill in the missing word(s). Or worse, your idea of a participants guide is the PPT deck printed off so that it has the slide with the 3 lines next to it. Forcing people to write everything down. Give people a complete guide, not a PPT deck and be sure it has all the information needed in it. This allows people to take and organize notes the way they need to, so their long-term memory can retrieve the information as needed. People are unique as is their note taking skills. You don’t need to decide for them. Here is a great article on note-taking myths.
Quizzes: YIKES. Quizzes bite. People hate taking them, and facilitators hate grading them. So why, for the love of all that is good – do we still give them? Power. Trainers think the only way people will pay attention is because they know at the end, they will receive a quiz. Or worse for “measurement”. Really? What exactly are you hoping to “measure” the amount of people who can guess accurately? (This comment is not about compliance or certification testing, there’s no stopping the government). In particular, let’s talk multiple choice…all we are measuring there are people’s logic and grammar skills. We force a quiz because that’s what our teachers always did at the end of a class. Status quo. (And we know “Status Quo Sucks”) There are better ways to determine the exchange of knowledge. Lazy facilitation makes us give a quiz when a well moderated course project, or action learning set will do.
Learning objectives: The learning objective for this post: “At the end of this blog post, the reader will be able to ascertain all the rules being used to hold their classroom hostage”. I’m bored already. The problem is this – people in classes don’t care about your learning objectives. People care about what they want to care about, they care about their goals. They care about doing their jobs better. Learning objectives are for US, instructional designers. Not for the participants. It is a given that when you create a course you have to start with a solid learning objective. Begin with the end in mind. Everything from course evaluations, assessing business metrics to test questions all hinge off a strongly created learning objective. This is quite different from setting a course road map. If the class starts out with a boring list of bullets, we have an uphill battle with enthusiasm and interest. Your participants goals for the course may be different than those you have assigned, wouldn’t it be helpful to know this? From a performance perspective, isn’t it best to ask the people in the class what they hope to discover? How they plan on using the information given to improve their day to day? Used in this questioning fashion, you’ve turned learning objectives into performance goals and this creates buy-in and engagement. Here’s an interesting article from Charles Jennings about “Who Needs Learning Objectives?”:
Now, raise your right hand and repeat after me.
I will allow technology in my class and encourage people to tweet, take pictures, and google things they don’t understand.
I will allow people to sit wherever they want to sit. As a good facilitator I will manage distractors.
I will not force people to dress up for me. I will keep uniforms and dress codes to the professions that require them.
I will give people the information they need to learn from the start and allowing them to take notes as they deem appropriate.
I will find a better way to reinforce learning than a multiple choice quiz.
I will let people decide what they need to learn from my subject, I will not make that decision for them.
I will treat my participants as adults and not as children who cannot be trusted.
Okay, I know asking to relinquish a bit of control can be scary. When we are put in an uncomfortable place, that’s where we do our best learning and get our best ideas. Hopefully you have gotten some great ideas as to how to take your classroom from the power play to being about the people. Touching hearts and minds.
Now that we have discussed what not to do, click here for 5 ideas to energize your classroom!
What are some of your classroom best practices that break from the norm? Please share!