Training Adults: The Art of the Long Program

I’ve decided to consolidate the blogs The Edu-Engineer and Tres Boucher so that I can provide a richer experience. Part of that includes moving all the posts from Edu-Engineer over to Tres: here’s one of many.

Training Adults: The Art of the Long Program
Originally posted Aug 9, 2011

It’s August. For the past four years, that means I just wrapped up multiple back to back week-long training sessions that take up most of July. Usually that means that I’m with about a dozen teachers in our training room teaching on a variety of topics during the day and entertaining them in the evenings.

Figure skating

Let’s switch to winter for a second. I’m not a huge figure skating fan (I’m more of a bobsled person myself), but I know people who love watching long program/free skate figure skating. They prefer it to the shorter competition, naturally called the “short program”, because it allows the skater to include all of the technical jumps with some extra time for artistic flourish.

But how does this relate to training? In my opinion, training adults over the course of a week requires different tactics than when training over the course of a day or two. A shorter training needs to be “just the facts”, but long training can add some flourish. This is a great thing, as you’ll want to flourish a little to make sure your trainees are interested all week long. Here’s some tips I’ve accumulated over the years to help keep attention and retain information:

Break it up. One of the worst things that you can do is to sit someone in a room all day and train on one thing. Instead, keep it light and switch up the subjects. We train on software in the morning and hands on activities in the afternoon specifically to keep trainees active after the inevitable post-lunch coma.

Channel your speaking heroes. Who do you consider to be a good speaker? Search the internet and study how great speakers talk. The TED talks are a great place to begin, as well as watching comedians. Watch them and ask around the 7 min mark: why am I still engaged in their speech? Is it a great slide show? Is it the stories that they tell? I don’t remember where I picked this up, but when I discuss creating unique usernames I always casually throw in the user ID “8675309” as an example. I love watching my group smirk as their brains get the reference. If they’re smirking, I know they’re still listening.

Keep the flow. You know that awkward moment while showing off software when the internet is loading and you’re left staring at your audience? Instead of utilizing that time, we apologize for the internet or stand there and wait. This is core time when you can bring up refresher information, reinforce where the user can find this page in the system, why this piece is important, etc, etc, etc. During pauses I like to borrow a tactic from yoga teachers, especially Bikram yoga, who talk constantly through the move. As you’re holding that toe stand, they’re utilizing their voice to keep you focused on the task at hand and hold it that much longer. By talking and keeping it interesting through those quiet moments, your audience will stay with you.

Don’t teach them everything they need to know. I would rather have someone know where they need to go for assistance after the training than to feverishly take notes on everything. Self-directed training is growing in leaps and bounds as the internet generation joins the workforce, and I try to encourage searching and creating a knowledge network in my older learners. As companies it’s a waste to put training materials on the internet and create communities if our target market doesn’t know that it is available.Plus, if they’re not taking notes, they’re more likely to ask questions and be engaged.

I think the best “long program” sessions act more like conversations, where as I’m talking they’re asking questions about how to utilize it in their personal situation. What tactics do you use in your training sessions to keep your trainees engaged? How do you measure success during training?

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