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Training Tip

Increase the Joy of Learning by Cathy Bolger

"Learning is proportional to the amount of fun you have."
Bob Pike, Creative Training Techniques Handbook

When Bob Pike made the above statement, he was talking about the joy of learning, which comes from involvement and participation. Pike also reminds us that adults are babies in big bodies. Many of us still like to play, explore and color and thus combine fun and learning.

In addition, high levels of stress and anxiety are obstacles to learning. So when the trainer can use fun, humor and play to decrease anxiety, trainees will often find a comfort level important to learning.

Trainers can also use humor to decrease resistance. For instance, I have watched trainers ask how many hostages were in class. A few people will raise their hands, often with the hint of a smile on their faces. After the trainer acknowledges this sometimes tense situation (people in training who would rather be elsewhere) in a humorous way, these training "hostages" will often relax and even enjoy learning.

Humor and laughter can be bonding. Sometimes your connection as a trainer to your trainees is important to their participation and learning. If they like you, they are more likely to learn from you as well as participate in their own learning. Indeed, humor can be the shortest distance between two people!

Sometimes there is a relationship between the "ha ha" and the "ah ha." For instance, when a group is working on a problem and seemingly stalled, sometimes the best thing to do is take a break, work on a puzzle, take a walk, do something fun. This often frees up the mind to work on the problem. It allows for a "back burner thinking" about the problem that can lead to movement forward.

Following is a list of suggestions, things I have used or seen used in training to increase participation and joy in learning:

  1. Get them involved. I know that if I am allowed to become passive, it is hard to overcome my own inertia. So, I immediately have trainees engage in a fun activity. For instance in my meeting skills class, I have them list the characteristics of the worst meeting they have ever attended. They have fun and it is related to their learning.

  2. Keep them involved. Once the trainer gets the energy flowing, keep it flowing. In general, I rarely lecture for more that 10 minutes before structuring an activity such as ones listed in this article.

  3. Use Stories. The storyteller (trainer) acts as a bridge between the story and the participants by painting a picture through the use of gestures, vocal variety and facial expression. Stories can be fun as well as serve as a way to illustrate a concept and even act as a safe way to deal with a sensitive issue.

  4. Use video clips. Trainees of all ages seem to love video clips. For instance, during a recent presentation skills training, I showed a clip from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to kick off a discussion of effective and ineffective presentation skills.

  5. Use games. Games can make a seemingly dry subject fun and interesting. For instance, while training a class on statistical process control, I have trainees participate in a dice game to illustrate probability and introduce histograms.

  6. Give prizes. It is amazing the energy a piece of chocolate or even play money, will generate. During a recent outdoor team building even, we awarded play money to teams according to their level of success. This increased both the focus and fun!

  7. Use props. As soon as I bring out a prop, I have their attention. For instance, to illustrate "equivalency of meaning," I often toss a beanbag to a trainee. When the trainee tosses it back, I explain how it relates to clear communication. I have seen trainers use different hats, or even costumes when illustrating different types of communication.

  8. Use color, images and music. The use of color, images and music increases enjoyment and also accelerates learning. Joe Sterling, who teaches and uses graphic facilitation techniques combines pictures and colors with words to illustrate a discussion. According to Joe, "I know from years of experience with participants numbering in the thousands that quality graphic facilitation multiplies the value of training sessions, meetings, dialogues, planning sessions, and the like by a factor of ten."

  9. Use metaphors and analogies. Using metaphors or analogies can be a fun and insightful way to explain something, or have trainees grasp a concept. For instance, while training at a company going through lots of change, I asked the trainees to use an image to describe what the change felt like. One group said, "like being caught in a wave, and tumbled around." Another group said, "like being lost in a cornfield where you lose sight of the beginning and have no idea how to get out."
So, to increase learning, try some of the above ideas to improve the laugh life of your trainees as well as the joy of learning.

Recommended References:
Browse Amazon Books Pike, Robert W., Creative Training Techniques Handbook. Human Resource Development Press, 2003.

Cathy Bolger is a San Diego-based consultant specializing in Communication, Presentation, Meeting and Instructor skills.

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