October 16, 2017
by Chuck Espinoza, CTS-D, CTS-I
Let’s face it. All of us need training. It’s just a fact of life for those in any professional industry. And for the AV industry, it’s the way we stay relevant. This industry is constantly evolving to keep up with the demand of the users and managers of technology, so training on new content – new products, software, platforms, standards, etc., - is not just something we need to stay ahead of the game. It’s what we need to be IN the game. Because training is so critically important to our industry, it’s essential to get the approach right.
As an AVIXA staff instructor, I travel across the U.S. teaching a wide-range of AV courses, such as AV Design, Project Management for Live Events, and Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) Prep. I spend a lot of time thinking about my students’ classroom experience. Before I teach a class or present to any group, I try to put myself in the student’s shoes and ask these questions from their point of view:
How do I feel about the class itself? Was it a necessary evil that I just had to “grin and bear” because I need that piece of paper? Was it something I’d recommend to friends or coworkers? Was the room too cold or too hot? Did the chair hurt my butt? Did I sleep through some of it? Was finding lunch a pain (if food was not provided)? Did they have breaks or did I miss some content because I went to the restroom? Did they have coffee? Did the instructor hold my attention? Did I actually ingest knowledge that would help me solve a problem? Did I interact with the class or just sit at my desk? Did I have a chance to really get to know my colleagues or was it just an information dump? Did the instructor or facilitator know the material? Did the material make sense? Was the materiel flawed?
If I answer any of the above (and many more) questions unfavorably, I will adjust my schedule, content, presentation style, and environment, to correct what people will take away from the experience.
The biggest mistake I see in trainings is trying to teach adults like one would a high school class. Open book. Follow along with the PowerPoints. Click, click, click. Break. Click, click, click. Lunch. Not only is this boring, it’s not a very effective way to ensure actual learning ensues.
Adults don’t really need knowledge from a facilitator. They can get that at home sitting behind a computer using any number of search engines that live on the world wide web. Adults want to solve problems that will make them more successful. They want to see how others in our industry are solving problems.
But that is not enough. They want to have fun doing it. Yes, we really do like having fun while working! (GASP!) If you search “advantages of laughing,” you will come up with all the benefits of what having fun can do for your body and mind. I often joke about my classes being “an 8-hour comedy routine with a little guided discussion mixed in,” but the reason for it has always been about making the “necessary” (the knowledge) “enjoyable and pleasurable” (the laughing).
The challenge is not coming up with new jokes. That’s the easy part. It’s breaking the ice with a group of strangers. Here is the big tip. Make it the expectation, not the exception. Establish the class as being informal and open from the start.
Instructor/facilitators: Put toys on the table. Not just a squeeze ball, but Legos and Play-Doh. Let people sit on the floor if they want to. Allow people to be comfortable. Interact with them like a coworker or friend and not so much like a teacher. Encourage them to interact with each other and not just you. Throw a beach ball around (whoever catches the ball has to talk), and don’t make it “ping pong” between you and the members of the session; make it “volleyball” around the room.
Session attendees: Go into the class with an open mind and ready to have fun; don’t just “be present” for the session. Sit on the floor if you want to. Play with the toys. Contribute to the discussion. Remember, the facilitator is not the “sage on the stage.” They are a professional just like you. They are your equal. When you catch the beach ball, speak your mind even if it’s not in agreement with the class. (Especially if it’s not in agreement with the class!) Express your point of view and why you have it.
If you establish the session as a space for sharing information and not just receiving information, the members of the group will be more apt to contribute and share. Something magical happens when the class shares. They learn - really learn. They learn different ways to solve problems. The learn to think out of the box. They learn that they are not alone and someone in the industry has probably had the same problem that they are now dealing with. They learn to reach out to their community. They learn that the session was an open door, not a vault of information. The learn how to keep learning after the session is over. And they have a great experience doing all of it.
For those who are reading this and are thinking about the trainings that you have had in the past - good, bad, or in between – think about what you would omit from those sessions and what you would add. What would help you retain and utilize the information better?
For those reading this who hold those sessions, listen to the above group. Think about the little things that distract from your session and fix those things. Get into the habit of trying new things and exploring new ways to create a better session experience. Buy some darn Play-Doh. Make your environment a place that you would enjoy coming back to.
If I have the pleasure of having any of you in one of my sessions, please let me know what you liked and if I can do anything that would make it a better experience. And sit on the floor and play with the Play-Doh every now and then. It really does make learning more fun.