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CLS May blog

Trainer Marie sighed with relief as the last participant in her Time Management course left the room.  That was one of the harder classes she had ever taught!  She felt like she had too much content for the allotted time, so she decided to skip the “fluffy” activities and only discuss the most important tips from each lesson.  The audience was tough:  whenever she asked if they had questions, they either said nothing or asked questions to which she could not respond. She had tried engaging in conversation at the breaks.  Although it helped a little, she felt even more rushed and tired.  “This was a poorly-designed course,” she thought.

Marie was partly correct.  The course had too much content.  However, Marie made the situation worse by committing three mistakes that often happen during the Facilitating Learning phase, when trainers lead courses:

  1. Skipping opening activities: When time is tight, trainers often introduce themselves, state the agenda, and move into the heart of the content.  While this is expedient and efficient, it is not effective.  Participants need to feel that they are part of a safe learning community and that participating is not going to be uncomfortable.  They also need to clear their heads of distractions so they can focus on the course.  The opening activity achieves these goals.  Increase participation throughout the class by conducting an opening activity, even if it is a one.
  2. Omitting on-the-spot audience assessments: Needs assessments provide a general picture of the intended audience but nothing beats asking the audience in the room about their experiences to get a sense what they already know.  By skipping the opening activity, Marie lost the opportunity to learn about her audience.  Because she focused more on the content than her participants, she never asked any questions during the rest of the session to assess their baseline knowledge.  As a result, some felt the course was too basic.  Asking simple questions when introducing a new topic, like “How many of you set alarms in Outlook calendars?” or “How do you avoid spending all day answering emails?” could have helped Marie make her presentation more relevant.
  3. Being too lenient with time: Marie started the session 10 minutes late to allow a few late-comers to arrive.  Twice she extended breaks by 5 minutes.  She decided to give an extra 10 minutes to complete an activity.  Giving away these 30 minutes boxed her into a corner where her only options were to talk faster, do fewer activities, or cut content. To avoid feeling rushed, return from breaks on time.  Follow the time suggestions in the trainer’s guide.  Consider your “plan B” before the session begins:  What will you cut if you get behind schedule?

Ironically, while lecture is easiest for creating a training course, it is hardest to facilitate.  Lecturing requires the trainer to talk continuously and drains the participants’ energy.  Activities are the trainer’s friend. They build confidence and competency while re-energizing participants; they allow the trainer to assess the audience’s baseline and ongoing understanding; and they give trainers a chance to sit down, stop talking; and relax for a moment.

What other common mistakes do you think Marie made while facilitating?  Add your answers in the Comments section to keep this conversation going!

Comprehensive Learning Solutions, a co-developer of and signatory to the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s Principles for Learning and Guide to Training, has decades of experience facilitating classes, teaching train-the-trainer courses, and mentoring trainers.  Contact Comprehensive Learning Solutions  for all your training needs.

Karen Feeley
Karen Feeley

Instructional designer

Karen Feeley is a seasoned professional with over 25 years of experience in workplace learning and development. She is a published author, trainer, instructional designer, editor, and project manager with a proven track record of success in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.

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