THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

When planning for a training event, the planning group must also ensure that the learning environment is suitable and conducive to learning. The learning environment can be considered under the following headings:

1. Knowing Yourself

Personal Manner

• Be warm, friendly, and enthusiastic. If you enjoy yourself, the participants probably will as well.

• It is your job to create an atmosphere where people are willing and able to learn. Never set yourself up as the :master” as you will only tempt participants to ”catch you out”.

• Your participants are adult learners and deserve the respect of their age and experience.

• Learn the names of as many participants as you can (or have them make name badges). Use individuals’ names; not just to ask questions, but if you refer to a point made by a participant, acknowledge it by naming the person.

• Be genuinely interested in what your participants have to say; if you need clarification or more explanation ask for it – gently and with a smile. Remember you are not an examiner.

• Listen to what participants say – really listen! Don’t stop listening part way through to formulate your response. Nobody minds if you think for a few moments before answering. In fact, it is a compliment to the participant.

• Listen also when participants talk to each other; many people feel too shy to speak from their heart to a facilitator/trainer, but they will to their colleagues.

Eye Contact and Voice

• Make frequent eye contact – not staring (which intimidates participants), but look at all the participants.

• Use your peripheral vision (looking out of the corner of your eye) so you notice the person to your side especially if they want to speak.

• When you move around the room, stand beside people you wish to speak to – not in front of them as this may be seen as very aggressive (especially if you lean over the desk/table).

• Speak clearly and not too fast, but with expression (a monotone will put your participants to sleep).

• Use the level of language your participants need – this is not the time to prove how clever you are. Simple language does not mean simple concepts: it is, in fact, more difficult to do.

• Make sure your voice is loud enough for all participants to hear you. Humility is not judged by a soft voice.

Posture

• Stand straight; slumping makes you look tired, as if you would rather not be there.

• Move for a reason; to make a point, to talk to a particular group, to check if people need your help. There are several types of trainers that you do not want to be like:

The walker is the trainer who walks ceaselessly up and down – participants become mesmerised by the pacing to and fro and fail to listen to what is being said;

The swayer is similar, but they move only on the spot, backwards and forwards or from side to side, like a metronome – tick, tock, tick, tock;

The wanderer also walks, but all over the room, talking to the backs of people as s/he walks around the room, talking all the time;

The statue is perfectly still – no movement at all;

The waver waves their hands around continually, not to illustrate a point; just waving – this also distracts the participants.

2. Knowing the Participants

The learning environment also depends on the participants. The planning group will know how many participants have been invited to attend the training, but it is also important to know and understand:

• Why they are attending;

• Their hopes and expectations;

• Their fears and concerns;

• Their range of experience, discipline, age, gender, and status.

Make sure that participants know each other and that they feel psychologically comfortable in each other’s company. Never make a fool of a participant. If it should happen unintentionally, apologise. Make sure you are courteous, and your participants will also be courteous.

3. Choice of Venue and Use of Room(s)

Facilitators may not be able to choose either the venue or the room that they are to train in, but they should be aware of how these might affect participants’ ability to learn. If possible, a visit to the venue before the training event will give the facilitator an opportunity to make the best possible use of the given space.

The Room

• Check windows and where the sun comes in. Never stand directly in the path of sunlight or with the sun shining into the eyes of participants (i.e., with your back to the sun). If the participants cannot see you properly, they will lose interest.

• Organise the seating so that there is no barrier between you and the participants. Never sit behind a desk.

• If there are desks or tables for the participants, then stand for your training (unless you are having an open discussion).

• Frequently used seating arrangements are the horseshoe or hollow square.

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• There are other arrangements that may be more suitable for your room or the type of training, such as the cafeteria-style arrangement.

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• The small tables mean that, generally, your groups are already formed (by table), and this may be appropriate for some situations.

• Ensure that, whatever arrangement you choose, you (and the participants) can move freely around the room.

Equipment

• If using a blackboard or whiteboard, make sure that your writing is clear, large enough to be read, and straight.

• People often think that writing in capital letters is neater than ordinary writing. If you choose to write in capital letters, remember that it takes more time to write anything, and brainstorming in particular can become very tedious.

• If the board is long (horizontally), divide it into sections. Know what you are going to write and where you will place it before writing anything.
• If you are using a whiteboard, remember that it is more slippery than a chalkboard and there is a good chance that your writing will suffer. Practise first

(in private).

• All board work should summarise what you are saying or have said. Drawings and graphic representations can be used to great effect, particularly if your audience is not literate.

• Ensure that all participants can see the board or audio-visual aids that you are using.

4. Timing of Sessions

People do not concentrate well for long periods of time. The length of a session will have a crucial effect on the participants’ ability to concentrate and learn. The more participatory and varied the activity, the longer the participants will be able to concentrate.

When giving a presentation or a lecture, maximum time should be 20 minutes. Do not talk for longer than you said that you would.

The time of day also has a big impact on how well people respond to different learning approaches. In the morning, people are generally more alert. After a meal, when stomachs are full, facilitators have to face what is sometimes called the “graveyard session”. This is not the time for a long lecture!

• Use an energiser after the lunch break, and use this time for an interactive activity – the more participation, the better!

Breaks are very important.

• Remember that the average adult attention span is about forty-five minutes. This does not mean that you need a break every forty-five minutes, but you do need a change of activity.

Breaks should be at least twenty minutes. Participants need this time to mentally regroup and probably to discuss issues that have arisen during the presentations.

5. Pace and Content of the Training

It is important to structure each session carefully. In designing each session, the facilitator will have already worked out what the participants must know, should know, and could know (see above).

• Structure sessions around the few key points that you think the participants must know by the end of the session.

Repetition reinforces memory.

• Although it may seem unnecessary, always repeat the central ideas or key points of a session and keep the most important points until last.

Everyone loves a story! A good facilitator makes jokes or remarks during the course of the training event that may appear unrehearsed but that may have been prepared. A good, relevant story at the right moment will often reinforce a learning point.

• Plan in some lighter moments to a presentation and other parts of the training event.