OK, time for a bit of honesty… How many times have you sat through a training program where you were bored out of your mind? You were pleased to be out of the office for a day. You knew the topic was important for your work and wanted to learn about it. But you just couldn’t focus. Your mind kept drifting… When is lunch going to happen? What’s going on with the presenter—her hair’s crazy! Maybe I can just check my Facebook status while I’m here… Sound familiar? Me too. It happens so often, I have a name for it: Death by PowerPoint.

Too often, training programs consist of long PowerPoint sessions where facts and figures are presented to the audience, with the idea that this will somehow, magically, transform into better understanding of the subject matter, or changed behaviour patterns. Instead, what happens is a room full of disappointed people who would rather be anywhere else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Training doesn’t have to be boring.

You have probably already heard of many approaches you can use to make training more interesting. You can work on making more interesting PowerPoint presentations, with more images and less words. You can break up the presentations with activities to get people moving. You can make the entire session more participatory.

But do you know WHY these strategies work?

There are two basic principles in creating training that will connect with your participants. The first is to properly ground your training. As human beings, when we learn we are essentially adding to existing neural pathways in our brains. Any new information that we learn is added onto information that we already know. If we can’t connect with the new information, if we can’t understand how it relates to what we already know, then we get confused. This is the basis for ALL learning.

What this means is that when you develop a new training program, you need to ask yourself: what do my participants already know about this topic? If I want them to increase their understanding, what SPECIFIC skills or information do I think they are lacking, which I can provide? And finally, how can I ground this new information in what they already know, so they can easily understand what I am teaching them? I sometimes refer to this by the phrase “we need to walk in the other person’s shoes”. True in many areas of life, it is especially true when it comes to training.

The second basic principle to creating good training is something that I wish I had known when I was at school. And that is that every person has his or her own personal learning style. Some people are visual learners. Some people are audial learners. Some people are tactile-kinesthetic learners. What this means is that different people need different types of information so they can learn effectively. For example, I am a very strong visual learner. This means that I can learn by reading, by watching videos, or by looking at even very boring PowerPoints. But I don’t learn effectively just by listening to information: when someone tries to give me directions on how to drive to a certain place in Dili, I can’t remember it, I feel stupid. My brain turns to mush. But this doesn’t mean I’m stupid (or so I tell myself…) It just means that I am not strong in this style of learning. The same principle applies to everyone—and, to a certain extent, applies to different cultures, where some cultures are stronger in reading and writing, and some cultures are stronger in oral learning.

What this means for us as trainers is that we need to present materials so they cater to all of the different learning styles: using visual aids such as PowerPoint presentations for visual learners, good, clear explanations for aural learners, and interactive sessions for kinaesthetic learners. By taking this approach, you have a good chance of including everyone and not leaving anyone behind.

Whether you’re creating a training session for important bureaucrats or for community members, remember that your aim is essentially the same: you want participants to engage with what you’re teaching and to remember the information you share. So, next time you’re creating a training session, get creative and ask yourself: how can I properly ground my training for my participants? And how can I structure the training to meet different learning styles?


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