ABC in the Classroom

Optimizing learning in classroom environments


As has been said elsewhere one-off classroom-based learning is not the most efficient way of developing leaders, but if programmatic classroom-based intervention is the preferred way for developing leaders in your organisation, here is an ABC of making classroom training more effective.

a/ Accelerate it
Use some basic accelerated learning principles in the design. At its core, accelerated learning is a learner-centric science that uses self-discovery as a way of maximizing learning. The constructivist Jerome Bruner was influential in highlighting the role of discovery in the learning process and is a good research starting point. There are some very simple, yet effective, ways to incorporate self-discovery in the design of classroom base learning. These include:
– The use of environment. Be mindful of the structure and layout of the room. If you set the room up with rows of chairs and a front desk, that will send a message of instructional based teaching (and passive based learning), if you eliminate tables and use different spaces and clusters in the room that sends a message of open and shared learning . Rather than data dumping in formal lectures or powerpoint presentations, consider using the wall space in the room to informally exhibit the information so that learners discover it rather than consume it.
– As a facilitator try to eliminate the mindset that you are the centre and focus of knowledge. See the learners as a resource and facilitate/channel, through dialogue and inquiry, the experience and expertise that is already in the room, Structure into the design as many break-outs, syndicates, shared conversations and one-to-one group discussions as possible; also design individual reflection time into the programme.
– Include well-designed simulations in the programme and allow sufficient time to capture shared learnings

b/ Blend it
Think of the classroom as part of the journey and not the destination . View the classroom intervention as part of a longer-term blended approach to developing leaders. Good blended practice would include pre-programme assignments, involvement of the supervisor in contracting the learner and fixing their learning goals, 360 degree feedback, work-place assignments and learning, peer and executive coaching, mentoring and shadowing, post-course assignment and measurement. As a golden rule, the classroom environment is an effective space to develop behaviours; whereas eLearning is an effective space to develop skills, knowledge and networks.

c/ Crop it
Given the enormous costs of bringing everyone together in a class-based setting, as a designer or someone supervising the design of a classroom based intervention, constantly ask yourself the question “what value is this session/ activity contributing to the learner?” If the activity/session is not adding value and justifying the cost of the face-to-face engagement, crop it or drop it. It is unacceptable and a waste of company money to take people away from their work in order to subject them to Powerpoint presentations and information dumps that they could have picked up on the web or in a book back at the office. View classroom interventions as a unique opportunity for self-discovery and shared learning experience.

For example, if you have designed a session on influencing skills, don’t spend the morning giving them a powerpoint presentation on different types of influencing, build some self-assessments and resources for them to do as pre-course work, set some pre-course assignment for them to submit through an ePlatorm and use the face-to-face session for peer-to-peer practice and coaching around influencing. Content can be on wall posters to remind the learner of the key issues.

Try to re-think the traditional ideas of a one-week residential programme. Crop the learning into manageable bite-size interventions (maybe having two or three bite-size classroom interventions over a period of 6 months with work-based assignments and coaching in between). Use the developing technology such as podcasts and webinars.

The task is growing ever harder for LD practitioners. The budget is still there to develop leaders, but leaders seem to have less and less time to focus on leadership development. LD practitioners need to find more resourceful ways to reach out to emerging and in-situ leaders to encourage their development – they need to create value time not just venue time. We may need to go back to our ABC to see how we can drive value and effectiveness into core classroom based learning.

Richard Kelly PhD.
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