Whether you are delivering high level presentations, facilitating a workshop, speaking at a meeting or even working with online courses the majority of the challenges are the same.  What is the best way to encourage learning and how do we pass on information in way that our participants want.

Whilst the fundamental role of a trainer is to impart information to assist learners in increasing their knowledge, develop skills and/or change attitudes a trainer must also keep participants engaged.  Numerous studies (and I’m sure you’re own experience) have shown that if you are not engaged the rate of learning declines heavily.  If you have been to University, or even relate to some of your school teachers you may recall experiences where you were just talked to- information was thrown at you (often in a sleep inducing monotone) and your goal was to catch all the words and some how lock them in your head ready to pass some exam at the end of the year.

There are many ways of engaging participants to increase the effectiveness of learning that takes place.  Conventional methods such as mixing up the delivery using visual aids, activities etc. and also some more contemporary techniques such as project based learning, action learning and even creating challenges and competition between groups.  There is no one correct method as what works well for one person may be a poor experience for another.

Imagine a lecturer who repeats jokes over each of his sessions expecting each group to laugh at the same rate; whilst some are going to think its hilarious, it may actually offend another group.  I think it was Einstein who said it best; (or at least is controversially quoted with saying) the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.  Well whoever said it (it sounds cooler with the Einstein reference), they were not talking about training.  As you will find that by doing the same thing- for example following a sessions plan to a tee will, in different groups yield different results.  I guess in conclusion; as trainers perhaps that makes us insane!

Consider the training sessions which you have been a part of, or even led and discuss the things you believe work really well in engaging learners.  This could include activities you have used, facilitation methods or even the style of the person delivering.

5 Responses to How do you engage learners?
  1. This depends a lot on the subject being taught, some have more opportunity for interaction and dynamic teaching, while others do not. I would first try to establish what learning styles the students have, visual, auditory or haptic. I’d lean the teaching towards the learning styles if there was a predominant learning style. However, as I expect there to be a mix of learning styles, I’d try a mix of teaching, using a while board, hand outs, video display, and question and answer type interaction. The latter would be important to increase engagement as otherwise the students are just being talked to, which is boring. I might consider practical examples of difficult concepts, say for example with project management I’d show examples of projects, what they delivered, the time frame, what went well, what did not go well. I might also consider field work on some subjects, such as environmental studies, architecture, engineering and art appreciation. Getting outside of the classroom into the real world helps ground the subject.
    I’d also try to minimise distractions in the classroom such as mobile phone use, music etc.
    Finally, if I noticed students who were not engaged, I’d ask them why, in a tactful manner. For example, asking them what they find interesting in the subject or how it could be taught better. In a situation where some students did not want to be there, I’d try to minimise them dragging the rest of the class down through distractions if I could not first better engage them by making the learning more interesting for them.

  2. Aboriginal people have various learning styles, but I found in classroom setting with majority of Aboriginal people that a collective/group method works better the We rather than the I. helping each other, without competition. Is usually the way it is.

    With regard to learning styles, I sat in on a assessment of learning styles course the Myers Briggs Course, majority of Aboriginal people around the table had different learning styles, with some people sharing same style. Myself and one other shared the STJ something? terribly sorry i cant remember almost twenty years ago.

    Another course I attended that worked well, two Aborignal trainers, very different teaching styles, one taught top of the kangaroo and tail of the kangaroo for bigger picture and then of course detail. He used many medthods but once again i found the group assignments were one of the best to engage Aboriginal students.

  3. I believe the things that work really well for me, was the group discussion then leading to breaking off into smaller more manageable groups when aiming to complete tasks such as the video project.

    I enjoy all styles of learning, as opposed to years ago I completed a myers briggs which said I was an STJ something a more serious direct person or something to that effect.

    I realised that taking the harder road meant I got so much more out of the project negotiating with the production team and organising sites and inviting and negotiating time lines with the bomb staff including production team whilst appeasing the OHS Manager and keeping to what was originally planned

    The project you set down for our group was an amazing experience, I got a lot out of this exercise it included everything I like, such as group work, communication, written as well as verbal, there were instructions to follow but we were given room to be creative.

  4. As we look at the current schooling trends there is a push to move away from the traditional methods of teaching. In school and this may come as a big surprise, I didn’t respond well to the traditional learning styles that were the foundation of schooling for hundreds of years. The traditional method doesn’t work for all students. I am a hands on and visual learner and I personally will lean towards this style of engagement as I see the benefit in this style myself. I know this again is not the norm for all people.

    Finding the correct balance of styles is hard and you will never get it 100% right. The attitude of the presenter will also play a big part in the engagement levels you receive. Like everything, you get out what you put in.

    Pushing the onus onto the participants too is a great motivator to take ownership of their own learning.

  5. I feel like this has been said before above, and outlined in the question, a mix of methods creates the best atmosphere in communicating effectively to students.

    I have found that universities have only just started to realise this and are working on it. Firstly, you have your lectures, which communicate vocally, and it works for quite a lot of people. Until you hit week 6 of the same tone, and everyone is bored of it. Then we bring in Tutorials, giving us “hands on learning” which, even though I am adept to academia, I find so much easier to understand the work. It gives the practicality of it, the meaning of it.

    Again, commented above, there are cultural methods of learning. Aboriginal, and a lot of indigenous cultures are based on peer and physical learning. Getting into groups and sharing information, creating a collective knowledge rather than individually. Again, I find this easier to interpret information as different people pick up different things.


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