As a trainer, you've probably had a few sessions fall flat—even a session with content that’s interesting or really useful to participants sometimes can be a dud. And then there are the times you get raves, even when you thought no one would be impressed. So why is some training more engaging than others? It might have something to do with the training method, not just the content.
We surveyed 5,034 recent training participants to see which training methods had the greatest impact on their enjoyment of training programs. Why enjoyment? Because when training is enjoyable, people learn without realizing it. They are more likely to have positive associations with the materials they've experienced and they're more likely to use what they've learned. And when training is enjoyable, participants are more engaged and less likely to zone out. This is all important. But more important, participants in our study who said they enjoyed their training were much more likely to say the training made them better at their job. They also were much more likely to say the training was a good use of their time and to recommend it to a friend. Based on our data, here are three methods that had a surprisingly large influence on participant enjoyment: small groups, role play, and PowerPoint.
By far, the method that made the biggest difference in a participant’s enjoyment of training was small group discussion. As trainers, you probably see the benefit of allowing participants to process information with other people. It's a great way for people to integrate information and make it their own. But it also had a bigger impact on participant enjoyment than any other variable we researched. In our study, the inclusion of small group discussion increased participant enjoyment by 35 percent (compared to training without small group discussion).
Small group discussion allows people to be active and socialize. It also lets them share their stories, opinions, and knowledge. We expect people who are outgoing and enthusiastic to enjoy small group discussions (and they do), but surprisingly we found even those people who describe themselves as reserved and analytical enjoy training more when it includes small group discussions. More surprising was even though small group discussion is a common training method, only 43 percent of those surveyed said it was included in their last training experience.
Many trainers recognize that role plays make training more effective. Role plays allow participants to practice a skill they’ve learned and get immediate feedback. Role play takes abstract knowledge and makes it concrete. So why did less than a quarter (23 percent) of our survey participants say role play was part of their last training experience? It might be the fear factor.
We've all seen people roll their eyes at the suggestion of role play. Because of this, many of us might be reluctant to include role play because we think people don’t like it. In our study, however, we found the opposite to be true. The presence of role plays increased participant enjoyment by 25 percent. This is equal to the inclusion of games. And while it's true that people who described themselves as playful and lively enjoyed role plays the most, even people who think of themselves as private and inexpressive found training with role plays more enjoyable than training that didn't include it. When designing your next training, see if there are opportunities to add role play. Your participants might thank you.
In the training world, many people are moving away from PowerPoint. Some completely abstain, while others are occasional users. The biggest critics say PowerPoint is the death of training. It appears, however, that no one asked the learners what they thought. In our study, the inclusion of PowerPoint presentations increased learner enjoyment by 25 percent.
PowerPoint makes it easier for people to follow along. It also keeps people focused, employing a message or image that relates to the topic. If minds do wander, PowerPoint is a reminder to get back in the game. And for visual learners, seeing a representation of information is key to their understanding.
So while much maligned and at times overused, PowerPoint should not be dismissed summarily—at least from the learner's perspective.
The Bottom Line
So, what does this mean to you? It means training that is enjoyable increases the likelihood participants will use the information and the training will be seen as worthwhile It also means the opportunity for creating more enjoyable training is within your reach, by remembering to include simple, tried-and-true methods such as small group discussion, role plays, and PowerPoint presentations.
Next month in Everything DiSC Pulse, we’'l reveal what learners really think about e-learning.
Mark Scullard is director of research at Inscape Publishing, a provider of training materials for the corporate market. He has more than a decade of research and data analysis experience in the development of psychological evaluation tools and methods. He received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota, with a supporting program in statistics.
Jeffrey Sugerman is president and CEO of Inscape Publishing. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior management, marketing, and business development in the technology, training, and publishing industries. He holds doctorate and master's degrees in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern
For more information, visit www.inscapepublishing.com.