Tag Archives: adult learners

Distractions

There are distractions around us every day. Trying to conduct a training class with distractions in and around you is challenging.

There’s the property maintenance crew running the lawn mowers outside the window. Or the training class is in the middle of an office thoroughfare with people walking back and forth, having conversations in the process. Then there’s equipment that fails or lack of promised supplies.

These and more present themselves during training, and as trainers, we have to figure out how to keep the class focussed. Sometimes it’s enough to have people work in pairs or small groups and let them complete a task, then bring the group together for discussion.

To have participants in the class who take you off track is most challenging. They come in at least three “flavors.”

  • The grandstander wants all the attention, all the time. This person regularly interrupts the class to ask irrelevant questions, give a lengthy opinion of the topic we already covered, or ask personal questions. The grandstander thrives on questions and comments from other participants and will hold court at the drop of a hat.
  • The sub-trainer¬†feels the need to explain everything covered to participants around him/her. This person wants to demonstrate that he/she knows just as much as the trainer and really doesn’t need to be in the class.
  • The CEO¬†takes calls in the middle of a class and has to run out of the room multiple times to talk, missing pieces of information in class. Upon return, this person asks for clarification of points covered while he/she was out of the room. Everyone experiences a double distraction: once when the person leaves the room (often stumbling over desks and chairs in the process) and again when they return.

There are probably more types of distractions or disruptions that occur during a training class. How can a trainer deal with the frustration that he/she inevitably feels when experiencing such disruptions?

  • Be cool. It sounds easy, but it takes practice. The less likely you are to blow your top in front of a room full of professional development participants, the more likely you’ll get the material across to them in a way that causes it to stick.
  • Smile, nod, and put off the question. Sometimes you have to interrupt the questioner, but if it’s truly something that needs to be taken care of outside of the current session, the participants will be happy you stop this before it takes over the class.
  • Set the stage. Tell participants what you expect when you start the class. If you are o.k. with them leaving the room to take calls, tell them so but warn them not to disrupt others in the process. If you really don’t want people to take calls, tell them to put their phones away and turn them off. One successful technique is to tell participants what to do: Create a voicemail greeting for just that day telling callers when you’ll get back to them and setting up an e-mail out-of-office message that says essentially the same.
  • Let participants help. Use “teach-backs” or other methods to have participants teach each other the material you have presented. This gives them the opportunity to demonstrate competence and to reinforce each other’s learning.

Disruptions and distractions are common in busy places. With a little practice, a trainer can minimize those that come from the participants (and work on moving the training class to a quieter venue!).

Monday, Monday

Mondays toward the end of a month mean teaching tech training classes. I have the pleasure of teaching agents new to our brokerage how to use the tools we provide for their real estate business.

This seems like a noble cause, and honestly, I do enjoy being able to help the agents learn what the tools can do for them. There are days, though that try my patience. Today was one of those days.

Five minutes before class, there was only one person in the room besides me. There were eight names on the list of registrations. My first thought was that perhaps they decided to skip class to see the solar eclipse. Over the next five minutes, people wandered into the room. One man showed up without a laptop. This class is hands-on training, and agents are prompted upon registration and reminded the day before class to bring a laptop with them. He asked me if he should have a computer. I said yes. I know from experience that those who come without a computer end up staring into space and not getting much out of the class. He departed to retrieve his laptop and arrived at class an hour late. He struggled to catch up with the other participants.

Note to self: Be more explicit with the reminders about bringing a laptop to class.

Sometimes participants are worried that I won’t cover something that they have a burning desire to know about. I always start the class by telling them what the agenda is and how we will accomplish each item on it. That doesn’t stop them from asking me about things I will cover in the minutes to come. This happened repeatedly today. Despite my best efforts to reassure them, I continued to get “how do I” questions that I would cover in short order. Two things about this: It causes me to constantly say “We’ll get to that” (which sounds like a cop-out) and it heightens the level of frustration the agents feel. Neither is a good option.

Note: Prepare an outline and give it to the agents to follow through the class.

Complicated topics require extra preparation and targeted delivery in class. I try to break down the process and explain carefully what the steps are as I demonstrate them. I repeat myself and the demonstration often, and prompt agents to work along with me through the process. Most of the participants stay on track and can follow. A few are unable to keep up and all of a sudden I get the dreaded “where are we?” question. I then must stop the class and assist the person who has gotten off track. It can be as simple as helping them with a click or two to get to where they need to be. Sometimes it requires troubleshooting a range of issues from browser type to restarting the computer to Install updates that the person inadvertently clicked on. It takes time to get back to where we were. It’s frustrating for the participants who work diligently to keep up. It’s frustrating for me to have to stop and start multiple times because some participants are somehow unable to follow directions or pay attention for a period of time.

Note: Break down the process into shorter, more digestible chunks and check in with all participants on a regular basis to make sure they are able to follow along.

When you get to the end of a long day of training, both the participants and trainer are tired and ready for a break. I try to summarize the actions I covered and what they should have learned over the course of the day. It never fails that someone claims he/she doesn’t know what to do or how to do it because they “just don’t get it.” My attempts to calm the frustrations and explain that all participants will want to practice with various tools can fall flat. Such was the case with one man today. He just couldn’t understand the process of setting up a signing session for his client to sign documents electronically. What finally came up was a general angst about not knowing which documents are needed for different situations. Although I could answer his questions, he was convinced there was nothing that could help him (there is/are–he just decided that there wasn’t). I fought hard to not lose my temper or get sarcastic with the agent. My tolerance for this kind of response at the end of the day is nil.

Note: Devise a way to communicate expectations for agents so that they understand the scope of what is covered in the class and where to go for additional help.

Tomorrow is another day of tech training. If I had my way, I would break down these two full days into several shorter sessions. The reality is that everyone (managers and agents alike) want to get through the introductory training as quickly as possible. Ideally, agents would go online for much of the compliance and basic tools training before coming to a class. In class we would focus on application of the tools in selected situations. I have moved the syllabus of this sequence to a more situation-based approach. The next step is to create the online modules to take the place of some in-class time.

Note: Create more online modules and rework the class outline to incorporate them into the sequence. Schedule less time in class. Communicate the rationale for this mode of delivery and get agents and managers to buy into the changes.

A good night’s sleep does wonders for my ability to handle even the most frustrating situations in tech training. Sometimes that’s all I can do to prepare myself for the next day’s adventures!