Most organizations still offer classroom training – it is effective, provides interaction, and provides a network for participants. But today’s learners are much different, not only because generations have changed but also because the environment is much harsher. As we know, today’s newest corporate learners don’t remember a time without computers or cell phones. But even the most seasoned corporate learners are users of technology, linked to laptops and cell phones and social media as part of their jobs. In addition, if a group of learners comes to a classroom in today’s environment, they are probably concerned about how they are going to catch up on their already-heavy workload. For these reasons, we have to work even harder to engage these learners – and maintain that engagement through the classroom learning process. Let’s look at some ways to engage learners in a traditional classroom.
One of the first ways to engage learners in the traditional classroom is through experiential learning interventions. This term is very broad, but in its best sense it simply means that whatever content is presented to learners should engage them in an experience that mirrors their job and its environment. For example, sales people interact with people constantly – this is why they are good at what they do. So you don’t want to have sales people listening to a lecture-style course day-in and day-out. In order to engage an audience like this, you’ll need to give them a bit of “digestable” material and then turn it back to them as a group activity, role play, or case study. And the activity should involve a high level of interaction. On the other hand, if you are teaching a technical process, learners should be allowed to explore the process, make mistakes, and come to conclusions about it while they are in the classroom. The rule of thumb should be that any activity or experience in the classroom should somehow link to the actual experience the person will have on the job.
Another classroom engagement technique is the use of blended methods. Even the most linear classroom experience can be broken down into online interactions, tutorials, or quick reference guides. If you are teaching line customer service personnel, they should have a computer and phone in front of them to simulate the environment. If they will have access to online quick reference guides, have them available in the classroom. When you go to test employees, remember what they will have access to on the job and give them access to the same things in the classroom. If you have multiple groups in various locations going through the same training, consider adding a social media component such as a blog or discussion board, where participants can explore different perspectives, work on joint projects, and critique performance.
On-the-job (OTJ) interventions, although not quite “classroom,” can also be part of the traditional learning experience. But the question is how to engage learners with the prospect of an OTJ intervention. A great way to engage is to explain to participants that not only will they have the opportunity to work with the subject matter in the classroom, but they will also have the chance to work with it on the job. In addition, help them understand that they will be evaluated on their performance. The newest generation of learners may even see the evaluation not as a “test” but as a challenge, which is a perfect way to engage learners in the prospect of OTJ interventions.
Although these are specific ways to engage the classroom, the main thing to remember is to keep it interactive, challenging, and “digestable” in order to engage participants. The challenge for classroom instructors is no longer getting through all of the material, but getting through the material before the participants want to check email or pull out their smart phones. Instructors should maintain constant eye contact, question for understanding, ask for personal experience from participants, and consistently ask for opinions and discussion. As participants become more engaged, they will be open to further knowledge and be able to retain more information.
Next, we will look at engagement in the virtual classroom.
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