I’ve seen it over and over again. Class is supposed to start and half the students are missing. Over the next 15-30 minutes a few more dribble in, listlessly taking their seats. It’s “training day” and oh boy are they excited. Not!
But why? Let’s take a look at why your employees don’t enjoy training courses, and how you can make better decisions to make your training sessions more enjoyable, powerful, and effective for them.
#1 Boring Instructor
I don’t care how well-focused the material and how relevant to employees’ job needs, if you have a less than excellent instructor the day will be a dud. Instructors should by dynamic, interesting, flexible, and able to tailor the course to students’ needs on-the-fly as much as possible. I’ll devote another entire article to finding great instructors, but for now suffice it to say the person has to hold your students’ attention.
#2 Topics Not Relevant to Employees’ Jobs
I’ve mentioned this in other articles, but it bears repeating. If class topics are not tailored to your employees’ actual job needs, and relevant NOW (not in 3 months when management finally rolls out the update for which students are taking the course), then students will turn off. They know the material isn’t relevant, or at least not relevant for quite some time, and they resist the learning process. After all, can they possibly remember the material for weeks or months without using it?
We all have an innate resistance to new things at times, and with this atmosphere employees basically feel they are wasting their time in the classroom.
#3 Instruction is Not Modular
By “modular” I mean that the course should consist of a series of separate exercises that can be understood by themselves, in any order, without requiring the same exercise file from the previous lesson. So many of my students nowadays are only able to attend for part of the course, and if the instruction is not broken down into small, easily understood chunks then many busy students cannot make heads or tails of what is happening.
#4 Class is Too Long
Yep, you heard that right. Management and HR tend to look at training as a quantity situation. The more time spent in the classroom, the better, is the thinking. Makes sense; after all, the more time they study with a qualified instructor, the more they will get out of the course, right?
The theory sounds great. But the reality is, after 18 years in the classroom, I have seen that no matter how great I present the material, students can only absorb so much.
Usually, 5 hours is about the maximum limit of instruction time–and I mean, the absolute maximum. Add in 1 hour for lunch and 2 fifteen minute breaks, and the course is 6.5 hours long. Any time beyond this, and not only does the Law of Diminishing Returns take effect, but it is my contention that harm is done to student’s recall of prior material. In other words, it all becomes a great big blur. Surely you remember this feeling in school?
So make your training sessions shorter rather than longer, and you can still hold 2 half-day sessions if necessary, with far better results overall.
#5 Student Skill Levels Vary Too Much
Have you ever been in a class where a know-it-all took over, answering questions and “pushing” the pace of the course to match his/her desired speed? Or how about when a fellow student was clearly slower than everyone else, slowing down everyone’s experience?
A computer course is not like a lecture course, where the instructor can just present the material and if students don’t understand, they can ask later. In a hands-on computer course, everyone–and I mean everyone–has to be in-sync with the instructor, or the class falls apart. But this is almost impossible when the skill levels of the students vary too much. I cannot emphasize this point enough.
Total beginner students in a subject are usually the course killers–and arguably they are the ones who need it most. There is no easy answer, as these students really do need the training and it is not always possible to hold separate sessions for beginner and more advanced students. One thing that can help is to have the slower students do some self-study prior to the course, or have them go through some of the material on their own. Just keep this point in mind when scheduling and your courses will go much more smoothly and students will enjoy them much more.
#6 Hardware/Software Problems
This might seem pretty obvious, but let me tell you, I have had so many nightmares trying to teach courses where not all the computers work properly, with either hardware, software or even overhead projector glitches. This situation, quite simply, ruins a class. When things work for half the students, and others are madly trying to catch up because their computer froze and has to reboot, or they have a different version of the software (yes this has happened), or they have a different operating system than me (yes, this has happened too!), the class falls to pieces.
And you know what? It’s damn embarrassing, because I’m the one in front supposedly “in charge” of everything, but rarely do I ever get a say in or a chance to test the class computers beforehand. Usually a company’s IT department handles that and I’m lucky if I can even get some tech support when needed. Often I am not even allowed into a classroom until just a few minutes before the class is supposed to start.
True story, once I was teaching a class with some antiquated portable computers we called “lunch boxes.” Think of them as mildly portable computers about half the size and weight of a desktop, with a monitor and keyboard and mouse. They were still friggin’ heavy though! Especially carrying 14 of them across a plaza, up 2 flights of stairs (no elevator!)…but I digress.
So I get all the lunchboxes setup, and about 20 minutes into class, 4 of them decide to break. Rebooting didn’t help, and while I stepped outside to call my company to try to fix them, the class went to pot. I think I never sweated so much in my life!
I realize this point may seem pretty obvious, but judging from the sheer number of ruined courses due to hardware/software problems, it is worth mentioning. Make sure your computer systems are up to par, with the exact same software versions, prior to the training!
#7 Classroom/Training Room Not Setup Properly
This category encompasses couple of major things, such as…
Lack of Overhead Projector
Prior to the ubiquity of the overhead, I used to have to DRAW what students were supposed to be seeing, on a whiteboard. Or DESCRIBE it really well. Or, go to EACH student and point out what they were supposed to be doing, one by one. Can you imagine how rough, and long, those courses were? And I was good at it too! Yet the onset of the overhead projector made life so much easier in the classroom. Make sure you have an overhead, that it works, and it does not shine RIGHT into the instructor’s eyes–please!
I have taught in rooms that were super skinny and very long side to side, which meant I had to literally run from one part of the room to another, and yell to be heard.
Believe it or not, true story, I was asked to teach a course at a company where there was no training room at all, and I stood in the middle of an office while students had their backs to me–no overhead–and I shouted out commands, while other students in adjacent offices–I am absolutely NOT kidding you!–listened and tried to follow along on their computers. What a nightmare! I should have walked out! But I was working for a training company and had not been the one to setup the course; I was just the one to force those poor students through their paces in learning Excel in this atrocious setup. Wow, that one took a chunk out of me!
Bottom line here, is you want a classroom that is well laid-out, with plenty of room between aisles (for both convenience and fire safety reasons), a good working overhead, a whiteboard with working markers, and access to tech support for the inevitable glitch (such as all the computers have a password but no one bothered to tell the instructor!).
#8 Too Many Students in a Class
Although this is rarer these days, I have taught quite a few courses with too many students. Once I had 36+ students in a course, and it was absolute mayhem. Class size should be limited to no more than 12 students. You could go 16 if you absolutely had to, but that is truly the absolute limit.
Even with an extra teaching assistant, often the venues for large courses are so huge that I have to literally yell to be heard above all the noise of the computers, talking, and air conditioner, and just absolutely forget about quality teaching. There’s just no way one instructor can keep a large group like this together.
So, don’t do it!
Am I frustrated about these experiences? You bet! When they could have been prevented with better planning and a little thought, and when I and my students had to suffer greatly due to the mishaps. But thanks to this handy little article, you won’t be making these course-destroying mistakes now, will you?
Computer and soft-skills training can be a blast if managers and HR personnel would simply take into account students’ and instructors’ basic needs. Hopefully you found these tips helpful, and until next time, we’ll solve our problems Bit by Bit.