Design of Learning Events – Principles

What is a learning event?

A learning event is any planned and managed experience that helps those involved learn new knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour. Counselling or coaching sessions, an experiential training course, a workshop, a team ‘away day’ are all learning events.

This article describes some principles and practices that can help these events go well.

What are the conditions under which people learn best?

People learn best when they feel safe and supported. This happens when they know what to expect that the risks are moderate and the plan of the event is clear. It also helps if people receive help rather than criticism when they make mistakes. These are inevitable when learning something new.

A collaborative climate makes it easier to share thoughts and feelings than a competitive one. Clearly people will be more motivated to learn if the event meets their needs.

Some design principles and practical implications

1            Congruence

The presenter of an event should practice what he/she preaches. If teaching the value of listening and support, it is particularly important to listen to and support the students. If teaching presentation skills, make sure the presentation part of the event is professional. If we want people to express their feelings openly, our modelling of this will be more important than anything we say.

2            Trust building

You have to build a trusting and growthful learning atmosphere. Clear rules about confidentiality and feedback build trust. Then people know what will happen to the information they reveal. People usually find it much easier to trust one person than a group.

3            Clear purposes

The purpose of the event and the individual activities and exercises must be clear to all those involved. If the purpose is unclear people will be confused,  uncommitted and fear manipulation.

4            Emphasize the positive

It is more useful to discover how to do things right than how to do things wrong. The information is also more acceptable. Most people do not get enough positive feedback and respond very well when they get some. The training and exercises work best when there is no right answer.

5            Create ownership

A person acts on ideas best when they come from him/her, then his/her peers and lastly from a trainer. Therefore it is best to avoid the role of content expert if possible and concentrate on facilitating and catalysing the process.

6            Whole people

People are wholes and the pure work role does not exist. Domestic concerns influence work and vice versa. Make it safe for people to share their concerns about the whole of life. If one part does not work, it will drain energy away from the others.

7            A complete process

Any training event should be considered as a whole. How people learn about the event and why they are going on it will influence their commitment to learning. It is hard to learn if you feel you are going on something to be ‘fixed’. The people need to be in the right frame of mind too. Someone who is fighting to control sadness or anger due to a personal loss will not readily contribute. He or she may resist and resent being drawn out. Some selection or self selection process is desirable for the success of the whole.

Similarly, think how people leave the event and how to ensure the organisation encourages them to put their learning into practice. If they do not put it into practice then, from the organisation’s point of view, the work is a waste of effort.

8            Be client centred

People value ideas they discover for themselves. They like to learn in individual ways too and work on issues and subjects that are important to them. The task of the trainer is to respond to those needs flexibly and individually. This is easier one-to-one and in very small groups.

See Design of Learning Events for two examples of designs that use these principles.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick