Leafy retreats are not the place for modern learning

Traditional wisdom tells us that you have to create the right environment for learning. Leafy off-sites are favoured with the aim to get people ‘away from the office’ and free from distractions. But in the age of smartphones and digital collaboration, people are never away from work. Trainers struggle to keep their delegates focused. The only talking you hear in coffee breaks is the chatter of mobile phone conversations. Classes are only partially filled as they re-start.

And as the day wears on, the yawns get longer and louder. For courses longer than a day there’s the additional problem of morning hangovers and post-breakfast energy crash.

A recent training experience has convinced me that lengthy off-site sessions are no longer appropriate in the age of digital management and communication…

As the group I was about to train arrived clutching smartphones and looking slightly distracted I thought we might struggle to keep their attention; a digital marketing team’s work is never done. I was running a 20 minute session on Kata learning. Without going into too much detail, this involved getting balls from a tube at one end of a long table, to a net at the other. A seemingly impossible challenge that, with the right approach could be solved in 20 minutes. The ‘game’ was part of a round-robin training afternoon in a large corporation that, for one reason or another, was struggling with attendance.

 For the group that had arrived, this had not been on their schedule. They were drafted in at the last minute. Taking time out of their weekly management meeting to show support (I suspect) rather than expecting to actually learn anything.

 I got into instructor mode, raised my voice a little and got the session started. Of course it was a great session (I would say that). A simple technique shared rapidly and interactively. We’d designed it to be fun. We were strict with time - another group was expected as soon as this one left. Having a time limit really made us think about how we were going to deliver the messages and make it slick. If we’d had an hour, I’m sure we would have filled it up with little added value.

 It’s good when things go well, but even better when you get unsolicited positive feedback after the event. And yes, I’m going to share it with you: “This was quite simply one of the best of its kind I’ve seen and a great use of 30 minutes”.  The ex-management consultant reviewer added some context: “I’ve previously seen far too many experiment & build exercises that candidly don’t work, and after years in the business was in danger of becoming rather cynical about them. This worked and worked well – they should do more!”

 The feedback got me thinking. As well as being an effective session in its own right, the fact that it had required such a small time investment from this time pressured group made it even more popular. This is how all training should be; short, repeatable ‘drive-through’ sessions that fit into modern ways of working. No more yawns and distracting interruptions. Happy trainers. Happy delegates.

 So, close down those training centres and clear some space in the canteen for a pop-up training course near you!