Throw in some ColourPeople like colour, and people like pretty pictures. On day one I don't want my colleagues to walk into a black and white, drab looking, dimly lit room. So I obsess over the colourful pictures on the flipcharts that I put in the room, I take extra care to ensure that there's bright lighting and I like to have a lot of colourful stickies for students to use in the classroom. Sketch pens and crayons on the table depict an environment of fun and play, so I often throw them in for equal measure. Some of the photos you'll see here are indicative of the things you'll see us do at ThoughtWorks University.
Get People to Know each other
The one thing you don't want is for your group of learners to be strangers to each other. People tend to work well with those they know so I do what I can to have people get to know something special about each other. One of the activities I use for this is a game called "Find Someone Who...". I'm sure you can guess what it is - it's a game where I snoop around on Google, Twitter, the blogosphere and Facebook to find interesting facts about each of my students. I then randomly put them onto a sheets which I give to the attendees. Now they need to talk to each other and find a unique name to put against each interesting fact. This becomes a nice opportunity for all of them to know each other a little better and to showcase their personalities a bit too. I've seen that this works well as a start for a training program even when people know each other. There's always a lot of things colleagues don't know about each other, so a little mingle at the start can never hurt.
Set the rules of engagement
Every workplace has it's ground rules. Training in it's own way is a workplace too and needs it's own ground rules. I like to agree these rules with the group when we start off, so that we can work together with a few clear assumptions in mind. What I do like to do however, is not make these sound like dictatorial statements. If you look at this picture, you'll see that I like to word these in a fun manner and I throw in a lot of colour so the ground rules don't seem like I took them out of a bland corporate handbook.
Level the Playing Field
I usually don't like to make too much of a difference between instructors and students in a course. The more students start to see instructors as just experienced peers, the more they're likely to participate openly in training. At ThoughtWorks, we like students to challenge the instructors and that's why we position ourselves more as facilitators than just subject matter experts. To achieve this, we do a few things:
- Give the students an opportunity to become teachers through Open Spaces. This also an opportunity for them to define their own curriculum.
- I have trainers participate in initial activities with the students to set them up as equally fallible individuals in the experience.
- The rules of engagement applies as much to trainers as to the students. This helps everyone realise that we're in the experience as equals.
Last but not the least, it's important that your audience is aware of what the schedule for each day is. It helps them prepare their minds for what's coming up and gives them clear expectations. Even when collecting individual hopes and concerns I like to make them big and visible so people can feed off each other's thoughts. We also keep a visible parking lot for off-topic conversations and if that starts to fill up in a huge way then that's a clear indication that the group needs to have these conversations soon. All our planning for Pecha Kucha nights and Open Space sessions happen in a big, visible fashion. This democratises the learning environment and helps the students be as involved as the trainers, in making the program successful.
I'm pretty sure I'm missing some very obvious details that go into giving your training program a successful start. So if you've got something you'd like to add to this list, please be my guest and drop your notes in the comments section. BTW, I'm sorry about the recent irregularity with my blogposts. I promise to get back to a more predictable schedule from next week. In the mean time, I'm extremely glad to announce that I'm speaking at DevLearn 2010 at San Francisco. I'm both excited and nervous about the opportunity since this is my first time speaking at an eLearning Guild conference. I promise to try and put up a good show there though, so if you're at the conference do drop in to my session and give me some confidence!