From the Desk of the Training Director – January 24, 2012

Move to the Front of the Class, Evan Abbott, Organizational Development and Learning
It always gives me a bit of a chuckle.  I was training at a member company the other day and it might as well have been sophomore year of high school, 1987 (you do the math on my age).  As participants started to enter the room, the back of the class filled first, and the folks who wandered in late ended up with the seats in the front.  It seems like we really don’t change much as we get older.  Some of us taller, but that’s about it.
What is it about the back of the room in a learning environment?  You know where I notice this even more?  Online!  Whether it’s a webinar or an online classroom platform, there are learners who just lurk there in the background absorbing the content passively.  Study after study about learning supports one cold hard fact:  learning is an active process, not passive.  Sorry to jump up on my soapbox.  I’m guilty of it too, signing up for a webinar and using it as background noise as I get through emails and various administrivia.
Recognizing that online learning is become more and more of an appealing option, it takes work to get the most out of those events.  Try these tips for the next webinar you attend:
– Make it an event:  Many of us use webinars to train a lot of people at one time.  They can be great “lunch and learn” opportunities.  If the webinar starts at noon, ask participants to be there by 11:45.  Spend the first 15 minutes discussing challenges related to the topic, questions people have, and things you are hoping to learn.  Rather than everyone disbanding immediately after the webinar, spend a few minutes discussing key points and connecting them to issues in your organization.
– Be an active participant:  During a good webinar the facilitator is going to want to get the audience engaged.  This often comes through polls or discussion forums.  Take advantage of these opportunities and make the facilitator earn her money!  Ask questions.  Provide examples.  Most facilitators love the participation.
– Clear the desk:  During your next webinar, see if you can stay 100% present.  Move the piles from the desk over to the credenza, turn off the email, and close your door.  Even if you are not actively engaging in the webinar, the lack of distractions will likely increase what you take from the session.
We rarely learn important things in a passive manner.  If we did, learning via osmosis would be a reality rather than an obscure trainer joke.  During your next MSEC webinar, your inner teenager might want to hide in the back of the class, but drag that kid up to front of the room.  I think you will be happy with the results.