Formal training sessions get a bad rap. When I speak to people after a session, or attend a session myself, there is one thing I see too often - the training is a one person show vs. a immersive experience. When working with Instructors to find ways to create more engaging sessions the first question I always ask is “How much time do you spend presenting?” To this, I get a wide range of answers, but on average I’m told that 60-70% of the time is spent presenting. For each hour that would be 36 to 42 minutes of presenting. A relevant, but much debated number, is the average length of adult attention span which is more likely 20 minutes for freely selected tasks* - and what this means is if you are predominantly presenting you may be bringing learners to the brink of their attention abilities… or losing their attention.
So what can we do as educational professionals? I advocate for the 80/20 rule, with 20% of content (on average) being instructed, and 80% being interactive and participatory. To achieve this I suggestion following a few guidelines to optimize engaged activities:
Define “Must Know” information and include it in facilitated content, both to give the foundation, and in the recap before progressing.
Then find the right delivery for ‘Nice to Know’ information. Then split this two categories: nice to know today and nice to know in the future. Include in the learning journey and session designed based on that categorization.
Pre-build engagement activities with options. Having group work or product exercises is essential - having options on what you’ll do in session is even better. This can help you tailor the learning experience to the group.
20% facilitation does not mean the instructor spends more time checking their email. It means more time spent with individuals and/or groups with better opportunity to personalize discussion and individually support learners.
Remember attention spans. Changing tasks prior to lost attention will help attendees stay focused on the topic. Also remember that shifting topics will help to redraw attention.
Ultimately, as an instructor, our goal should be to guide the topic and outcomes and seek ways to actively engage everyone in the learning process.