Tim Allchin currently consults in instructional design, advanced facilitation and Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) consultancy with a focus on Early Childhood Services. In addition, he writes a variety of other training materials for different clients. Tim returned recently from living in North East India for two years assisting a local aid and development organization to develop specific training methods within their cultural landscape. Following is an interview with Allchin & Bloomfire, a software site geared for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it.
Q. What are the implications for training in North East India?
- A passivity in training sessions waiting for the answer from an expert.
- A difficulty in visioning an answer or solution.
- An unwillingness to be singled out therefore an unwillingness to suggest responses.
- An unwillingness to explore options.
- When asked questions, a nervous pause and quiet discussion for a time with close neighbors to try and figure out what the facilitator wants and then a hurried ‘I don’t know’ even if they do know.
- A focus towards the ‘front’ of the training space because that is where the expert will be.
- A wariness of other participants and their ‘position’ in society.
This is a brief overview of a very complex situation.
Q. How have you dealt with getting unwilling participants to talk and become engaged?
The notion of getting unwilling participants to become involved is partly a physical learning environment thing and partly an ambience or emotional thing. It involves being intentional about the preparation of the training, both in terms of the setup of the training area and the development of materials that lend themselves to this mode of training.
I worked together with the local workers in the agency that we were working with to develop a local training methodology that would encourage involvement and deal with anything that was impeding people’s involvement. The key points were:
- Ensure that the group size is not big. There should not be more than 20 in the group and preferably closer to 15 to allow more individual interaction and time.
- Development of a sense of community within the course as soon as possible by the use of some early ice breaking activities and regular interactive small group activities throughout the course which focus on getting people to know each other personally.
- Try to move people around regularly to break up cliques, but be aware that some people may need support particularly if their English is not very good.
- Try to find ways to support those with poorer English without drawing too much attention to the fact. Some assessment of this would be part of the registration form to allow some provision for this. This may include ensuring that there are people they know who can act as language ‘mentors’ for them. This should not be advertised widely but perhaps sought from the organizations that the people in question come from. This will mean that these people can also interact afterwards in terms of using the things they have learned in their workplaces. Other methods will be to ensure that the complexity of the language is as low as possible, that diagrams are used as part of the training as much as possible.
- Ensure key points are written on the board and referred to clearly. These things will include times for return from breaks or beginning in the morning. Further to this ensure that all timings and key items are announced clearly a number of times.
- Stop any laughter or making fun of people’s answers or suggestions (unless the suggestion is meant to be a funny one!).
- Encourage all responses.
- Asking particular people questions rather than asking the whole group to encourage responses in order to be able respond positively. This will enable the sense of being able to answer without fear of being laughed at.
- Requiring a response from the group rather than accepting a non-response. This will be important to get over the expectation that people are passive in training.
- Asking people to come up the front and teach and share with others to indicate that they have important things to share as well. This will indicate that every one has worth and is not backward.
- Being able to move away from the front of the room while discussing to indicate that you don’t have to be ‘up the front’ to teach things. Make sure that people don’t have to come up the front to share things.
- Using different people within groups to share things about what groups have discovered in activities and discussions.
- Using humor to be able to relieve tension/nervousness among participants as far as possible.
- Giving responsibility for supporting actions such as setting up chairs, putting jugs of water on tables to groups to enable them to serve one another and ensuring that the leader of the session is able to serve others visibly as well. Look for ways to encourage this serving to happen.
- When others are sharing, allowing the attention to be focused on them which may mean that you move away from the front.
- Display and explain work done by the groups and leave it up for them to see and be proud of after they have completed it.
- Ensure that good points are emphasized in each piece of work. Encourage pride in group work and refer to it afterward to emphasize its worth as far as possible.
- Ensure that there are lollies to share on the tables (often eating together is a subconscious connecting point even if it is only lollies!)
- If there are people who are dominating the conversation or making fun or others, it is important to remind them that they are no more important than others and that you are interested in the opinions and thoughts of others. This needs to be done in a way that underlines the equal value of everyone opinions. If things are genuinely funny and are not directed at anyone however, use humor as well to make the point but don’t destroy the positive mood.
Some of this stuff is not new and is the stuff of good training but it needed to be applied in a very intentional and clear manner – almost making the reasons for doing it explicit as well to show/model another way of thinking. The passivity was something that was repeatedly experienced throughout school and in the political arena with corruption meaning personal thoughts had little to do with the outcome and in policing where again all too often corruption meant that there wasn’t any absolute right or wrong
Q. What has helped you become a better trainer?
* Learning Education and Training Professionals — LinkedIn Group
* Global Directory of Training Professionals — LinkedIn Group
* Australian Aid Resource & Training Guide (AARTG) – May 2011 — PDF
Interview courtesy of Bloomfire, a software site geared for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it. You can invite members to find and follow experts, ask questions or share with others by uploading documents, videos or presentations, recording a video on your webcam or creating a screen cast on the fly. Schedule a free demo today.