Tag Archives: classroom

Less is more – it really is!

dining tableIn Seth Godin’s recent blog post ‘the secret of the five top‘, he explores the reasoning behind why banquet tables are set at numbers of 10.  Apparently, this number is for maximum efficiency for serving staff and for table setting.  “Bigger” he says, ” you couldn’t reach and smaller there’s no room.”  Seth points out that although this is efficient for the banquet organiser, it really isn’t conducive for social interaction.  Parties and banquets are all about social interaction yet large tables of ten places barriers in the way of social interaction.

Having attended several wedding and conference banquets in recent years, I understand the issues perfectly.  These large tables have the opposite effect.  You end up talking only to the three or four people near you whereas you feel alienated from those directly opposite (that is if you can actually see them over the ornate table centre display).

The same is true of the classroom.  Let’s imagine that you have determined that classroom is the best option for at least one element of the learning solution.  It may seem more efficient to cram 8, 12, 24 or more people in the same room.  After all, you can tell 24+ the same stuff as easily as you can tell 6 …. can’t you?  Well, yes, I guess if your classroom is a glorified lecture theatre where your learners are passively awaiting the gush of information.

The thing is, we know that’s not effective.  Social interaction in the form if discussions, group activities, small group case studies, tutor facilitation, individual consolidation exercises, assessments and indivial feedback is.  Why then, is all this put at risk by organisations insisting that just because there are enough chairs and the room is big enough, they’ll fill it to the rafters.

Remember this…. When we favour quantity over quality there will be consequences.  Can you afford the consequences?

Pre-work – Is it work or isn’t it?


ringbinderPre-work!  There’s no such thing.  Pre-work! – what exactly do we mean by this? Work is either work or it’s not.  And if it’s not ‘work’ what is it?  Is it reading?  If so, reading is something you do therefore it’s work!  Is it watching (a video)?  If so, it’s still doing ergo work.  There’s nothing ‘pre’ about it.  Are you getting the drift?

Of course, to make any sort of sense, it’s got to stand for ‘pre-course work’ but even that’s equally confusing.  Let’s explore.

The reason for this little rant is that my pet-hate of a phrase (as if you have yet guessed) has been rearing its ugly head quite a lot lately.  I’ve read a few blog posts, articles and had conversations with people where these terms are being handed out without any thought about their implications.  It’s always baffled me when people use this term.  I mean, really!  Even when traditional classroom training was the default delivery, we were very often given ‘pre-course work’ to do.  The term indicates that it some sort of activity (usually reading) that needs to be done before attending the course.  Students are usually provided with details of this as part of their joining instructions or booking confirmation.  And what do they do?  Well, the don’t do they?  This pre-course work is often (to be fair not always) forgotten.  Usually, it’s down to their perception that this pre-course work is optional.  After all, if it was necessary, it would be actually part of the course wouldn’t it? Its often provided with no clear guidelines about what they should do with it or how it’s going to be used when they arrive at the classroom.  There’s no real deadline apart from the date of the classroom course and more often than not there’s no tutor support or facilitation.

This all tells the student that if the tutors/facilitators can’t be bothered to put that effort in then why should they?  OK, I might be being a little unfair but it gets my point across.

Now us learning designers know that isn’t the case.  We’ve toiled for hours carefully creating this material and determining its importance in the course design.  I too have thrown my hands up in the air, looked skywards and silently screamed when set work hasn’t been carried out.  So why, if we have determined that this work is a necessary part of the course do we insist on calling it ‘pre-course’?  We’re not helping ourselves here.

In today’s multi-media rich world has opened the opportunities of the course to be more than classroom.  There is a wider adoption of blended solutions where different elements of the course are delivered via a range of different media channels.  Some don’t have a classroom element at all.  Strangely enough, those blended solutions where all elements are delivered remotely using a variety of media options are less likely to have ‘pre-course’ work included as it is easier to see it as part of that (likely) online delivery.

But where we do see these blended solutions having a significant classroom delivery element, any set activities outside of the classroom element are still being referred to as ‘pre-course’ or ‘post-course’.  Is it any wonder then  that we still hear concerns from learning designers that their students are unlikely to carry that work out?  Using the phrase ‘pre-course’ perpetuates the misconception that the classroom is still the only place where the real learning happens.  Anything else is less important.  And, sadly, there are learning designers, trainers and facilitators who still think that themselves.

Over the past 5 years I tried to do my bit to persuade people to think differently about using the term ‘pre-course’ work and to consider using terms such as ‘part 1, part 2 or stage 1, stage 2.  It will also help when we no long consider the bulk of the learning/training to take place in the classroom and concentrate on the course being the content not the classroom.

So, come on folks, no more ‘pre-course work’ – please!

Training or Learning?

In a recent post I asked the question “what really is blended learning?” after hearing many people describe it as being classroom plus e-learning. Well, before we can establish what blended learning really is, there are a few things I’d like to explore in more detail.

1. the difference between training and learning
2. what is good classroom

When asking various people how they would differentiate between training and learning, here are some of the thoughts they’ve come back with:

Training = formal, push information, very tutor focussed, defined event(s), structured, something that’s done to them, interactive, just in case, series of events, step by step,

Learning = more learner-focussed, longer term, continuous, ongoing, pull information, self-motivated, just in time, on-demand, supporting, mixture of formal, semi-formal and informal, sharing, experiential

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 2 years, you would have undoubtedly heard about how we deliver learning programmes needs to move away from formal training events towards more of a continuous learning process. This doesn’t mean we will be doing away with the formal trainining events but more about how we can use them more appropriately.

When we talk about formal training events, we tend to think about classroom courses. That is, where two or more people are gathered together for a set period of time to be formally taken through a set topic relevant to their working practices. With even the most effectively designed classroom courses that engage, filled with activities, they can also be a very inefficient way of delivering the learning.

Looking back over the years, our classroom courses have included a rich variety of learning activities or methods. So let’s take a look into the past and remember what we have used for great classroom experiences:
Lectures
Tutor-led discussion
group discussion
demonstrations
role plays
individual work
presenations
exercises
coaching
collaborating
case studies
problem solving games
A real rich mix of activities there. Hang on a minute? Isn’t that blended learning? Well, not really. It’s blended training. What it does confirm however is that for effective learning our training needs to have an appropriate blend of learning activities. Today, however, the emphasis is increasingly on learning through the conversations we have with each other. Despite classroom delivery being very effective it’s often an inefficient way of learning. Why? Because there is a limit to how many people we reach at any one time. There are different levels of experience in the room. There’s different speeds at which people learn and more reflection time needed by some. There are hidden costs associated with attending events such as travel and time away from job as well as the possible need to bring in temporary staff to cover.

Organisations have recognised that and are thinking of alternative ways of covering some of the learning traditionally done in the classroom. But is tagging this content on either side of the classroom as e-learning self-study the answer? Maybe – but before we can decide whether it is appropriate I have another question for you. What really is e-learning?