What if nobody does the pre-work you assigned before a training class?

Have you ever assigned pre-work for your participants to complete prior to a workshop only to arrive at your session to find that most people haven’t completed it? 

There are a variety of reasons to assign pre-work.

Perhaps you want to make sure that everyone in the room has at least a minimum amount of familiarity with your topic before you begin.

Perhaps you have a limited amount of time to spend with people in person and you’d like to use that time to focus on skill building, but there is some basic knowledge that your learners need to acquire first.

Perhaps your participants need to travel from near and far and you need to cut down on the expenses of a lengthy in-person program.

Whatever your reasoning, your participants have just as many reasons to not complete the pre-work.

They’re busy doing their jobs.

The pre-work email got buried in their inbox almost as soon as it arrived and they forgot about it.

Maybe their colleagues even told them they weren’t going to complete it, so why bother being the only one?

I have spoken with some colleagues who are able to run reports from their Learning Management System (LMS) and deny entry to the training program for anyone who failed to complete the pre-work in advance of the session. But what’s a trainer with less authority to do?

Recently, we’ve designed several programs for clients who are in just this position: they can assign pre-work, but they really have not direct authority over the learners and cannot deny access to the in-person training programs in the event people did not complete the prerequisite assignment(s).

Begin with an activity that incorporates the pre-work

I’ve never liked asking people to raise their hands if they finished the pre-work. As I mentioned, there may be good reasons that someone didn’t complete the pre-work – perhaps they already knew all of the information or perhaps they had a family emergency.

One activity that has worked quite well recently is a review-style activity that kicks off the training session. We’ve designed both a board game and a card/trivia game in which participants break into small groups and need to answer questions that come exclusively from the pre-work.

pre-work card game

Messaging goes to all participants in advance that they will be asked to apply what they learned during the pre-work in the very early stages of the training workshop.

Those who have completed the required elearning prior to the course score more points and find more success during the activity, and those who didn’t complete the pre-work have an opportunity to gain exposure to the content. Participants have found these activities to be non-threatening (nobody is shamed in front of the larger group for not having completed the pre-work), engaging and effective discussion-starters.

Let participants share key learnings from pre-work

Another activity we’ve used with significant success as a way to hold learners accountable for completing the pre-work is a “poster session”. Participants are given several minutes at the beginning of the session to create a flipchart through which they can share their key learnings and take-aways from the pre-work. Again, participants are made aware of this activity through messaging in advance of the in-person session.

Though they couldn’t provide us specific metrics, one client commented that the number of participants who completed their pre-work after we rolled out this activity rose “dramatically”.

Have you found any secrets to holding people accountable for completing pre-work prior to a training session, especially when you don’t have direct authority over your learners? We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences in the comment section.


Still looking for that perfect Valentine card for your training colleagues? Come back on Monday and we’ll have four new Valentine’s Day Cards for that special L&D professional in your life. Can’t wait until Monday? Here are the five Valentine’s cards we shared with you last year.

3 thoughts on “What if nobody does the pre-work you assigned before a training class?

  1. Since most of my training sessions tend to be delivered virtually, I post prework reading in our (asynch) conference area (e.g. case study), along with a few questions they need to answer before our session. I make sure to include at least one question about the reading material as part of their prework (e.g., if you were Ted, what would be the toughest challenge for you about this case?). I find that asking them to respond to a question about the case in advance greatly increases the chances they will actually read it. (BTW – everyone can see everyone else’s responses, so there’s a certain amount of peer pressure here as well, I suspect.)

    • Oooo. I like this a lot, Nancy. Thank you for sharing. The idea of not just assigning pre-work but also having some specific questions to be thinking about in advance gives a little more purpose and structure, and therefore perhaps more incentive to complete it and find it relevant.

  2. Thank you both Nancy and Brian…. in my organisation it has become a job in itself ensuring that precourse work is done prior to the training. So your blog was both timely and very useful.
    Diane

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