Sometimes your audience is just going to pay more attention to Facebook

At the beginning of the month I was in India, facilitating a 2-day change management workshop. It was a follow-up to a 2-day session in October in which participants created a series of performance rubrics in order to better identify competencies across a variety of eye care-related skill sets.

As day 2 got underway, I happened to be walking behind one participant and noticed something curious: he had his laptop open (which is fine) and he was browsing his Facebook feed (which wasn’t quite as fine with me).

Facebook 2

Should I tap him on the shoulder and ask him to pay attention? Should I make a general announcement to let everyone know that it’s ok to have computers out to take notes but not to catch up on email (or check Facebook)?

I had a decision to make. In the end, I chose to do nothing.

Here are some facts that ran through my head that helped me come to my decision to do nothing:

  1. He was completing all the work he was asked to do during the session.
  2. Others in the room were already taking the work we had done back in October and putting it to use by piloting these rubrics within their organizations or even creating an app to help facilitate the use of these rubrics.
  3. Ultimately this participant (along with every other participant in the room) was going to be asked to commit to a change management and implementation schedule, so if he wasn’t getting everything he needed during this session, he would be responsible for getting it some other way… because he would be held accountable for demonstrating results after returning home from this session.

Workshops and training sessions are about creating space to help others do something new or differently or better. In short: learning and development is about the journey, sure, but even more so it’s about the results.

As amazingly engaging as we feel we’ve designed our sessions, we will never be able to be all things to all people.

If someone demonstrates to me that they “get it” and are able to prove, through session activities, that they’re able to deliver when they’re asked to deliver, then I suppose it’s ok for them to doodle or sketch or, yes, even check Facebook from time to time.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have you done something differently when you’ve found participants texting or Tweeting or Facebooking? Let’s hear it in the Comment section.

6 thoughts on “Sometimes your audience is just going to pay more attention to Facebook

  1. I totally agree with your approach! I think the learner has equal (to the trainer) responsibility for his/her learning. As long as you (the trainer) have done everything you possibly can to make the session engaging and as long as the learner is not disrupting others in the training session, I say…let them be.

    • It’s interesting. One thing I read about emotional intelligence a few years ago that has stuck with me is that the rules we hold for ourselves may not be the same rules that others are holding for themselves. My thinking that it’s a sign of disrespect to be using Facebook during *my* session may not be intended to be disrespectful at all according to the rules by which this participant held in his own mind.

  2. Adults are responsible for their own learning, so if they are not disrupting someone else in the class, I let them doodle, or surf, or text. But hopefully, the class is so engaging that they WANT to focus on learning.

  3. In my early training days I may have approached the participant during a break and asked him to maintain his focus on the training, however, over the years my understanding of learning behavior has increased.
    Having people sit in a classroom can be challenging – it is typically different to their regular day-to-day environment which may make it difficult for maintain focus.
    Introvert vs. extrovert – Being an extrovert myself, I understand the need for various sources of energy at the same time to maintain a strong focus.
    Being able to adapt to various learning styles and modify the training delivery or content makes the training more learner-centric and less trainer-centric.
    Whenever possible, I attempt to incorporate social media into the training (which I know you do too) or have specific “media breaks”.
    – Brent
    Great article Brian – keep them coming!

    • Thanks Brent! Yes, bringing technology and social media into the classroom (and then to use it as a follow-up tool) can be quite handy. There was certainly a part of me that wanted to run up from behind and close his laptop myself… but the more mature part of me allowed him to make his own choice as to what he’d be focused on at any given moment in the session.

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