Too much interaction, not enough lecture? Impossible! Or is it?


A little introduction to the topic. Here are a few discussion prompts. Break into small groups with table facilitators to guide the conversation. Large group de-brief. No bullet-pointed PowerPoint slides. Heck, no slides at all! This is a textbook example of well-designed training built upon a strong foundation of adult learning, right?

Not so fast.

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to attend a 60-minute session on the topic of measuring training impact. Training that has a measurable impact – it’s the holy grail of the learning and development profession, right? Sign me up. In fact, sign my colleagues up too! I dragged a colleague to this workshop as well. We need to learn as much as we can on this topic because we certainly haven’t found a consistent way to crack this nut.

During the session, a facilitator framed the topic then turned us loose in small groups to discuss the topic. In my own small group, I felt I was able to offer brilliant insights into the challenges we face when trying to isolate training as a reason for improved business results. I took a look around the room and everyone was engaged. The room was abuzz.

Toward the end, each small group reported their insights. Time expired, a little end-of-session networking took place, and then we all headed our own separate ways. It was fun.

Later, I reached out to my colleague who attended and asked about her takeaways. She said: “I don’t know that I took away any new/better way to measure training. How about you?”

The truth was, I didn’t have any concrete takeaways either. I was kind of hoping my colleague was going to mention something that I somehow missed.

Last week, during a #chat2lrn Twitter chat, Patti Shank took a lot of flak (including from me) when she wrote this:

When I reflected on the training experience I had this week, Patti’s words suddenly resonated with me. This training was ultra-engaging. And yet my colleague and I left without being able to do something new or differently or better.

Try our list of instructor-led training activities that are both engaging and effective.

Perhaps there should have been a more vigorous de-brief. Perhaps there should have been more instructor-led content, maybe even <gasp> lecture – either before or after the small group discussions.

I may not have new ways to measure the impact of my training initiatives, but I did carry three concrete takeaways from this experience:

  1. Sometimes, lecture isn’t completely evil.
  2. Sometimes, too many discussion-based activities can be counter-productive.
  3. Reflection is an essential habit following a learning experience. Even when concrete takeaways from the topic at hand prove to be elusive, learning can still happen.

And you? What kinds of things have you learned unexpectedly even though the actual topic at hand of a training session didn’t quite deliver for you? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.



6 thoughts on “Too much interaction, not enough lecture? Impossible! Or is it?

  1. I resonate with your blog, Brian. Often we take the “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” approach. We used to do that with lecture, we now do that with interaction. I’ve had people leaving sessions I’ve organized wishing for more content and less sharing, precisely because they are looking to learn something new. I’ve also learned there’s a fine art in designing the interaction so people can go deep enough to discover something new or see something in a new way.

    I agree, this all boils down to what you said, good instructional design skills: writing solid learning objectives and then identifying the best learning activities (which could include lecture) to meet them.

    The book Brain Rules renewed my confidence in the lecture format. In it John Medina, provides instruction on how to give a lecture that sticks – appealing to emotion, the 10-minute rule, ….

  2. I think we sometimes “do” engagement because we’re supposed to have fun, not because it’s well thought out. A good instructional designer or facilitator knows where we’re going and makes sure we get there. That’s what sometimes doesn’t happen. So I’m not against engagement; I’m against things being a waste of time/energy. Learning strategies should be chosen because they make sense and get completed. A lot of times, they just seem like they were selected by pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (are y’ all old enough to remember that?).

    Look, I’ve been guilty of this too. Place me at 4 PM on the last day of a conference line-up and we’re all brain dead. The mind and body can only take so much. That’s when we break out Pharell’s Happy…

    • Hmmm, is pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey kind of like Minecraft? If not, I *must* be too young to remember! 🙂

      Yeah, in the workshop I went to last week (an ATD chapter meeting), I think they wanted to try something new (the format is usually a guest speaker who will demo something or talk about something for 60 minutes, but there’s generally not a ton of interaction). I liked where they were going with the change of format, but if there were some specific learning objectives such as: by the end of this session, we’ll all be able to articulate one new evaluation strategy to measure the impact of our training efforts, then the design didn’t accomplish such an objective.

      Of course, if the objective was that we all discuss various strategies (and challenges) to evaluate the impact of training, I guess we did do that.

      One of the things this example illustrates is that the objectives need to be well-defined (and the instructional strategies need to align with those objectives), otherwise people will leave feeling a bit unfulfilled.

  3. Last night I attended one-night conference; a subject that I am very familiar with, and have heard the speakers numerous times both in person and via video. Maybe because it was a live event, but some of the points made resonated with me differently, for a deeper understanding of the content.
    assessing and evaluation are important components of every training, as is assuring that participants are engaged, yet learning happens beyond the event/experience. Our job: create a learning experience that will or can cause a change in behavior or thinking. Rest knowing that learning sometimes happens long after the event (or the next day!)

    • Kristin –

      Yes! I’ve had similar experiences – many times at conferences I’ll return to see presenters presenting on the same topic that I’ve seen before… and I will generally have a different take-away each time.

      One additional thing we can do is provide opportunities for reflection and follow-up (because sometimes our learners won’t think to do this/don’t have time to take the initiative to do this). It’s something the eLearning Guild does quite well following conferences (here’s a little post I wrote for them on their blog after last fall’s DevLearn in which I laud the various ways they offer opportunities to reflect following their events:

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