Where does adult learning end and training snobbery begin?

A few weeks ago, I posted the following question on the ASTD LinkedIn Group discussion board: Is “fun” the same thing as “engaging” when it comes to training design?

I was surprised to see more than 60 responses to the discussion prompt. Here are a few of the most interesting responses on either side of this question:

  • “I think ‘fun’ is a very personal term – what is fun for some can be embarrassing or demeaning for others. Writing content that will be fun for everyone must be a tough job – if every training designer could do it, they’d surely earn more in the entertainment industry? However I think you can design training that is engaging (and may be fun for some people).”
  • “What a great conversation. I agree content and delivery can be very engaging without ‘fun’ elements per se. More often than not, constraints on context, content, and delivery methods mean it’s not possible nor practical to incorporate ‘such fun’ content . . . entertainment, games, play, jokes, cartoons, etc.”

And then there were some responses that made me start to wonder: where do adult learning principles and sound instructional design end, and when do we in the learning and development field simply turn into training snobs?


The absolutist nature of some of these concepts, while perhaps interesting to debate in theory, don’t seem to win us many friends in the real world. Subject matter experts and other professionals who are responsible for presenting will often need our help in putting together a presentation that will hold the interest of their audience and can lead to change.

Will taking an absolutist stance over the definition of a word while disregarding the spirit in which the word is spoken win over the hearts and minds of an SME who just wants to present something that people pay attention to?

So I ask the learning and development community: where should we stand our ground when it comes to effective adult learning and sound instructional design principles? And where do we cross the line and simply become training snobs?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below.

Click here if you’d like to see the entire LinkedIn-based discussion.

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How In The World Can I Fill All The Time I’ve Been Allotted For This Presentation?

Having more time than you think you’ll need to present on a topic is a good problem to have. Cover your topic as quickly and completely as possible, then give the audience an opportunity to practice whatever it is that you’ve talked about.  Here are a few examples from both large and small group presentations that I’ve seen:

  1. Peer Coaching: At the 2009 ASTD International Conference and Expo, I attended a session led by staff from SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) in which they talked about the successes of their leadership development program. One major element to this program was peer coaching. After talking with the audience about the steps involved in their peer coaching component, the facilitator asked us to break up into small groups and try it out.  In a session that was attended by 100 or 150 people, the facilitator broke us up into small groups. It was engaging and it drove the point home. It’s something I still remember four years after attending this 90 minute session.
  2. Get Active: In a keynote address at this year’s SHRM Talent Management conference attended by about 2,000 people, Jane McGonigal gave a talk about the impact that games can have on society. During her presentation, she illustrated her point by having everyone in the group engage in a round of “massively multi-player (two-handed) thumb wrestling.” It was exactly what it sounded like – 2,000 people joining hands and thumb wrestling with both hands in small(ish) groups. Then, on stage, she de-briefed exactly how this activity fit into her thesis about the impact of games on society.
  3. Show Off Your Skills. A year ago, a co-worker asked me to deliver a 6 hour session on presentation skills. I had traditionally delivered a two-hour in-house session on presentation skills and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with those extra four hours. Until it dawned on me that it would be extremely useful for attendees to actually put together a      short presentation, deliver it and receive feedback in the training session.

Putting your audience to work is the single best way you can invest presentation time.

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