Trainer’s Tip: Calming the Mind, Focusing Learner’s Attention

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Association for Talent Development Puget Sound (ATDps) chapter’s annual workplace learning conference. As soon as I walked into the room for the general session, I noticed something a little different.

On each table there was a container with colored pencils, and sprinkled across the tables were various postcard-sized coloring pages. Adult coloring books are kind of “in” these days, and I thought this was a novel alternative to table toys or other objects typically put on tables to give people something to do while listening to speakers.

coloring-cards

Before the opening keynote took to the stage, Andrea Koehler of The Coloring Project offered several words of welcome, saying that these coloring cards offered people a way to calm their minds and allow them to focus.

I was a little skeptical of this claim – particularly around being better able to focus on the speaker – based on my own experiences. When I steal my children’s paper place mats and crayons at a restaurant in order to color while waiting for our food to come, I find myself paying less attention to what’s going on around me and more attention on whether I want to use orange or yellow or red (or maybe green, as if it’s a different planet!) to color the sun on the children’s place mat drawing.

I decided to check to see if there was any research on the idea that coloring can help calm our learners’ minds. I came across this study published in 2012 entitled The Influence of Art Making on Anxiety: A Pilot Study. This research followed two groups of students a week prior to their final exams. The students who engaged in art-making activities were found to be less stressed than their control group counterparts.

Ok, so maybe there is something to the calming effect of art. After all, when stress goes down, the chance for learning (and retention) of information goes up.

I like the idea of providing cards for our learners to color, but I’ll place a caveat on this idea. This study followed students who engaged in art-making activities outside of the course of actually learning. They were allowed to focus their attention wholly on coloring or painting or sculpting clay. They weren’t trying to learn at the same time.

If placing coloring cards on the tables for your next training session is an idea that’s running through your mind right now, I’d recommend ordering custom cards so that they feature key words or concepts from your workshop. For example, if you’re training people on adult learning principles, perhaps you could have cards made up with words like “learn by doing” or “solve a problem” written on them.

The cards we were given at the ATDps conference were provided by The Coloring Project, which does indeed offer custom orders.

Beyond traditional table toys, what other tools have you used to help prevent learners who need to do something with their hands (like clicking their pens) to calm their minds and stay focused on your content?

2 thoughts on “Trainer’s Tip: Calming the Mind, Focusing Learner’s Attention

  1. One of the most formative training sessions I have been a part of incorporated puzzles. Tables were given a complete set of puzzle pieces and periodically throughout the session there would be breaks for “puzzle time”. Although we were not given things to play with while consuming content, knowing the next “puzzle time” was coming up gave people the ability to stay focused for just a bit longer. The instructor then wove the puzzle activity into the training as a relevant analogy. Brilliant.

    Perhaps pausing content for “coloring time” could enable participants to experience a brief moment of stress reduction without being distracted from the content. I think trainers can maximize coloring (and other activities) to increase focus and reduce stress by creating dedicated space in the schedule for required anxiety defusing activities.

    • I’m intrigued by this puzzle idea, Becky Jo! I’m also thinking of starting my day (and perhaps ending it) with coloring time… I can definitely see how it helps to de-stress and just focus on something other than the daily routine.

      I’m still on the fence about have materials at tables DURING instruction, though if it’s possible to create custom cards that feature key concepts, I think I’d be willing to give it a try… maybe I WILL give it a try for an upcoming session…

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