The opening of your program or presentation may be the most important part of it. Unfortunately, this part is often overlooked, neglected, or downplayed in its importance. Does that surprise you?
Believing that it’s important to jump into the enormous amount of content surrounding a topic, trainers can often skip over or treat in a cursory way this first phase of learning. The truth is that the beginning or introduction to a learning program is very strategic in its function, for it is here that the learner gets prepared to learn. If done correctly, this portion of a learning program can make participants feel relaxed. It can also get them out of a place of unconcern for the learning that is about to take place, and can instill in them instead positive feelings about what it is they are about to be experienced.
Learners approach learning with all sorts of conscious and unconscious impediments. These ‘blocks’ must first be removed if any learning is going to take place. Consider some of the barriers to learning that participants could be carrying within them:
- They do not believe the learning will be beneficial.
- They are concerned about not being able to succeed during the program.
- They are concerned that they will look stupid in front of others.
- They have an unconscious resistance to change.
- They are not confident about their own ability to learn.
- They refuse to accept the truths that may exist in the subject that is being taught.
- They have current personal or work related issues back in the real world.
- They have a belief that they already know the topic and that this will be a waste of time.
- They have a belief that the training will be boring.
These are just a few of countless reasons why a person may not be ready to learn. These obstacles to learning can create stress in participants, and that stress can make the participants shut down. So as a first step in preparing for your training programs, remember that it is important to arouse participants to the learning that’s about to take place, and to make them more open and ready to learn.
There are many ways of preparing participants for learning. These strategies include:
- Forecasting future success for all participants.
- Setting clear course objectives.
- Exploring and identifying the benefits of the program for learners.
- Setting up a positive environment in which learning can take place.
- Establishing the social nature of learning.
- Rousing interest in the learning that’s about to take place.
All of these strategies are interlinked. To do some of them without doing the others won’t work. It’s important that all of these strategies are carefully implemented as early as possible in the learning program.
All of these strategies will help prevent the learning from being handicapped by negativity. As both a designer and a facilitator of learning, you must be aware of the negative influences that could easily sabotage a learning event. The first task of any learning program is to help participants move beyond their negative notions of learning and replace those notions with more positive ones. If participants are convinced that there is more value in looking at the learning through a positive filter, then they will have a positive learning experience.
All of these ideas built into the beginning of a learning program will prime participants for the learning that is about to take place. Again, there may be some impatience around spending the time on these elements, but the payoff will far exceed the investment. Participants come to a learning program to learn. If we don’t do everything in our power to make that happen then we have not done our job.