A consultant-friend recently called to tell me that he has found a job as a technical trainer. He was ecstatic about the prospects of drawing a regular paycheck. "The only thing I regret," he said as he was putting the phone down, "Is that I won't be able to use experiential activities in my training sessions anymore".
I could not follow the logic that led to my friend’s conclusion that experiential activities are not appropriate for technical training. This goes against my experience. My in-house workshops on using interactive, experiential approaches in technical training are popular. My friend Andy routinely conducts activities-based workshops involving highly technical content. Historically, technical training was based on interactive, hands-on approaches.
I decided that my friend’s apparently illogical statement was due to some semantic misunderstanding. Perhaps he assumed that experiential activities referred only to metaphorical simulations and soft-skill roleplays. Perhaps he was worried that his engineer-participants will not tolerate playfulness and games or that he will not be able to cover the enormous amount of technical content in limited time if he lost control. Whatever the reason, I hope that my friend does not regress to endless presentations of computerized slide shows. Because, if he does, he is going to be miss some of the most powerful approaches to technical training.
Here are four interactive experiential approaches that I found especially useful in technical training:
Lecture games facilitate two-way communication while providing complete control to the technical trainer. You can shift between a traditional lecture and the interactive variety with very little effort. If you know your technical subject and have an outline for your presentation, you can easily convert the session into an interactive lecture. In the integrated-quiz format, you insert quiz interludes in the middle of your presentation. In the interspersed-tasks format, you interrupt the presentation and ask participants to perform a task. In the participant-control format, you let the trainees dictate the content and the sequence of your presentation. In the teamwork format, you ask trainees to work with one another to produce a product based on your presentation.
For an example of an interactive lecture, check out Mixed-Up Sentences in our web site by clicking http://bit.ly/1i6djMl.
This type of game combines the effective organization of technical manuals, references, and job aids with the motivational impact of playful activities. Trainees begin by completing a reading assignment before participating in a game that uses peer support and peer pressure to encourage transfer and application of what they read. In the cooperative-learning format, trainees read and master one step of a procedure. Later, they form teams in which different members have mastered different steps. The team members now teach each other.
For an example of a textra game, check out Review Roulette in our web site by clicking http://bit.ly/1ilF8RM.
This interactive format encourages the practitioners to share their expertise with each other in the tradition of medieval craft guilds without its undesirable indenture system. Especially suited for advanced technical workers, this type of activity facilitates the sharing and analysis of participants’ experiences, knowledge, and opinions. The primary source of information is the participants themselves. Recently, for example, I facilitated a group that worked with a software program (about which I knew nothing) to share their tips, tricks, shortcuts, macros, and strategies for working around known bugs. We used an activity called Thirty-Five to structure this session.
For an example of a Structured Sharing activity, check out Guidelines in our web site by clicking http://bit.ly/1KhUMaQ.
This type of games is deliberately designed to permit the easy removal of old content and insertion of new content. Technical training frequently involves manual skills and there are several framegames that help trainees master and practice such skills. Interactive Lectures, Textra Games, and Structured Sharing activities are all based on the framegame approach. For a discussion of how the Guidelines activity can be used as a framegame, visit our web site by clicking http://bit.ly/1NvxIYR.
Towards the Future
In the blurred world of tomorrow, technical workers will have to master interpersonal skills (as in the case of a medical technologist interacting with a patient). At the same time, salespeople will have to master some technical skills (as in the case of helping a customer set up the cable connections) and so do managers (when they want to send a memo through the company’s intranet). We are all going to be teaching and learning increasing amounts of technical skills.
Aren’t you glad there are alternatives to lectures?