Do you work for one of those organisations whose "training" invariably consists of someone standing up in front of a group and saying something? If you answered 'yes', you're not alone. It's a common practice which leads to a widely held perception among many that it's training. It's a perception that has annoyed me over many years. I'm not against information sessions ... they have their place. What I am against is calling them 'training sessions'.
Information sessions are very useful for, strangely enough, disseminating information. They are next to useless for transferring learning. True, you can run an information session advising staff in a credit union that the interest rate has risen from 6.3% to 6.7% and that from hereon they are to use that rate in all transactions. It would be hard to argue that there wasn't at least an element of learning involved (and by inference, training). After all, everyone who attended probably learnt that the new rate of interest is 6.7%.
But consider the long-winded, verbose information session. How much does anyone expect to learn from that? The problem with these types of sessions is that there is usually no learning focus ie, by way of learning outcomes or objectives, no structure in the content, no practice, and little guidance in what to remember and what not to remember. It's simply a matter of ... 'This morning I'm going to tell you about the new procedures for ....' And then, blah, blah with dozens of overhead projection slides.
I've attended possibly thousands of information sessions. I'm an information junkie. It's an illness I've never been able to overcome. I just have to attend everything that sounds like it is relevant or interesting for which I have time (and sometimes the money). I don't go to learn specific facts, but to hear others' points of view. I may recall some outstanding facts and opinions, but as time passes and I move onto the next information session, the content of the previous one is forgotten.
Occasionally I write notes about what I heard and I link them to things that are relevant to me. This helps me to consolidate major themes and also provides a source of reference when I want to revisit the concepts or principles again. In some cases, just writing the topic and linking it to what is relevant to me makes a huge difference.
Recently the definition of what is, or is not training or learning, has been blurred by the different ways in which we now facilitate learning. Essentially, we still learn the same way, but the method of processing the content is different. For example, just-in-time training uses a demand/supply methodology ... we learn something just before we need it so that we don't carry around a bag full of knowledge, skills or attitudes that we may never use. Online learning is a model that should still use structure, repetition, revision, assessment, feedback and all the other good things learning involves. Then there's on-the-job learning which is still popular, but doesn't differentiate between accurate learning and learning from low performers who perpetuate their performance in others.
Improving Your Info Sessions
You can improve the value of an information session by doing just a few simple things. If the session is intended just to tell someone what a great trip to China you had, it really doesn't matter what they remember. If you are telling someone about the new, revised procedures of your firm, focus on the changes that have occurred between the old procedures and the new procedures. At the end of the session ask questions to clear up doubtful points, then give your audience a summary of the changes to which they can refer when needed as a memory aid.
Alternatively, if the information session is about something else, consider this; if there are more than about five to nine key points to make, break the session into several sub-sessions and do not handle more than the five to nine points in each. Write the key points you intend to make on a whiteboard or display them on a projector screen in point form. Then address each point concisely and accurately. Explain the how, what, when, where and why of each point. Ask your audience if there are any questions, answer them and tick off each point before moving to the next point.
By not exceeding say seven points (the middle of the range) you reduce the chances of detrimental information overload. The visual cue helps your audience to 'home in' on the topic you are addressing, to recall what has been finished, and know what is to follow. They can then mentally separate content into meaningful and manageable 'parcels'. This chunking will result in an information session becoming as near to a training session as possible without crossing the border.
When you do the next session in a series, have a short revision session. Ask some questions to get people thinking about the topic. For example. 'Last session we covered five key points to consider when analysing financial statements ... what was one of them ... [pause] ... John?" This helps establish a mental link between the previous and current topic.
Information certainly ain't instruction, but it can be much more effective with a little planning, structure and effort. At your next information session, give some of these ideas a run. You'll find they are much more successful.
Copyright Robin Henry 2005
Robin Henry is a human resources and development specialist and Internet marketer. He operates his online business, Desert Wave Enterprises, from Central Australia.
He has written articles about a range of topics, many of which are at Ezinearticles.com. Others are accessible from his site at http://www.dwave.com.au.