When training managers discuss the “training environment”, a lot of effort is spent discussing tables, chairs, and computers. While these physical elements are critical, we often overlook things like the surroundings, situation and atmosphere. If you don’t pay attention to details of your training environment, even the best instructor and curriculum can fail miserably.
Once a a list of potential training locations is created, consider the surroundings of each. Do thorough research before committing to a venue. Don’t just look at the room(s) for training. Take a walk around the property. Things like nearby airports and railroad tracks can be significant, frequent distractions. Is there construction going on in the immediate area that will inhibit traffic or create a distraction? If you are unfamiliar with the area, talk with local public safety officials. They can provide insight and information that a property manager may be unwilling to share.
If you’re working with a property manager, find out what other activities will be going on before, during and after your training. Are they of a competing nature? Will the other activities present a serious distraction for students? A coordinator recently hosted a session at a Las Vegas hotel, in an absolutely wonderful classroom overlooking the foyer. He had used this location frequently with no issues. The coordinator realized about halfway through the afternoon session his students’ attention was consumed by a celebrity wedding in the foyer – and he had no way of blocking the view.
One resource a coordinator should consult is the convention and visitor’s bureau, if the area has one. In smaller towns, the local government’s economic development office or Chamber of Commerce may serve a similar function. Look at other events and facilities in the area. Try to determine if any other local activities will impact your training. If your training involves non-local attendees, these groups can also be a source of “welcome to the area” bags with maps and other items.
Creating the right situation for learning to occur is where your cross over from purely logistical concerns to creating synergy between the location, students, curriculum, and trainer. Setting up the proper situation begins with understanding the needs assessment that set the stage for the training. Why is the training happening? What do you know about the audience? Understanding the audience extends beyond designing or selecting a curriculum that’s right for them. It involves created the right situation so the students are open to and receive the information.
When training is being done to correct a problem, is promoting change in the workplace, or is simply “mandatory” – attitudes can be negative simply because of the nature of the training. Use changes in the environment to counter the negativity. If past classes have been taught in a company break room, move it to the company’s executive board room or even off-site. If the material has been taught by the same instructor, consider using a different trainer or encourage use of different instructional methods. Provide something unexpected, such as food and beverage.
Two proven ways to improve the morale and attitude of a class are to offer food ad freebies.
Another way coordinators can improve the situation is to improve the status of the program in the student’s eyes. Telling a student that a program is important doesn’t really have much of an impact. Having the president of the company or an outside speaker with direct experience introduce the session not only improves credibility, but carries the unspoken message that training is important. The company president showing up to class at 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning can make quite an impression. It makes even more of a statement if a senior executive stays and participates, although that can be unrealistic.
There are other ways to improve the situational aspects of your training environment:
- Ensure a note pad or paper, along with a pen or pencil, is positioned at each student’s seat.
- Place each instructor’s business card at each student’s seat.
- Provide each student with the session’s agenda, along with expected learning outcomes.
- Have instructors dress similarly for the day. Students appreciate being able to rapidly identify staff members.
- Depending on class size, use name cards at each seat or provide name badges for all participants.
Details become even more important if students are paying fees to attend a class.
Establishing the correct atmosphere as training begins is crucial. All your efforts in preparation, location selection, surroundings, and situation set the stage; what happens as students arrive and class begins are critical. All of your hard work can be undone by a single instructor who brings a negative tone to the class.
When Students Arrive
What do students see when they first arrive at training? As the cliche goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Do they see an instructor rushing to set up? How are the instructor(s) dressed? Ensure any sign-in or registration processes are rehearsed and run smoothly. Avoid creating long lines of people just waiting to get in the door! Was a member of the training staff assigned as a greeter, answering students’ questions as they arrive?
The First Five Minutes
The first instructor to speak at the beginning of a session has a huge responsibility. What is said, the demeanor, ad even body language establishes a huge part of the atmosphere for the class. How many times have you hear an instructor open with any of the following comments:
- “I know this is the same training as last year, but we have to do it.”
- “You all are the best, but management says you need to go through this class.”
- “This is as boring for me to teach as it is for you to take.”
Statements like these undermine all the planning and effort a coordinator has put into establishing the right situation needed as part of your training environment. Once an instructor sets a negative tone, the damage is done. Stay positive.
Time is a huge component of maintaining the right atmosphere. First, consider your program’s start time – are your students driving in from a distance? Don’t set a class start time that means half the class had to be up at 4 AM just to make it on time. Consider the duration, and nature. Instructors should never talk longer than the student chair’s comfort. Avoid “all classroom” days whenever possible. Use hands-on or interactive elements to break up the day.
Showing respect for a student’s time in class is critical. The classroom should be ready so that the instructor can start on time. Stay on schedule throughout the day. Just as ensuring the information presented has value equal to or greater than the time spent; punctuality demonstrates your respect. Think about this scenario: a student calls the lead instructor fifteen minutes before class is to start, saying he will be ten minutes late for class. Should the instructor delay the start of class for a single student? What message does this send to the students that arrived on time?
If the training consists of multiple sessions going on at the same time, appoint a single individual as the schedule master. This person is assigned the responsibility for keeping multiple groups and instructors on time. Implement a system for giving preemptive announcements (10 minutes left, time to switch).
The Training Environment: It’s What You Make It
You put a lot of work into conducting a good training program. Taking a little extra care to include creating the right surroundings, situation, and atmosphere as part of setting your training environment will pay dividends.