6 Stupid Classroom Rules Learning Professionals Still Use


In order to have a chance at creating a positive learning environment, we must first reach the hearts and minds of participants. Not impose out-dated (and plain stupid) classroom rules.

Stupid classroom rules is why the continuous erosion of trust in trainers and training is ever present. We all laugh at the crazy rules and warnings we see on basic day to day items. But as we all know, usually with some rule or piece of instruction there was a method behind the madness.

On a hair dryer:
Do not use while sleeping.

On frozen products:
Product will be hot after heating.

On packaging for clothes iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On a sleep aid:
Warning: May cause drowsiness.

On a chain saw instructions:
Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals. (Genitals? Ouch)

And my personal favorite: 

On a toaster:
Do not use underwater. (What if I’m Aqua-man?)


Seriously? What’s sad is that these warnings exist because some crazy person tried it, and then tried to blame the company involved. Sigh. Such is life.

Then there are those stupid classroom rules we still around, not because adults can’t focus but because the facilitator is unable focus their attention. Mostly it’s about power. As the facilitator, I have power over you for the next 8 hours and you will abide by my rules. Not unlike our parents. My house, my rules. Why? Because I said so. No, seriously, why? Seriously, because I said so. Because that’s the way my parents did it.  Because that’s how instructors/teachers/facilitators before me did it.  If it was good enough for them it’s good enough for me – and look at me, I turned out okay.


Here are the power plays – um…rather rules, we need to break away from:

no fun No technology – Why are we still playing the technology card? Facilitators will tell me they want the students to focus on what they are saying. Here’s the deal. First, if I have to tell people to put away their laptops and mobile devices to keep their attention, then I need to refresh my facilation skills. My job is to create an such an engaging environment, people won’t want to check their email. We’re talking about adults (or adult like humans) and if we cannot trust them to manage their own cognitive load without us putting into place ridiculously out of date rules, then why are we here? People have a variety of reasons for needing or wanting their technology. Their handwriting is poor, it’s easier to manage notes after the session, they want to research information on the fly, they want to catalog resources, they want to take pictures of your wall charts.  The list is endless and all in the name of improving the learning environment.  Why risk losing that for the few who may be checking their email? Let your class be the guide.

Seating assignments – What? Are we in the 1800’s here? Who cares about who sits where? Some places do this on purpose because they want to keep the distractors away from other distractors. This is lazy facilitating. You are the one responsible for managing your session, and if you can’t manage distractors, there are plenty of presentation skills courses out there to learn this skill. Besides, any good facilitator will mix up the groups after the first day anyway – people will then rotate away from distractors and by the second day peer pressure will keep those annoying people under control.

Dress code – I worked for a company that required people attending “training” sessions to be dressed in business formal.  Yep, your eyes didn’t blur out – I typed “business formal”. So let me get this straight.  You are going to keep people locked up in a windowless basement for 8 hours with the occasional break, forcing men to wear a suit and tie and women wear panty hose? Talk about distracted learning. Frankly, if you’re in one of my workshops – I don’t care if you come in your jammies and fuzzy slippers, just be on time. The more comfortable you are, the most likely I will have your interest and attention.

Forced note taking – PULEEZE. Just stop with the forced note taking. You know what I’m talking about, there are strategic blanks in the participant guides where people must fill in the missing word(s). Or worse, your idea of a participants guide is the PPT deck printed off so that it has the slide with the 3 lines next to it. Forcing people to write everything down. Give people a complete guide, not a PPT deck and be sure it has all the information needed in it. This allows people to take and organize notes the way they need to, so their long-term memory can retrieve the information as needed. People are unique as is their note taking skills. You don’t need to decide for them. Here is a great article on note-taking myths.  

Quizzes: YIKES. Quizzes bite. People hate taking them, and facilitators hate grading them. So why, for the love of all that is good – do we still give them? Power. Trainers think the only way people will pay attention is because they know at the end, they will receive a quiz. Or worse for “measurement”.  Really? What exactly are you hoping to “measure” the amount of people who can guess accurately? (This comment is not about compliance or certification testing, there’s no stopping the government). In particular, let’s talk multiple choice…all we are measuring there are people’s logic and grammar skills. We force a quiz because that’s what our teachers always did at the end of a class.  Status quo. (And we know “Status Quo Sucks”) There are better ways to determine the exchange of knowledge. Lazy facilitation makes us give a quiz when a well moderated course project, or action learning set will do.

Learning objectives: The learning objective for this post: “At the end of this blog post, the reader will be able to ascertain all the rules being used to hold their classroom hostage”. I’m bored already. The problem is this – people in classes don’t care about your learning objectives. People care about what they want to care about, they care about their goals. They care about doing their jobs better.  Learning objectives are for US, instructional designers. Not for the participants. It is a given that when you create a course you have to start with a solid learning objective. Begin with the end in mind. Everything from course evaluations, assessing business metrics to test questions all hinge off a strongly created learning objective. This is quite different from setting a course road map.  If the class starts out with a boring list of bullets, we have an uphill battle with enthusiasm and interest. Your participants goals for the course may be different than those you have assigned, wouldn’t it be helpful to know this? From a performance perspective, isn’t it best to ask the people in the class what they hope to discover? How they plan on using the information given to improve their day to day? Used in this questioning fashion, you’ve turned learning objectives into performance goals and this creates buy-in and engagement. Here’s an interesting article from Charles Jennings about “Who Needs Learning Objectives?”: 

Now, raise your right hand and repeat after me. 

I will allow technology in my class and encourage people to tweet, take pictures, and google things they don’t understand.

I will allow people to sit wherever they want to sit. As a good facilitator I will manage distractors.

I will not force people to dress up for me. I will keep uniforms and dress codes to the professions that require them.

I will give people the information they need to learn from the start and allowing them to take notes as they deem appropriate.

I will find a better way to reinforce learning than a multiple choice quiz.

I will let people decide what they need to learn from my subject, I will not make that decision for them.

I will treat my participants as adults and not as children who cannot be trusted.


break rules_BW Okay, I know asking to relinquish a bit of control can be scary.  When we are put in an uncomfortable place, that’s where we do our best learning and get our best ideas. Hopefully you have gotten some great ideas as to how to take your classroom from the power play to being about the people. Touching hearts and minds.


Now that we have discussed what not to do, click here  for 5 ideas  to energize your classroom!

What are some of your classroom best practices that break from the norm? Please share!



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Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

35 thoughts on “6 Stupid Classroom Rules Learning Professionals Still Use”

    Don’t have participants sitting in one spot for the entire session. Provide opportunities for them to move around. Make table discussion an activity in which they move to another part of the room to discuss. OR, when finished with self reading, stand up so we know you have finished. Little movement things like this can alleviate the feeling of being trapped in your session.

    • Larry – Good one! Why do instructors feel the need to over-manage a session. This goes with the rule of not letting people get up and stretch or walk to the back of the room. Again, treating the participants as children. My original list had about 15 items on it, it included yours and Tricia’s. Figured I could write a novel on this. 🙂

      As I saw in a tweet earlier today, let’s stop with the Mad Men era of classroom rules.

  2. Please hold all questions, comments, and any other form of interaction until we get to the slide that says “Any questions?” Why? Because you need to be focused on ME, THE INSTRUCTOR, not each other.

    • I hate when I hear, “keep all questions to the end”. Why? I need my question answered in context, not hours later it makes no sense. This goes directly to poor learning design and classroom timing. Build time in for questions, cut out your voice, not that of the participant. Grrrr…..

      • Yes! We are in total agreement there, and that feeling is through my learner lens of needing to know right then to continue my buy in of the information being shared. Why create hidden barriers?

        • Agree! It can be difficult enough to focus attention without telling people to “hold that question”. I get it if the subject is just right around the corner, but just because the instructor has too much to say and not enough time to say it… makes my head want to pop off.

          • I concur with everything said about “hold all questions,” but would like to throw one more thought into the mix. I once observed a session presented by one of my facilitators, and he made the request at the beginning of the session. At one point, a relevant question was raised, and he deflected it by again insisting that questions would be covered at the end. I then realized why – he was teaching strictly by rote. He had memorized the content, but never took the time to understand the context in which it would be used.

            It was an eye-opening and, frankly, embarrassing experience. As a facilitator, I love questions – it shows me that the participants are engaged enough to want to dig a bit deeper.

          • Richard – Wow, I have no words. Thank you for sharing your story. I really am speechless, yet not shocked that this behavior still exists in classrooms or sessions today. Reason could very well be as you deduced, the facilator has learned a script and was either not experienced enough to deviate, or not able to improv. Another possibility is as I described in the post, power. It’s about command and control, the “sage on the stage” wants to control the discussion. Unfortunate either way and the facilitator fails to see that instead of adding to his credability, it deminishes it greatly with the audience.

  3. Yes!
    Y… Hmmm… Those are fightin’ words, Tipton. I’m a big fan of learning objectives. Not necessarily taking time out of class to dazzle people with my bullet-pointed list of what they’ll be able to do by the end of this presentation. BUT, I think they’re essential to designing a tight, engaging session, no?

    • Hi Brian – I do agree that strong, well written, organizationally aligned learning objectives are critical to the success of the design of course content. However, I believe formal learning objectives are more roadmaps for the instructor rather than the participant. The challenge is creating buy-in from the start with the course goals. Who says learning objectives have to be so formal and “corporate-ized”? Why can’t we have fun with the roadmap? Why can’t the participants have a voice in that road map? As you said, it’s not about dazzling with the opening slide of your deck – it’s about learning success. I know we’re on the same page with that goal! 🙂

      • Ok, I’ll buy that. In fact, I do like your point about making sure folks are bought in. Quickly checking for participant goals is actually a good way to calibrate expectations, too. I’ve had times when a participant has raised his hand and told me that one of his goals for the session is to learn how to do X, when “X” is totally out of scope for the presentation. It lets me know that particular participant was expecting something that wasn’t going to be delivered (although we can certainly talk about it at a break), and that participant isn’t sitting through the workshop, waiting for X to be covered, only to leave disappointed when it never comes up.

        All right Shannon, I’m on board!

        • Brian – You bring up a great point about the importance of calibrating expectations. In workshops I ask participants to write their learning goals on a post-it and place it on a flipchart. We then quickly review – as you said this gives quick insight for course expectations and helps me identify any trends. Hate to discover someone expects Star Wars and the we’re talking Star Trek. Glad we are on the same page!

  4. I agree with everything except learning objectives. I use specific and measurable objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and check for understanding against those objectives post module. I write in 20 minute modules to support those specific objectives and pretest to ensure I can one, prove learning has occurred, and two, potentially save some time if they score well on the pretest; we could move to the next module. I also post test against those objectives to ensure behavior has sustained at 3 and 6 months. So, I’m sorry. I can’t buy into ditching the learning objectives based on my need to ensure and be able to prove learning has occurred.

    • Hi Terri – Thank you for the comment and great debate! I agree that learning objectives appropriately aligned to, first the organizational needs, and then to Blooms creates a strong learning design plan and it sounds like you have a well structured process in place. Now, I do think there is a second debate to be had about “proving learning occurred through testing” but that’s another post for another day. 😉

      Regarding this post, I think we are talking at cross purposes. Example (true story, I kid you not): I was having a conversation this morning with a friend who is not in the L&D field (not even close). I mentioned this post, the first response was this, “Please tell me you included a part about telling me what the class is about and what I’m supposed to learn. I’m not stupid, I know why I’m there.” I literally laughed out loud. The moral of the story here – as instructional designers, or content/curriculum developers we need to have OUR road map. How we present that road map to the participants is something else. I give an example (here in the comments) to Brian as to how I check for course expectations in a way that sets the tone for the upcoming learning PLUS builds engagement. As my friend mentioned – She felt it insulted her intelligence, this is not how I want to start off a session, and I suspect you don’t either.

      There is no rule that states we have to start every presentation with boring bullets written in the language of L&D, telling the students what we suspect they already know. I’m just encouraging all of us to think more creatively about how we present “Learning Objectives” to the class.

  5. Thanks for this Shannon, couple of comments, I like the article and agree with the learning outcomes/objectives. Whilst they are needed I also think participants need to “own” them themselves as people may be at different places.

    I also only occasionally use slides and “go where the participants take me” during the sessions – it’s my job to get us back on track/link the diversion to the theme after all.

    Only thing I would say is that I sometimes use a quiz session that I’ve called “Universally Challenged” (a play on a popular quiz show in the UK). The difference is that the teams get to decide what questions they will ask the opposing team (anything we’ve covered during the day(s) is allowed. It really hooks people in and they get a lot of enjoyment from it and it embeds learning in a fun way (also only time I’ve had an MD apologising and asking me to cut the noise down in the training room as it was disturbing his Board meeting!).

    Good article – thanks again Shannon

    • Hi John – Thank you for your comments, and for sharing your techniques! You captured the essence of my post in regards to relinquishing power over the class and letting the participants have a voice in the learning process. Well done.

      Regarding the quiz, you exactly made my point! Using a different method or activity to gauge knowledge is key. Knowledge checks do not have to be quizzes on paper and your quiz concept is taking peer review to a much more interesting and engaging level. I freely admit that I will be using this in my sessions in the future. (with credit of course).

      Keep up the good work, and keep disturbing the peace! 😉

  6. Learning objectives are for ID’s. Participants in trainings have their own. Why not openly negotiate. By the end of this training I need to be comfortable that you can X, Y, Z. You have your own objectives and I respect that. What can you do to show me that mine have been met? I can’t wait to hear how you met yours. My guess is we’ll both learn and so will everyone participating in the final “reveal.”

    Lastly, assessment status quo is missing the most important part: Invention! It should be a formal part of assessment. “Show me something, propose something, ask me a question that makes me think something, that I didn’t anticipate, using what you learned here.”

    • Hi Tahiya – thank you for the thoughtful response and as you might image, I agree. Learning objectives are for intructional designers and it is key for particpants to have their own roadmap. I like your idea of sharing the expectations from both sides. Perhaps its more along the lines of the facilitor sharing with the class what success would look like for them, and have the participants share the same. Less a negotiation – but a sharing of expectation. In general the participant should know that their success is your success, this would be part of the “reveal” (Love the idea, by the way, of having a final reveal!)

      I also think your “Invention” is quite clever and something that could easily be built into a learning design. I can see people working in project teams to develop something that supports the learning for the day, or providing a final teach-back. Great idea and keep up the creative thinking. 🙂

  7. Great article Sharon. I want to defend quizzes but maybe we’re talking about different things anyway. I love using “pub quizzes” – informal, interactive, mildly competitive, not marked – simply as yet another excuse to repeat/reinforce any key points and to beat Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. Maybe you were talking about more formal stuff, multiple choice, etc etc.. Vive la revolution!!

    • Glad to see your response here Jonathan! (Jonathan & I had a brief exchange on twitter and I had hoped he would elaborate in this forum) We are actually on the same wave length. To me quizzes are of the paper variety, multiple choice or essay type questions which really do not demonstrate that learning dots have been connected. What you are describing is an approach for which I strongly advocate. Knowledge checks via activities. A fun way to assess knowledge exchange. I have never heard the term “pub quizzes” so that intrigues me (calling Google!). Beating the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is another post entirely. But in short, anything the facilitator can do to promote rehearsal or to focus the attention of the working memory, will help with the Forgetting Curve; and when combined with “knowledge checks” or “pub quizzes” as you describe, will further bring your session together at the end of the day. Not to mention make for a more engaged and informed student. Again, thank you for commenting and come back again.

      And I concur… Vive la revolution!

  8. Hi guys, I’m with Richard R, I rarely “hold questions”, I find that if you do you’ve lost the questioner (at best) as they dwell on the wait, feel frustrated and unheard, etc. and everyone else who is then distracted by why you didn’t answer the (perfectly good) question! It is my role as a facilitator to ensure that either i can make the link back to what we are discussing or to close down the question in an appropriate way to allow us to move on (you sometimes have to let people “get it off their chest”).

    It’s fair to say I rarely use powerpoint either, and prefer the free flow of engagement, exchange and interchange of allowing them to learn for themselves. I also agree that learning objectives are for the guidance of me not the attendees. They tend to take out of it what they want (or what they feel is appropriate/useful/informative/doable). I prefer to let them adapt the learning to their own world and identify what works for them and what they can use in their environment. Yes on the accredited courses I run there are assignments to ensure the individual has achieved the right level of theoretical knowledge and hence “passed” the qualification but that is as far as it goes. They should take out of it what they need (they are empowered). On a Level 2 course I run the workbook contains the 7 C’s of communication but I rarely mention it yet many people refer to it in their assignment. This to me means they actively engage with the course material find what works for them and integrate it far better than me “ramming it down their throats”.

    Lovely thread Shannon 🙂

    • Hi John ~ Thank you very much for sharing your best practices! I agree about PPT, as with most things – it’s not the tool but the person using it. I use it as a placeholder (I’m a big story teller, so a placeholder helps me to not get too far off topic), I also use help with a topic transition. Even then it’s usually just a graphic with a statement, hoping to inspire deeper conversations.

      Great class philosophy too: “I rarely mention it [a stated framework] yet many people refer to it in their assignment. This to me means they actively engage with the course material find what works for them and integrate it far better than me “ramming it down their throats”.

      Sounds like you have a strong handle on how to really connect learning to people and encourage engagement. Good for you and please continue to share. Happy Friday.

  9. This is a great post. I definitely agree with the points made, especially the one about objectives. They are for us ID’s, and it can be good in certain circumstances to have them available, mention them or providing them as per request. But reciting them in a module (and for some reason some people seem to love using this weird tone when narrating them) is a complete waste of time.

    The one thing that I have experienced myself, though, is that there are in fact people who do need to be reminded of why they are in a given session, and there are people who are that clueless (or careless) who need a simple reminder of things that are supposed to be obvious to the rest of the class.

    I have encountered students who need to be reminded of not posting on Facebook while in class. However, it is my job as a facilitator to properly deal with that as opposed to completely eliminate technology from the classroom to make things easier.

    Having the slides printed with space for notes is something I have done and continue doing. However, I don’t intend to force students to take notes, and more importantly, I provide that in addition to guides and other available materials. The PP printout does not substitute the main printed or electronic materials. I have found people who use it to remember specific parts of the presentation by looking at the slide (which, BTW, no are not made of endless bullet points. I use Photoshop to create my own graphics, backgrounds and other visuals). So in my opinion the PP printout depends on the intention behind it.

    • Ulises ~ You are on target with a couple of things: First) Loath the “corporate tone” of learning objectives. I think some L&D people have forgotten how to speak in plain English. Who talks that way? People tune out and it is a waste of time. 2) There are people who can be clueless (or careless) about the session they are participating in. My MO is to facilitate to the norm, treating the participants as adults. If you didn’t do the pre-work, oh well. You had better buddy up with someone who did. You don’t know why you’re here? Houston, we have bigger issues. 🙂

      You made an important point about supplying people with the PPT handouts, combining them with a well thought-out participants guide. This allows the participants to have a choice in how they want to view and absorb information. I would offer the suggestion of rather than creating more paper, perhaps considering adding the PPT screen image directly into the participants guide. When created in this manner, they can see any important information directly in tandem with the slide that is displaying (rather than flipping between the guidebook and your handouts). If you change the deck, all you need to do is swap out the image in the guidebook.

      I love that you take the time to build your own graphics. Have you tried Canva? It’s an awesome program for designing graphics for all sorts of purposes and super easy for the Photoshop challenged (like myself). I suggest you give it a go. Keep on “Fighting the Good Fight”!

      • I think the author never reviewed anything in current brain research, children, and writing. How about facts not just opinion to be a “rebel.”

        • I think MH has missed the point about what was being said in the post, and is making assumptions about the knowledge or skill levels of the author. If MH chose not to hide their identity, there could be some engaging discourse about objections to the post and maybe it could contribute to a new shared understanding.

          The author has not claimed expertise in child-level education. The primary focus of her efforts is in workplace learning. As someone who has, in fact, included cognitive science in graduate studies I can say safely, “she may have an opinion, but she ain’t wrong”.

  10. Quizzes are GREAT!
    I love them.
    Of course I never write them myself.
    I’ll split my learners into teams and get them to write quiz questions for the other team.

    • Alan – I love this approach. Another form of peer review, which is much more effective than any quiz I could write. Not to mention, I’m sure you discovered that the learners writing the quiz questions were much tougher that you would have been. Win-win-win! Thank you for sharing this great idea!

  11. I think it’s great that you are questioning the rules. Don’t blindly follow them. You’re doing something that the majority of people don’t even do. And, if you were in high school, I would applaud you.

    But, if you’re older, you need to take additional steps. The problem I see is that you don’t take your own advice and research why those rules exist in the first place. Use google and read up on research studies on teaching and learning.

    For example, I notice that you think that quizzes is a horrible practice. I’m not a teacher or a learning expert but I do know that students learn a lot from the quizzes. Research has shown that they have a significant effect of committing the concept and facts to long-term memory. The reason is they somewhat replicate an environment in which a person extracts the info out of their brain. So, testing is not only just a tool to measure progress but an invaluable tool for learning.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I do think perhaps you misunderstood my intent regarding the bit about quizzes. First, by definition a quiz or a test os to assess learning. People do not “learn from tests”. They learn from feedback on tests. Which rarely occurs. I haven’t seen any research that states testing without feedback is beneficial. I think what you may be referring to is note-taking. Encoded note-taking reinforces information coming into the working memory letting the brain decide what it needs to store in it’s long-term memory. Which without question is critical. (But only if you allow the person to take notes in a way is beneficial to them, not to us.)

      What I am referring to is the dependency on quizzes to prove a topic is learned. We know this not to be true. Standardize testing in schools is failing, not necessarily because of the tests, but because the learning is set up around the tests. Setting everyone up for failure. My issue with quizzes in workplace learning is the the same. Because someone has passed a test, does not mean they comprehend the topic – much less be able to apply the skills the workplace. It means they are good at test taking. What I say in the post is, “There are better ways to determine the exchange of knowledge. Most of which are dependent on the facilitator. Again, lazy facilitation makes us give a quiz when a well moderated course project will do.”

      As far as research – research tells us that quizzes/tests fail in the work place because they do not offer feedback, without feedback there is no application of learned skills. We also know that if there is a test involved in learning, the time in the classroom consists of either taking the tests or preparing for the tests, and this shuts out the possibility of learning anything new or important. To that point, tests/quizzes create stress. Some people do well with a certain level of stress. Others don’t. Imagine you’re an adult who was never good at testing in school – what makes us think that quizzes or testing in a workplace environment, where there is much more at stake is going to be any less stressful? I would point you this article on the effects of stress, testing and the human brain.

      Now, if your job is to recall facts – then yes, you most likely need to have a test as part of the learning environment. However, I find in a fair amount of cases memorization is not required, being able to find the resources to support the position is key. So back to my original point – traditional quizzing and testing for adult learners in the workplace should not be our “go-to” source for proof of knowledge. Applicability of knowledge should be the measurement of success.

      Again – thank you for the comment and allowing me to expand on my thought process. I welcome the debate!

  12. This is an absolutely fascinating article. I would agree completely if one was dealing with self-directed adults who always knew why they were in training, what they were there to learn, and used basic etiquette by turning off their technology. However, this is not the reality of many workplace training classrooms.

    First of all, training is not always fun. Let’s dispel that notion right now. Learning is hard work and tedious. Can you make learning more engaging? Absolutely. Learning about child support debts or how to calculate business specific metrics is not always fun. Training is often used to teach individuals how a specific business functions works – policy and procedures. Policy and procedures are always engaging, right? Perhaps the U.S. is losing it’s competitive edge because we think everything should always be fun.

    Second, learning objectives are just for IDs? I disagree. Do objectives need to be written in a complicated format that IDs may use? No, however, stated objectives help to center a learner’s focus. They are indicators for an individual to determine if they have learned the skills they need to do a job.

    Last, let’s talk about technology. I believe everyone should be adult enough to use technology responsibly, however, it is a misguided notion. Technology sucks people in, thus possibly missing important information – intended or not. I have seen C-Suite executives asked to turn in their phones during meetings so they will not be distracted. Technology disruptions are acknowledged by society today, so why not mitigate disruptions if there is important content to be learned? Are some taking notes on their computer? Yes, some. But how many interruptions do they get with email and social media? I would also look at research on retention from hand to paper versus typing information.

    It is great to be a rebel when it is appropriate. This article, when speaking about workplace training is not the place to be a rebel. Services and business metrics are at risk of being impacted. Measuring the effectiveness of training in diminished when the learning is not guided – and yes, dare I say – somewhat structured. Learning is not a free for all. It is absurd to let many in training determine what they need to know. Many people are in training because they do not know what they need to know.

    • Hi Jennifer – Thank you for your thoughtful comment and I’d like to take a moment to address your points. (It is lengthy, but I felt it was important to address your thorough comment with an equally thorough response.)

      I have been around the training block a time or two (or 20) and I’ve seen many types of workplace learning behaviors from Senior Leadership to front line employees. They all have one thing in common when it comes to being placed in a class or in front of computer screen…they don’t want their time wasted. That is the reality. It’s a reality that many workplace learning professionals routinely ignore.

      First, I completely agree – learning/training is not always fun and no where in this post does it state that fun is the priority. There are many serious topics, which require a serious mindset and design. That being said, it doesn’t have to be torture and death by PowerPoint either. I would also argue that we should not be “teaching” policy. Most HR and business policies are training death. In real life, teach people how to access the policy when needed and for that, most times all that is needed is a resource guide. Therefore, show people how to access the resource and be done with it. The problem stems (most times) from us. Because we have decided the best way to “teach” is to plunk people down in a class or in front of a “click next”, terribly designed, elearning module. There is not enough consideration about how the end-user will actually use information provided. If a course is strictly knowledge based, meaning that there is someone in the front of the class regurgitating information off a PowerPoint deck – then yes, people will hate it, consider it tedious, and will rebel against whomever is “teaching”. This has nothing to do with a U.S. mentality, but an adult learning realization. It’s not about fun, it’s about mental engagement and cognitive enhancements.

      Second, regarding learning objectives. As I stated in responses below and as you state, formal learning objectives are for IDs to design appropriate learning outcomes. A solid learning objective will guide instructional designers, giving them a framework and guidance as to the path the course needs to take. This is why it is critical we BEGIN with writing solid learning objectives before creating course content, not after. Bloom himself stated that Learning Objectives are a means to an end. Knowing that it wasn’t learning objectives, but environment and experience that were key factors.

      That being said, my point is that we do not need to inflict formal learning objectives on the participants. The participant should have a road map, not be bored to death. Our responsibility is to set the tone for the time spent together. I actually prefer to start any session by asking the participants why they think the course is important and what they think they should learn in order to help them do their jobs. A small, yet important twist for setting the stage for the day and ensuring goal alignment. Training is not all about the trainer, it’s about them. Any time a person spends away from the job at hand, is productivity wasted. If a course is well-designed and meets a defined performance gap, a bullet list of learning objectives (written in training lingo) serves absolutely no purpose other than to dull the enthusiasm of those participating. Let people know how performance will improve, not what they will “learn”. If our first impression bores them to death it is hard to recover – they will have the perception that the class is boring and they may as well pull out their phones and check Facebook.

      Which leads me to your point about technology. As you might expect, I do not believe the opinions in this post to be a misguided notion. If the C-Suite has to turn in their phones because they cannot focus during a meeting, then perhaps the meeting has no merit to them. A conversation for another day. However, the point holds water for the classroom. If the class is so boring and sleep educing then, yes, people will get sucked into twitter. If I cannot get my class to focus on the topic at hand, that is my fault as a facilitator…not theirs. Encourage people to use their mobile devices to help with the class. Example: Class about discriminatory hiring. I had the class break up into groups and whip out their phones to google recent lawsuit cases to present in front of the class. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em and way more effective than a PowerPoint slide with boring data. If there is important content to be learned, structure it so that people will want to learn the information, because – I guarantee, just because you have taken away access to phones, doesn’t mean that you have their attention or interest. They are mentally trying to find a workaround solution for the rules.

      Regarding notes. There is research which supports hand written notes, as my post indicates. However, the point is not about taking notes, it’s about enforced note taking. Meaning, if we force people to take notes there is no mental connection. The key is about choice, letting people choose (with guidance) what they will capture. This is why is it critical to provide solid resource material (aka, a participants guide). Some people are just terrible note takers, you can force me to put away my iPad and make me take handwritten notes on the false assumption that enforced note taking works. However, if I cannot read my own writing or my notes are chicken scratch because I was writing to keep on with your talking…what help is that? The key is to help the participants develop a system that works for them. This is when note taking becomes most effective.

      Lastly, I have nothing against structured training. Not at all. I am against training for the sake of training or talking that is disguised as training. I am against designers and trainers who have haven’t done a proper analysis and decided that training was the answer because we haven’t looked any deeper at different more effective methods. This is what being a rebel is all about, it’s about creating change for betterment. Training should always align with a business metric. It most certainly shouldn’t be a free for all, but too often our ego’s get in the way. We don’t always know best. “Many people are in training because they don’t know what they don’t know.” True, but this doesn’t mean we treat them like they don’t know anything.

      Call me naive, but when people are presented with a positive and safe learning environment that is performance based over knowledge based, will put forth their best efforts. I have yet to come across a person who really doesn’t want to learn – they just want to learn about stuff that makes a difference and helps them to do their jobs better.

  13. I teach both college and middle school so my comment is coming from two perspectives. If we are talking about college students, I 99-100% agree on all counts. Regarding middle school, I would have to respectfully disagree (many examples from my 18-years of teaching experience come to mind when thinking about this).


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