Acting, Doodling and Sharing All Aid in Training Sessions

By Bill Wilder, Director of Education, Life Cycle Engineering

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Confucius, Chinese philosopher & reformer (551 BC - 479 BC)

Think back to when you first learned how to ride a bike. Was it by sitting in a conference room while someone read PowerPoint slides, or perhaps through watching a video? No. You learned by getting on the bike and riding it. To learn new knowledge and skills you have to apply them. If you think about your daily activities you’ll recognize that 80% of learning is in doing. Few of us will read every word to a user manual before beginning a project. Instead, we just start by doing.

The next time you want to change behavior to produce results, think about creative ways to get people to apply what you want them to learn. It’s important to experiment in a safe learning environment where participants can receive feedback and support. The first step is to begin with the end in mind. Think about the goal at hand and determine the specific behavior and results you are seeking. Before preparing your content or even an outline, write out your learning objective as a S.M.A.R.T goal. Your initiative should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
What exactly do you want people to do, when, and what results do you want to see? For example, let’s assume you want people in your group to collaborate more.  As you consider behaviors that facilitate collaboration you decide that communication is important. Now you think about communication and conclude that the most important communication skill is listening. So a learning objective for your group may be to “apply the empathetic listening skills of mimic, rephrase, and reflect in their interactions with colleagues.”

With your learning objective in hand, brainstorm activities to engage your group and help them apply their new skills. Participants need to practice the skills you want them to learn. For our example, consider activities that facilitate listening. You may want to search for listening activities on the Web or perhaps read a few books on listening skills. Despite the skill you’re teaching, there should be a wealth of ideas out there to draw on. Some activity ideas that anyone can apply include pair share, role play and poster sessions.

Pair Share

A  pair share activity helps participants reflect on the content you presented by discussing it with a partner. Instructions could include:

  • Tell your neighbor one thing you just learned
  • Draw a doodle of something you just learned and share it with your neighbor
  • Talk to your neighbor about a situation where what you just heard might apply
  • Ask your neighbor a question about what you just learned
  • Write a single word to describe what you just heard and walk around the room to share this with three people

Role Play

Role plays let people try out new skills in a safe environment.  Performing a skill will help participants develop understanding and retention. Role plays can be done in pairs or triads where you have two people talking and one observing. Avoid writing a script; instead have pairs or teams come up with typical scenarios where the skills you are teaching would apply. In the case of empathetic listening, you might ask them to write out a situation where someone is very emotional and needs someone to listen.

Poster Session

An excellent way to close out a learning experience is through a poster session. Group individuals into teams of three to five and have them summarize the skills they’ve learned on a poster. You can provide different instructions for each group:

  • Prepare a poster of things you should always do
  • Prepare a poster of things you never do
  • Express ideas in words only
  • Express ideas in graphics only

Once you’ve planned your activities, think about the content for your training. Remember, adults have an attention span of about seven minutes. Whatever you intend to teach, you should have some type of interactive participation every seven minutes or so. Activities should offer simple opportunities for people to talk, write or move. Consider never doing for a participant what they can do for themselves. Participants can create their own name tents or job aids, arrange the room and present content all as part of the learning session. In your next training, just stop talking and start doing learning activities. By allowing participants to apply their knowledge and skills, you will improve their retention and achieve your desired results.


Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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