I think we can all agree that boring training is bad training. When you can’t focus you can’t learn.

So naturally it seems logical to assume that fun training is good training. But this is not necessarily the case.

Video games are pretty fun. Does that mean they’re good learning experiences? No. A lot of video games are just pure fun, their learning value is minimal compared to the amount of fun they provide.

Engagement is important though. But it’s just the foundation. Beyond engagement, training also needs a few more things.


Probably trainings biggest weakness is that people tend to forget the content they learnt not long after the training. So, if you’re going to spend all of that time sitting in the training room only to forget it all, then why bother going to training?

The answer is to reflect.

There are a lot of theories about how we learn. One such theory is the multiple intelligences theory. Apparently, some people learn best by reading, others by listening, and others by doing. But this is all bullshit. There is only one way people learn and that’s by reflecting. Yes, you might very well learn by reading, by listening or by doing, but that’s only if you reflect afterwards.

Reflection requires a lot of time, but because most people are so busy at work these days, they don’t actually have much time to reflect. In other words, when people are busy, they don’t learn.

This is why people come to training; to take the time and space away from their busy schedules to reflect.

If you want to ensure your learners are doing enough reflecting, then make sure they spend more time discussing as opposed to listening, and encourage them to discuss these kinds of questions:

  • What did you notice?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How could you use that at work?
  • What did you learn from this?

Learning by Discovery Vs Learning by Doing

So, engagement is the foundation, and beyond that we need reflection. But the reflection shouldn’t be just about anything. For example, if I asked you how your lunch was today, then you’d have to reflect to answer that question. But you’re not going to learn much by reflecting on that. There are much better things to reflect on.

One way we can increase the value of reflection is by encouraging people to reflect on how they’d use things back at work. But a lot of trainers get this wrong.

For example, you start the training with a fun game. It’s a negotiation game where people have to exchange cards with each other, and the winner finishes the game with the most cards. This kind of game is a fun way to spend 30 or 40 minutes. And then because it’s training it’ll normally be followed up by a debrief discussion where we ask people what they learnt from it. After spending some time reflecting on that and discussing with their team mates, they come to the conclusion that having a plan is important for negotiating. Great, they learnt something!

But if we did it differently, they could have learnt a lot more.

Planning a negotiation is important. In fact, it’s so important that there are lots of standard plan templates out there that encourage people to think about their bottom line, their ideal price, the concessions they’re willing to make and so on. Rather than have them discover this by themselves, why not actually give them this kind of plan, and ask them to practice using it first in a role-play and then discuss it?

In the first example, we play a game and they learn by discovery. But the depth of learning that comes from that is pretty shallow. They’ll come to the conclusion that a plan is important and next time they should make a plan. But what kind of plan? And how can they make that plan?

In the second example, we learn a tool and then practice using it, then afterwards discuss how well the negotiation went and what they learnt from using that tool. This is learning by DOING, and in my very strong opinion leads to far greater depth of learning. They already know they should have a plan because we gave it to them. And now they are able to reflect in more depth about the kind of things their plan should include, and how to use the plan, and how to adapt the plan for their own use.

From What to How

The goal of training is to have people change their behavior back at work in order to improve productivity.

This means that by the end of training people need to be able to actually do that behavior. And in order to do that behavior, they need to know HOW to do that behavior. But a lot of training simply ends with people learning WHAT to do.

For example, you attend that negotiation skills training and by the end of the session your biggest learning point is: “I should make a plan when negotiating”. This is WHAT you should do. But when you go back to work and you sit down to make that plan, you actually don’t know how to make that plan. You need to figure that out for yourself. And as you’re such a busy person, you don’t have time to figure it out, and so give up.

But if you were given a standard plan to follow that included all of the things you needed, then practice using it and finally reflect on it, you learn more about HOW. By the end of the training, your greatest learning point is: “I should make a plan when negotiating, and that plan should include the following…”. Now when you go back to work, you know what to include on your plan, you don’t need to spend any time figuring out what to include, and as a result you are one step closer to actually applying your learning back at work.

And just because we give our learners a standard plan, that doesn’t mean they need to follow it. It’s OK if they decide to change it. Our goal is not to make them use what we give them, but instead it is to help them quickly find a way that works for them.

Engage them in Reflecting on Doing

Training can be a fun experience. And fun is great if people actually learn something. But fun shouldn’t come at the expense of a great learning experience. Decent training engages people in reflecting on doing, and that’s more than enough.

So, if you want to take your training to the next level then try doing the following:

  1. Condense your content into tools that people can use (like checklists, templates, forms etc.)
  2. Ensure it takes you no more than 10 minutes to explain the tool
  3. Let them practice using the tool as soon as possible
  4. Ask them to reflect on what they learnt by using it