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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Training Without PowerPoint

Are you a trainer? Are you a facilitator of any kind? Are you a person who hates being shown slides? (If not, please check out this famous PowerPoint rendering of the Gettysburg Address).


I just attended a very amazing two-day training course given by Luke Hohmann of Innovation Games(R).  The games themselves provide wonderful techniques for doing "qualitative market research" (if you're a marketing person) or "requirements gathering" (if you're a software developer).  You must try them, you must!  Check out the web site, buy the book, license the online tools, and use these techniques.  They are fabulous.

But as veteran qualitative researchers would tell you, the most interesting part of what I learned (and that's saying a lot) was from the medium, not the message.  The course was taught 100% PowerPoint free.  In fact, there was no projector.  It was the most devious and marvelously designed way to coax learning out of an group of adults I've ever seen.  So what did Luke do?
  • Tables covered with paper and strewn with fun office supplies:  each table had pens, sharpies, glitter glue, pipe-cleaners, really high-quality stickers, post-it notes, index cards, and so on, and each table was covered in paper, so if you wanted to illustrate a point to your table-mates, you could sketch it right there on the table.  Visual learning is a powerful thing, and equipping the tables this way set the course up to be non-threatening to participants, appealed to everyone's sense of humor, and (not, of course, an afterthought), put needed materials for later activities ready to hand.
  • Content posters:  core concepts from the course were conveyed on posters which he taped to the wall, and alluded to at appropriate points throughout the two days.  Full disclosure:  I believe PowerPoint might have been involved in the drafting of the posters, since it's WAY easier to use than most other drawing tools, but the slides weren't slapped up, discussed, whisked away, and then brought back in summary later on.
  • A really good in-class workbook for people to use and take home:  the book had a section of "course content" which included portable versions of the posters, a section of "case studies" for class discussion, printed worksheets to support some of the activities, and a bibliography for further reading.
  • Table discussions:  the case studies in the books were used to generate discussions around participant tables.  Once the tables discussed, Luke would facilitate a large-group discussion around findings, adding his own insights (and gestures towards the posters) as appropriate.
  • Discussion posters:  a number of class activities involved participants gathering around a poster with some type of image on it, and brainstorming by putting post-it notes of content onto different areas of the poster.  For example, participants thought of activities which would fit into a set of quadrants defined by "more or less pleasurable" (x axis) and "internally versus externally motivated" (y axis).  Or participants armed with sharpies filled out a whole wall of posters with activities which fit into the categories on those posters.
  • Participant-led discussion:  granted, it was a group of facilitators, but I think this would work with any group--for poster discussions, Luke occasionally drafted a participant to draw conclusions from the poster, rather than sorting the post-its and talking to them himself.
  • Games and simulations:  the course was an introduction to the games, which are facilitated in person and also over the web, so naturally the course involved participants playing the games.  However, in my view, games and simulations are great IN ANY TRAINING COURSE, for participant learning.  Far better than having a moderator try to dryly convey "content packages" in slide-sized chunks directly from her brain to that of the audience.
As a veteran trainer of adults, I can tell you that every time I bring out the slide deck, I know that after ten minutes or so, the tired people in the room are going to literally start falling asleep.  It won't be everyone, but about 5% of any given room has been up late last night, up early this morning, or both.  It's sad to watch as their eyelids flicker, and bam!  they're out.  I'm a goofily interactive instructor, but nobody can save a long slide presentation forever.  I am really challenged and excited by Luke's course design, both for training purposes and for team facilitation purposes in software development discovery and retrospective activities.