2 hours.

That is the maximum time most people can stand being in the Virtual Classroom. Foreign environment, full on intensity, even just rigidly sitting for that long. Facilitator or participant, you finish with a concentration headache. Run well, it delivers the equivalent of four hours face to face process or learning, giving the gift of time.  Run really well, it delivers elements of focus that face to face rarely can.

For face to face learning, 2 hours is the standard longest session, and usually you fit four into a day. As the facilitator, sure you maintain a narrative, but really the next session is as far as you are looking. You have the upcoming break to work out where you and the group are at. But what about if all you have is 2 hours?

That’s what I had for a workshop I’ve literally finished 2 hours ago (so this blog is fresh!). The content was career and development planning, something that normally fits in as a module within inductions, leadership training workshops and the like. But this was standalone; 2 hours to do the attendance, frame the session, take expectations, do introductions, build rapport, cater to learning preferences/styles (yes I’m hedging my bets on that one!), contextualise learnings to the organisation’s strategy, sell the WIIFM, convey necessary technical directions and gain commitment to future actions. All between 3:15 and 5:15pm. NO PROBLEM! Here’s what I did.

1. I looked at the facilitator guide first and circled the half on the content that was absolutely core, and promised myself to stick to that. A piano accordion makes no music if it stays squashed, right? You need to build in time to branch out and reel back in.

2. There are always late comers to short sessions. So I started the 9 who were on time with filling in flipcharts like “What is your biggest career planning fear?” and “What is your biggest strength?”. As I rotated people around, I was free to usher another 4 people into the activity, as it was self explanatory.

3. We moved. They were up at the flipchart stations four separate times. We did standing, stretch based, short energisers, during which I delivered content! They swapped desks 3 times to work with new people. There were two short activities.

4. I changed the state every 5 minutes. They closed their eyes to picture themselves as children. I switched the lights off – pitch black – to view an Intranet resource. I paused until someone said something no fewer than 13 times.

5. I stuck to my promise to do no more than 50% of the talking. I told 3 of my own stories, but each no more than 45 seconds. I threw in humour to create shade in the discussion. I heaped praise when I got an answer or question. I only picked people out directly for contributions when asking “what advice could you give someone in this situation”, as I hadn’t earned rapport to go personal with it. I didn’t insist anyone share their personal reflections, and I told them that in the opening frame. I made do with one volunteer answer per question.

6. I got them to use tools in small doses that they’d need to carry on with after the workshop. This is based on the premise that the shorter the workshop, the closer the learnings are to being used back in the real world.

I have a feeling that face to face learning looks something like this in the very near future. Bite sized modules run on, or close to, demand. It’s what will fit the dynamic needs of the businesses that we L & D boffins rely upon to do our thing. Frankly, it’s good to be getting practice now.

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