Quit Lecturing Me: The Benefits of Interactive Learning

 -  4/23/07

A recent survey by Novations Group Inc., a performance improvement company, showed trainers are reducing the time students spend in the classroom to maximize the value of their training sessions.

Socrates knew the importance of keeping his students engaged. Using a series of questions that encouraged independent thinking, he brought interaction and discussion into the classroom as early as the fifth century B.C. Today, corporate trainers are revisiting these roots, moving away from lecture-based learning in favor of more student-oriented programs.

A recent survey by Novations Group Inc., a performance improvement company, showed trainers are reducing the time students spend in the classroom to maximize the value of their training sessions.

The survey, which polled 2,046 senior HR and development executives, showed that although 87 percent of respondents still planned to use classroom instruction in their training initiatives, 57 percent expected to use more e-learning techniques, 35 percent planned to use personal coaching and 41 percent expected to increase on-the-job training. Thirty percent said they expected to have fewer, more condensed classroom hours.

Rebecca Hefter, Novations senior vice president of training, said this shift reflects a desire to keep productivity up during training sessions, not a lack of interest in training.
With fewer employees doing the same amount of work, many companies just can’t afford to have workers away from the office, she said.

“I don’t really see companies spending fewer total dollars on training,” she said. “It’s not so much that they don’t want to spend the money — it’s that the training itself has got to do a better job of fitting into the work schedules. Training today has to be a lot more relevant. You have to be able to use it back on the job a lot faster than ever before, so the transfer has to be incredibly clear to people.”

This means that simply shortening lectures or putting them online is not going to be enough to retain and improve the quality of corporate learning programs, Hefter said. Instead, companies should take this opportunity to redesign their curricula, embrace alternative learning methods and make the training more interactive.

These activities allow students ask and answer questions, as well as test their ideas with their peers, which is especially important to the younger generation, she said.

“The companies that seem to be having the best time with this reduced number of days in the classroom are the ones that have really worked hard to put a lot more interaction into the classroom time,” she said. “A lot of adults walk into a classroom knowing that if you can teach them a way to think through problems, then that’s a day well-spent. And that’s what the interactive exercises do for people.”

Some of the information that won’t fit in these shortened sessions can be delivered to students as videos or written materials before the class begins, Hefter explained.

Although she recognizes the potential for this pre-work to be quickly skimmed or just ignored, she said it’s important to save classroom time for exercises such as peer discussions, simulations and advanced role-plays that help maximize the benefits of training.

“I think this is going to cause everyone associated with training to be much more focused on what you absolutely need to learn today in order to do a better job,” she said. “So much training today is tied to core competencies, an individual’s development plan or some company objective, and I really don’t think that was always the case, even just a few years ago. So, I think everybody is keenly interested in making the time, as well as the money, count.”

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