How much room can be left for improvisation in training?

This post outlines my reply during a recent Epsilon Group LinkedIn discussion on “improvisation of training content. The question asked by Pascal Denhaerinck * of ONE Management was:


* You can can find Pascal on Twitter

This is what I replied (although I won’t quote all the previous comments here…)


I focus not on content or on “key messages” but on “desired learning outcomes”

That way, I can:

  • Avoid being the expert who comes with things to impart on the non-experts, but rather a facilitator of learning. Someone who helps the others discover things for themselves…
  • Keep myself concentrated on the end-goal, when we go off in different directions


My particular definition of learning : Acquisition and Implementation of Required Competences

  • Competence is defined as knowledge, skills and attitude
  • Since people acquire competences in different ways, we need to be open to facilitating learning in whichever way is suitable for the participants. Partly, this means being able to detect that style/need before training and partly during training. This will always require flexibility.
  • I think the need to improvise will be more necessary with regard to dealing with attitude and skill learning, than with knowledge. Knowledge sharing can be planned much more precisely (although we will of course need to leave open moments for verification and Q/A).


As we move into the creative GEN-Y 21st century, participants will accept less and less that we come with a script for training

See this short film of a recent young training participant David Smeets (“what is important is that it is not led by a table of contents, but by our needs ….. …and that the trainer is not just an expert”)


The trend now is toward “consumerisation” of learning, at least, according to @ASTD @fredericw @janlaurijssen @C4LPT and the Internet Time Alliance.

  • People will try to create their own “learnscape” where they can get what they need in the way that suits them.
  • If this is in training, then (according to @angler) we will need to modify our approach training to include “features that make hanging out on social sites compelling” (commenting, rating, profiles, tagging, rich media). You can see more on this on my Prezi “Social Media Social Trainer” here – note that the Epsilon session on 14th FEB 2012 (French) will be on this topic.


Then there is the question of leadership styles ….

If you believe in situational leadership, you know you need to adapt your style based on the development level of people. In training, this is applicable in the following way:

  • If participants are motivated, but non-able and non-knowledgeable, you will need to direct them (meaning more prepared content).
  • If they can be coached, you can simply come with a learning objective and get them to figure things out themselves, with your help asking the right questions and supplying a rich learning environment where they have resources and time available
  • Maybe you can even delegate learning 100% – just give them 8 hours and a mission!


And Motivation 3.0 has an impact on training as well…

Regarding DRIVE, if you buy into @DanielPinks ideas on Motivation in the 21st Century (see famous RSA animation on the subject ) then motivation = autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Apply this to training and you need to give participants:

  • A clear mission
  • The chance to figure things out for themselves
  • The possibility of improvement (meaning, time, tools and good feedback process)


Finally, don’t forget: Qui dit apprentissage, ne dit pas forcement formation (meme si c’était le question de depart ici).

…you may also see that I didn’t deal with “implementing” learning here, but that’s for another evening 🙂


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About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Learning Management and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. for dry facts it wont work but the way you get to them or explain them further: its absolutely better as you can update whatever you are saying to the needs of the students or the daily news or whatever. It should be a means, not a goal. It is also time dependant

    but the biggest danger to me is you get sidetracked too easily: which might be fun, but is that your goal? Anyhow most courses allow enough time for improvisation so it is encouraged for sure..

    My 2 cents
    Ps. This is my experience as an instructor not as a student of your class
    pps the discussion about social media is a discussion that is already going on at our company: twitter, linkedin groups etc

  2. Indeed, time-management is also an issue.

    That’s why I like to keep key learning-objectives in mind and to trust that as lon g as we are in line with those, then the training can move freely where it wants to.

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