• Audrey Tang

When teams are "well trained" - but unprepared!!

This is an edited version of an academic paper presented in Singapore winning "Best Paper" at the 30th ISERD conference.

As a teacher, I underwent a high level of training, but nothing quite prepared me for using those skills in the classroom - where, with the best will in the world, managing, educating and supporting 30+ other human beings was going to take a LOT of practice.


Teacher training, like nursing allows for "in situ" experience. This makes a lot of sense because while many things are great in theory, it is in the practice itself that you learn and develop the most - and decide if that pathway is for you after all. So why doesn't all training include an experiential component?

Experiential learning is one of the most pure and basic forms of learning, and when used within training it develops creative thinking, self-confidence, and self-reflection. Practice of skills in a safe environment enables delegates to reflect on their performance and understand that they have a) been through it once before should they face it again, and b) experience to draw from. This will enable greater confidence when performing the skill at a later date.


While, time, finances - but arguably also a lack of creativity from providers - may be a limitation, the more experience along with reflection one can have, the more prepared one will be.


Well trained but unprepared

Many staff members feel “well trained but unprepared” (Kress-Schull, 2000) often because their training has been largely classroom/powerpoint driven. The same is true of other professions - and certainly within the business environment.


But when one hasn't, well, experienced, it can be difficult to innovate. In school, learning has historically been passive, the teacher speaks, the pupils listen. With the introduction of more interactivity, many teachers chose to stick to what they knew rather than embrace new skills, and now, the changes in the curriculum and focus on targets means that even those who engaged in experiential learning can no longer do as much because of the amount of material learners need to take in, and the amount of testing that needs to be done.


“I have A-level students who cannot do a practical Science experiment because we’ve not had the chance to teach them – we have to just lecture at them in order to get the information in so they can be tested…again!” (Head of Biology)

Although research keeps impressing that active or experiential learning is the best method not only for understanding the material, but also for holistic education. Unfortunately, the same research also revealed that although this was known “theoretically”, few trainers and teachers of the samples studied were comfortable engaging with it beyond an icebreaker or a flipchart activity, which in turn did not engage the learners.


This leaves us with a “Catch 22” situation. People who use experiential techniques might be doing it wrong, which is putting both teachers and learners off using them. When it is done well, the evidence is also significant.

Leadership Aerobics at a conference

Smith et al ran a programme for Kent Constabulary where actors played the role of the public and staff were videoed and able to reflect on their performance, and airlines and hospitals are now introducing this sort of dynamic methodology. I myself am known specifically for my "Table top escape", "Leadership Aerobics" and scenario work with actors (ie - so THEY do the acting, and you don't feel like it's GCSE drama...I know...I've taught GCSE drama!)


However what can an organisation do if they fear this style of training due to the expense of bringing in an outside specialist or because they are uncomfortable delivering in this way?


Try the following to include a level of interaction in sessions (especially as we return to face to face training):

DON'T name the unicorns when you're mythbusting!

1. Create Curiosity

The engaging learning environment is as important for the training room as it is a classroom. Bright pictures, or even blank flip charts on the walls, a question already put up, training toys on the desk and music can all contribute to stimulating learner curiosity. Even online, I have specific song choices as delegates enter the meeting.


However, learning is also a frightening experience (for children as well as for adults) so having the agenda up somewhere can immediately put nervous minds at ease.

"The Hunger Games" for team reflection

2. Choose the right icebreaker

An icebreaker for a group that does not know each other needs to get them speaking, but not be too personal (McGrath and Crawford, (2008). Many a good training session has been rendered pointless because the delegates were lost at the point the icebreaker asked them to put their shoes in the centre of the room! Further it should enable your delegates to learn each other’s names and start talking without them feeling bored…the icebreaker where you introduce each other is an absolute no-no in a group of more than 10! Online, consider "zoom bingo" - eg:

- is muted

- forgets they are not muted

- has a cat pop in

Gratitude stretching (this works online too!)

3. Energizing moments

An energizer is not an ice-breaker. The Energizer is a good way to get your delegates focused when they come back from a break and usually involved moving around. A Quiz based on what has been learned in the earlier section can also work – as long as you give your delegates buzzers, or something (ideally noisy) to “buzz in” with their answer – otherwise, it’s just a test!!

Online, because of the nature of my sessions, I often use (speak) a guided meditation to give delegates a break.


NLP and body language

4. EVERY interactive training technique can be re-applied (with a twist)

Question and answer sessions can be enhanced by getting all questions written on post its and placed on a wall, then asking other delegates to pick them up and answer them. Simple quizzes can be made more interesting by getting the delegates to write the answer but guess the question (again using the buzzers). Flip chart work can be developed by having some answers written in a brainstorm then passing the chart around each group to add.


Training for organisations can also include delegates identifying the problem and generating their own solutions – as well as a “call to action” to ensure the momentum continues outside the classroom.

Using slides AND the flip chart

Online, I offer workbooks so that delegates can do the exercises with me, and in shorter talks prefer to use a flip chart rather than slides as when one relies too greatly on the pre-prepared latter - one's voice can lose a lot of natural passion. Training must be enhanced by the presence of the trainer - otherwise, why not send the slides and a questionnaire!?

Interview practice with actor support

5. If you have the luxury of actors

Use the “forum”. This is a technique developed by Augusto Boal where the actor plays one of the characters in a problem scenario and the delegate “performs” as s/he would when faced with the situation. It is possible for the facilitator to stop and start the action, and get suggestions from the floor as to how the delegate should proceed. The technique allows the delegate to practice and reflect on their skills in a safe environment, and they leave the session armed with new ideas, and the knowledge that they’ve done it once, they can do it again!

"Barriers" were stuck onto the pinata - to break through to the sweets (and motivational messages) inside

These are just some of the ideas which make teaching more interactive. The ones mentioned above are extremely easy and require little more preparation than you would already do. Experiential learning is not just about making the learning experience more “enjoyable”, it is about engaging your delegates to care about the issue and empowering them (because you have stimulated their creativity) to find their own solutions. It's not simply "if you can see it, you can do it"...but rather "if you experience it, you have done it and you can do it again...better."


Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For coaching tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt



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