Throw Out the Ground Rules: 5 Things Learners Want Us to Know

Throw Out the Ground Rules when Facilitating Your Next Training Event

Have you ever attended a training event at work that began with the trainer delivering a set of ground rules for the class? If the answer is yes, the rules probably sounded like this.

Good morning everyone! Before we get started, let me go over a few ground rules for today’s class. First, and most important, please make an effort to be present and focused. To help with that, please silence your cell phones. There will be time during breaks to check emails and texts. Finally, remember that the best learning happens when there is interaction. Please ask questions whenever you have them.

If you’re a trainer, have you ever delivered rules like these? I know I have. But I stopped a long time ago. One day the truth of what I was doing dawned on me. I realized that I was beginning class with a giant scoop of condescension. I was telling a group of adults, grownups with jobs, what sort of behavior was acceptable and what I expected of them.

The assumption I was communicating was that it was the learners’ responsibility to engage in the process, that it was their responsibility to stay focused, and that they were responsible for lively interaction. That’s not their job at all. It’s mine. I need to engage them, help them stay focused, and encourage their participation. It’s my responsibility to make them want to listen and participate.

Not too long ago, I participated as a learner in a workshop. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the familiar ground rules were laid out by the trainer. The rules were followed by an ice breaker intended to warm us up for learning.

As the other people in the class and I dutifully listened and played along (even though we really didn’t want to), I imagined what it would be like if we were asked to set our own ground rules.

  1. We want this class to be about us. It’s not that we’re selfish people. It’s that this is a workday, and we’re busy. So please, stay focused on our needs, our situation, and what this class has to do with our jobs. And please be as efficient as you can be. Our time is valuable.
  2. We will need to be reminded why we’re here. It’s not that we’re forgetful. It’s just that we may not be able to immediately connect what we’re learning with our everyday work. Please make the effort to connect the dots. If the process doesn’t feel easy to us, we’ll give up.
  3. We will be distracted during class. We will be distracted by our own thoughts and the people sitting next to us. We will be distracted because our phones are off and work is piling up. Don’t be upset by this; we’re constantly distracted. So don’t take it personally if you sense that our thoughts are somewhere else. When the distraction is over, we hope that you will make it easy for us to re-engage.
  4. We need to trust you and feel comfortable with you. Not only do we expect you to know what you’re doing in terms of training content, but we also expect you to be flexible. We want to feel that you understand our experience and expertise and that you take both into account during this class. We also want to sense there is a genuine, caring person at the front of the room. If you seem scripted, insincere, or ask us to raise our hands in response to a rhetorical question, we’re not comfortable.
  5. We do not want to be put on the spot. When do we feel put on the spot? When you force us to participate in an ice breaker. When you tell us that something is intended to be fun. When you ask us to participate in an exercise that does not feel necessary. And even when it does feel necessary, we still may not want to participate because most of us don’t like exercises.

Have you ever wanted to set your own learner ground rules? If so, what would they be?

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