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Design effective classes with “Training from the back of the room!”

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June 11, 2019 | Topic: Tutorials  
Design effective classes with “Training from the back of the room!”

“Training from the back of the room!” is a prestigious and interactive 2-day course aimed at instructors, coaches, teachers, Scrum Masters and professionals interested in designing and delivering courses, workshops and effective training programs through the latest learning techniques for adults.

I had the pleasure of attending this course a couple of weeks ago in Austin, Texas, which was conducted by Braintrust, a company dedicated to providing various Agile trainings and co-facilitated by Nicole Fleming and Brian Rabon, founder of Braintrust. The course is based on the self-titled book by author Sharon Bowman.

In this article I would like to share a summary of the training and a personal reflection of what I learned from those two days.

Day 1: The 4 C’s

Nicole and Brian delivered the course using the “4C’s” design method, which makes learning experiential through talks, dynamics, games and constant movement, which empowered us to “learn by doing”.

The 4 C’s are an acronym created by Sharon that allow you to design a class, whether a 60-minute workshop or a 3-day certification class. They correspond to establish Connections, Share Concepts, practice Concretely and reach Conclusions.

To put this into practice, we started our presentation with experiences and knowledge that we already had prior to starting the course. Then, the trainers presented new content through various multisensory media, limiting the use of slides. Later, we put what we have learnt into practice and reach a conclusion and “celebration” of learning, which includes defining how it will be applied in our daily work.

There are 6 principles resulting from studies based on how we learn and how we can put our brain “in flow”. We can summarize them as:

  • Images trumps words. Long-term memory is unlimited for images. The trainers recommend adding simple photos or metaphors to illustrate reading material.
  • Talking trumps listening. Talking is social. We must allow people who are learning to create their own stories.
  • Movement trumps sitting. Exercise promotes brain power.
  • Writing trumps reading. Writing is a task that involves the whole brain. Remember to stop from time to time to allow people to take note of what they have learned.
  • Shorter trumps longer. The brain absorbs more when you divide content into smaller parts. It groups facts into large categories or major concepts.
  • Different trumps same. The brain notices changes, so it is good to regularly vary the instructions and learning activities.

Beyond the experiences of the exhibitors – who often put the class on “automatic pilot” so that we ourselves are the protagonists – interacting with participants from such diverse contexts is what enriched the course: Certified Scrum Trainers (CST) and CST candidates from the United States, Europe and Australia, university professors, and Enterprise Agile Coaches looking to expand their toolbox for the benefit of their audience. For me it was a bit like entering the quantum world and seeing other realities in different parts of the world, and seeing how people dedicate their lives to the development of other people’s potential. Personally, I find it very motivating.

During lunch we had a talk with Brian, in which he mentioned the importance of the Scrum Alliance in the US, its associated certifications, and the differences with Scrum.org. We talked about why the latter (a Ken Schwaber company) has still not taken off at a level of popularity as it has in other geographies, such as Europe, where it has more followers (I’m referring to Professional Scrum Trainers or PST’s) and prominence.

If you’ve reached this paragraph, I would like to reward your interest with 2 micro-courses that were shared for free before the end of the workshop. You can find them in this link. They recommended us to take a look at these:

  • Micro-course: Different trumps same
  • Micro-course: How to map your instructions in 4 easy steps

Day 2: Training Design

We started the second day forming different groups by table in order to learn from people with different experiences and expand our network of contacts.
While the objective of the first day was to know the basics of “Accelerated Learning” and some of the associated practices to fill your “toolbox”, the objective of the second day was to design trainings using the map of the 4-Cs:

  1. Connect
  2. Content
  3. Concrete Practice
  4. Conclusions

Within each of these C’s we can find several techniques and the use of them in specific stages with a logical flow is what improves the learning experience exponentially. It makes time “go fast”.

Among the advantages of applying the 4 C’s I want to highlight how it can:

  • Improve the structure and effectiveness of your trainings, using tools to hack the brain, including emotion, contrast, innovation and meaning. This point reminds me of Simon Sinek’s TED talk about how leaders inspire action.
  • Ensure that you include a connection stage.
  • Review new techniques for Concrete Practice that make you limit the use of PowerPoint as much as possible.
  • Ensure that you include a conclusion stage.
  • Apply activation dynamics in an appropriate way.

It is important to note that the use of the Map of the 4’C allows us to design blocks for each learning objective. Defining effective learning objectives consists of using verbs that allow you to observe what your students are learning: “demonstrate”, “present”, “apply”, “create”, “plan”, “teach” are verbs that illustrate this. It is also about avoiding verbs such as “understand”, “comprehend” and “learn” since they are not concrete, observable actions.
Obtaining feedback is one of the best practices that TBR shares with Agile. In the TBR world, it is done through giving “Glows” (congratulations) and “Grows” (opportunities for improvement).

A huge surprise of the course was the visit of Sharon Bowman, the author of the book “Training from the Back of the Room” on which the entire course is based. Talking about Sharon and the legacy that she has created for the benefit of the community of professionals passionate about teaching, deserves a separate post, but I would like to highlight her humility and generosity.

Conclusions

All the concepts, practices and improvement tips of the course helped me to rethink the way I set up my classes and improve my profile as an instructor. For example, I noticed that in my Scrum classes I talk too much, and that I must reduce the amount of slides and text that I include in them. Remember that attendees read the slides faster than the instructor.

  • The most important lessons I learned are the following four:
  • Change the way you do your classes, making sure that the students are the main ones committed to THEIR learning and those that generate the most content.
  • Design your classes to be interactive and intense enough, so that people forget their cell phones and other external distractions.
  • Remember that we are all lifelong learners.
  • Every time you deliver a training session, leave your comfort zone and include a new dynamic. Review the attendees and adapt your class to them.

I hope this post has been useful to you. Best regards!

Service Design: Providing meaningful end-to-end experiences

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