For a long while, when training I let people know we’ll be working with adult rules. That people do what they want, when they want, how they want. For me, it sets up how I intend for the training to be. That it’s about shared responsibility and shared power in the room. As the trainer/facilitator I have a role to play and so do the group I’m with.
One of the things I openly advocate is that people don’t have to put their phones away. It’s just not my role to mandate what people should or should not be doing with their personal property.
I see and observe many trainers making clear that this isn’t part of the bargain of training. I’m just not convinced it needs to be. The argument is normally something like “if they’re on their phones how can they be paying attention to the training?”
Which is a fair question. Except it means that we’ve forgotten some important elements of human behaviour and of learning design.
Not everyone can pay attention to everything in a training session at the pace you need or want as a trainer. I’ve had plenty of people ask me to repeat something because they weren’t paying attention or because they got lost in their own train of thought or because they were thinking of something else at the time. That happens with or without smartphones.
Some people like to doodle or fidget when they’re processing what they’re hearing. If someone is doodling we often respond with “are you bored” type comments. Who are we to know what that person is or is not learning?
Smartphones do give the opportunity for distraction, I don’t doubt that at all. But, what if their use was actively encouraged in the training? Instead of “put them away” why not “on your phone plug in and watch this TED video so we can discuss after, or “here’s a URL for a great site about coaching. Read it and it’ll provide a great way to lead to the next exercise.” Those are valid uses of smartphones and lets people know that training is actually a modern learning environment.
One of the common arguments against traditional training is that they’re removed from the work context. That’s true. Advocates against training will also say people learn everyday via their smartphones. That’s true too.
If the session is designed to actively use smartphones what we’re doing is enabling people to better learn on their own terms by using their devices as learning tools as well as the many other uses it gets used for. If that’s a good outcome I’m unsure why it’s frowned upon.
My final piece here is that if the design of the learning is good enough, people will be engaged with the learning experience and not feel the need to have to use their devices until they feel appropriate. If they are reaching for their devices it probably says more about the poor design than it does the person’s attention capacity or capability.
Related to this is also that I reckon it’s often the trainer reacting to the lack of attention on them as the trainer. They’re in a role where they expect people to pay attention to them and when that doesn’t happen it’s almost like an affront and direct challenge to their role and their credibility as a leader of that session.
I’m definitely interested to hear people’s responses to this.