August 2018
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TD Magazine

Pause and Perk Up

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Situation

You reach a break on the first day of a multiday workshop chock full of technical, nitty-gritty subject matter. Everyone looks exhausted, and the dense content you're covering in a short amount of time is limiting participant engagement. Participants, experiencing cognitive overload, sit quietly during the break and aren't any livelier afterward. What can you do different to increase engagement?


The Trick

To help manage the cognitive load that a naturally complex or dense course puts on learners, trainers aim to work with an engaging design, but facilitators need to pivot when they see learner engagement decreasing. Do this by using breaks and rotating activity groups to help people remain engaged while building new connections.

One technique you can try is called Pause and Perk Up. It gets learners networking so they can build unity as a class, refresh themselves, and get the most out of complex content. Here's how it works:

  1. Set up the technique at the beginning of your program by telling the participants that you will want to know if anyone needs to relieve some cognitive pressure. A fun way to do this is letting them collectively choose a signal word (for example, chocolate). Now, participants can periodically yell out "chocolate," which keeps a fun energy in the room and lets you know when to pause.
  2. During your introduction, give the class two options for breaks. Ask whether they prefer to do the usual, stand up and go on break, or break with a purpose? They'll usually pick the latter, which is what you want. Now, when calls for chocolate get loud enough, start a break and establish a purpose: a content review, an icebreaker, or something else.
  3. After securing the class's buy-in to this approach, demonstrate it within the hour so it's fresh in their minds. They'll be networking and thinking about the class, but it will feel social and energy levels will rise.

Pro Tip

Mix it up with fun variations. If you feel as if participants need a break from the content, choose a fun topic and have them discuss their favorite invention or their first concert. Having them discuss enjoyable topics almost always tends to go well.

About the Author

Carrie Addington is the senior manager of learning experience and facilitator development at ATD and facilitates a variety of ATD Education programs. She is a talent development leader, facilitator, and people development coach with more than 12 years of experience in facilitating large-scale training and developing outcome-based learning experiences that aim to inform, involve, inspire, and impact. Carrie is passionate about using her love of language and the arts to work with individuals on establishing deeper connections with their daily work. Carrie has worked with a wide variety of business segments, including retail, beauty, education, and nonprofits, and has worked with C-level executives, directors, managers, and high potentials.

Carrie has delivered on topics ranging from energetic accountability, leadership, and great feedback to cross-generational communication, resolving conflict, and facilitation skills. She is a part of the coaching network with the prominent, global executive leadership and management company, the Mind Gym, and is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. As a certified ATD Master Trainer and ATD Master Instructional Designer, Carrie is knowledgeable about both the development and delivery of outcome-based learning programs.

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