The undisputed highlight of a training course this week was the moment when half the delegates disappeared! Far from worrying that something had gone wrong, I knew in that instant that everything was fabulously on track.
Research, not to mention all my personal experience, re-affirms that the best learning takes place when students are in an open, curious and lively state, more concerned with discovery than with “getting it right”. It is not only children who learn through play – adults will always learn better in a spirit of adventure and play than from any amount of rote learning, flipcharts, and slow death by PowerPoint. So I always work very hard on using games and experiential exercises to create a fun but safe training-room environment, in which learners feel they can try things out, challenge themselves and me, and generally adopt a playful but focussed attitude on the material at hand and their fellow-learners.
The disappearance happened on the second day of a 3-day course I have been running for Heart of Birmingham PCT. As part of setting up an exercise, I asked half the class of 32 participants to briefly leave the room, while I gave instructions to the other half. “Don’t go far,” I said, “It’ll only take a minute or two. And no listening!” I added, with a smile. So 16 people got up and stepped out of the training room into the corridor, and I spent a minute or so briefing the remaining half. “OK, come on back!” I yelled. Silence. No response. I walked over to the door, opened it, and looked out. The corridor was empty. They’d snuck off! “Oh dear,” I said loudly in my best Pantomime voice “They’ve all gone. I think they’ve run away. Whatever shall I do now?”. I could hear muffled giggles coming from an alcove just up the corridor. “I can heeeeaaar you! Come out, come out wherever you are” I chanted like a 10-year old. And in a wave of laughter they all came tumbling out of their hiding place, delighted with their own prank. They filed gleefully back into the training room, the whole class laughed some more, and then we carried on with the exercise.
For me, that fact that 16 people who had only met the day before now felt comfortable enough as a group to play a harmless practical joke on their instructor, and hide themselves like delighted children, meant that we had definitely achieved the right level of shared playful openness. Now the real learning could begin.