Can you learn whilst you eat a sandwich? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? And it’s not a trick one either. But the answer is not as simple as yes or no.
This question was provoked by a situation that occurred around a virtual session I delivered last week. 15 minutes before it was about to start one of the learners attending noted he had enough time to go get a sandwich, eat it, and come back.
“Why can’t you have it during the session?” I asked.
“Because it’s unprofessional to eat during training.”
I pointed out that I was more than happy if he wanted to eat his sandwich during my session. I explained that for me learning isn’t work. It’s learning. Just as the session was about to begin another learner attending turned up eating a sandwich.
“Sorry, I’m just finishing my lunch,” she said.
“No problem at all,” I replied, and we got underway.
So was one of them right? The other wrong? Was one of them going to get more from the training than the other?
I believe it depends on the person. However, I also believe how you set up a session defines how people approach it. The beginning of a session is the start of a contract for learning. One that hopefully people will carry with them into new groups and places.
My approach is that learning is not the same thing as work. It may take place during work, but it is not work. Learning is a fundamental part of life. Something that happens every day whether you are in the office or not. And as such learning is fun. Not that work isn’t, but learning should be more fun. Learning should be something you take away from the office and keep with you in your life. Also, we’re all grown ups here. Learning should not feel like another class back at school. Learning should be something you turn up to, not something where you have to be someone else.
So, how do we create learning spaces where people feel free to show up as themselves? How do we allow people to join in a way that is comfortable so that they actually get something out of the experience? The answer, ironically, is boundaries.
I know it sounds a bit counterintuitive. A bit like work. But in actuality, once the basic scaffolding of times, structure, and expectations are in place people actually feel safer to bring something into that structure. Infinite possibilities just exhaust us and make us question whether we are doing the right thing at the right time with the right people. If we know where the edges are, we know where to put ourselves. Or where we want to reach.
On some level, when something starts, we’re all wondering when it may end. For better or for worse. Humans like structuring time. It’s the only way we know how to control situations. So for my sessions I start with the end in mind. In other words, I share when we will finish and how long the session is. This means no one is then thinking that in their head. Thinking about the future. It means they are with me in the moment. Then I make sure some basic needs are met. I say it’s okay to go get a drink, a bite to eat, or go to the bathroom. This is because if people are worrying about these things, about what they can do, can’t do, if they can leave, they are not actually giving me their full attention. They are thinking in their own heads rather than listening to me, and learning.
Then I talk about talking. I say how and when to ask questions and how we will discuss things in a way that respects the way different people learn differently. Also I reiterate that there are no stupid questions. Believe me! I’ve asked so many and they all end up leading somewhere. And finally I make it clear that learning is not a performance art. You are not being marked on how you do it. It is for you and by you. I am just here to help. So I encourage people to make notes if they want to, don’t if they don’t. I even suggest people doodle if they struggle to concentrate without doing something. And fidgeters are free to fidget as much as they want. We want to create spaces where people can show up in the way they want to. Not in the way they think they should. Because you choose to join and then you learn. So if you want to eat a sandwich during my session, go ahead if it helps you be yourself.
Caff knows better than almost anyone how to keep a room engaged. But her approach isn’t the only one. We know companies are made up of people, and different people have different approaches. We at Alchemist are no different. We don’t provide a simple one way route for learning that all our facilitators follow like a rule book. We pride ourselves on combining research and scientific methodologies with the touch of genuine human experiences. That means although the end result is the same, how they get there can be different. Each facilitator has a different approach, a different method, and through years of experience have crafted different routes to reach the same goal. If all our facilitators did everything the same way we wouldn’t learn anything new either.