Learning or Working?

I've been teaching workshops for much of the past few weeks, and I've noticed an interesting pattern. I get great comments (and usually good numbers) from people who participate in the workshop. I don't get many comments, and I get substantially lower numerical grades from people who leave their laptops open during the workshop.

These people are convinced they must pay attention to their work issues while they are in the workshop. And, they are the same people who want the “cheat sheet” or the “10-second overview of user stories” (true!). They are the ones who don't participate in the debriefs for the experiential activities. They are the people who don't see the value of instructor-facilitated and experiential training.

I've started a new introduction to my workshops. I say something like this: “I know that you are an adult. I trust you to make the right decision about your laptop open or closed. I will warn you that it is impossible to fully participate in this workshop with your laptop open.” (I smile as I say this.) “You have the choice to leave your laptop open or participate in the workshop. If you choose to leave your laptop open, please don't prevent the other people at your table from working through the activities.” I stop then and start with the workshop.

I have mixed results. The people who believe me at the beginning learn a lot in my workshops. The people who realize I was serious later on in the workshop and finally   put away their laptops learn too, and it depends on when they put away their laptops. I can't tell about the people who don't put away their laptops. From the way they debrief the workshop, I don't think they learn much.

I sort-of understand why conference-workshops are like this. Few people expect experiential activities at a conference workshop. (Ha! Gotcha!) Many of them have never encountered interactive and experiential training before. And, too many of them are expected (so they say) to check in at work while they are at the conference.

I don't understand why a company brings me in and expects their employees to be on their laptops all the time while they are supposed to be at training. People really cannot do two things at once and do each of them well. They can do one thing well and the other not at all. They can do both things poorly. But they can't learn and work at the same time.

I do ask people in in-house workshops how often they need to check email and check in back with their teams. I try to have enough breaks and a long-enough lunch to take that into account. But it's quite difficult if the answer is “I have to be on email all the time.” I can't teach and accommodate that request.

If you are attending a workshop, please participate. If you are working, go ahead! But, please, don't try to do both at one time. It just doesn't work.

Remember, the AYE conference is all experiential and interactive sessions. We would love to have you. And, we give you long-enough breaks between sessions so you can email or phone back to work. You'll learn to work better. Isn't that the whole point of workshops?

7 Replies to “Learning or Working?”

  1. I was in an internal class recently (one run by our company, in a company building, learning a company-proprietary method of doing something). No one had a laptop computer as that was not permitted in the room (security regulations), but people did have cell phones, iPhones, etc. all those neat phones with the keyboards).

    About 1/5th of the class was constantly running out of the room to do something. I mean literally RUNNING out of the room as if there was a fire. They were working on a hot proposal were needed to answer an important question or two.

    I doubt that they learned much in class. They were not permitted to do so by their managers. It is odd that managers would pay money for someone to attend training and then prevent them from learning. That, however, is the way it goes with many managers. It is obvious that they are checking a box when it comes to training their employees. They really don’t care anything about training.

    Too bad.

  2. Your sentiments apply to the workplace as well. We spend a lot of time on teleconferences– I wish I had a nickel for each time someone says “Sorry, I was on mute” (I did not know listening made so much noise!?!) or the mea culpa, “Sorry, can you repeat that?”. Our company tried to launch a “Be here now” campaign to address this, but ironically, I think most weren’t listening.

  3. I was amused by your post. Why are you so calm? I would be raging mad by now with all this ‘twitter’ mentality of the people in the classes your run. I have a similar problem when I’m involved in retrospective meetings after a sprint. The team members just sit there like sacks of potatoes or fiddle with their phones. They think ‘attending’ is all they need to do. I hate that mentality.

  4. In keeping with observations, the fact that employees feel so compelled, driven (or perhaps even coerced) to constantly check email may point to another organizational problem altogether.

    I personally find that development organizations who overly rely on email have bigger problems.

    Sure there are things that happen and require quick responses, that’s why IT staff carries pagers.

    But does the success or failure of a product really hinge on getting back to people within the hour when they send emails?

    Have you ever spent a day at work reading and writing email all day and leaving in the evening with the feeling of not having accomplished anything at all?

    Sending email begets email. Sending more emails begets more email. Sending a lot of email responses quickly begets an unmanageable flood of details nobody can keep track of anyway.

    If email is in the critical path to your project success, you have a problem.

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