It’s May. There are 15-20 parents are in a hotel meeting room to get trained on their role as a volunteer Family Navigator. There are round tables – 5 chairs at each table – and pile of toys and chocolate; a screen for projecting powerpoints; several flipcharts; 1.5 inch notebooks for each participant chock full of manuals, powerpoints, resources, brochures, etc.; and 3 trainers/presenters. The training runs for 8 straight hours with a couple breaks built in for stretching, bathroom and meals. We always start with an ice breaker so attendees get to talk in the first couple minutes of the day. Then we move into having each presenter speak, one at a time, for about 30-45 minutes, using powerpoint and some small group activities. Often there is a sign langauge or Spanish language interpreter in the room (in a corner located near the one or two attendees who requested the accomodation). Sometimes, we use CART service and may have a 2nd screen at the front of the room where everyone present can read the words spoken by the presenters. We have toys for those that need to fidget. We have music during breaks, lots of colorful decorations, and a variety of snacking food.
This is a typical training for my office’s Center for Family — Lots of paper, and lots of talking by presenters and participants in small group work. Speech is a simple medium (includes words, gestures, expressions, pitch, etc.) to convey the message – my personal presentation style includes using lots of humor. By having hard copy materials, attendees are able to maintain a lasting record of the presentation and to share factual materials with others who did not attend the event.
Our evaluations almost always indicate high satisfaction with the quality of our materials and the presenter’s knowledge. Attendees also tell us that they are overwhelmed by the pace and amount of content covered.
In Teaching Every Student, Rose and Meyer (2002, p. 46) note that speeches should not be more than 6 minutes (18-20 for a major speech), that repetition of a message is powerful for learner retention, and our ‘strategic networks’ have to participate at the same time in active listening, learning, and remembering – which are all affected by concentration (ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli). In our training, we are clearly talking too long to hold everyone’s attention (interestingly the authors note the importance of using humor to gain and maintain listeners’ attention). We are afraid to repeat ourselves in belief that people will get bored or irritated. And, we may have too much stimuli (toys, color, music, food) that is distracting.
This also brings me to the variety of text in our handouts. We break all of the different content (modules) into separate tabbed sections making them easier to locate. While again, providing a historical record of the event, the amount of text provided can be challenging in its different fonts, layout styles, and colors, and therefore overwhelming.
An area for which we could improve is using images as a communication medium. We typically try to have some type of graphic (clip art of people at a table to represent small group discussion or picture of a child or family) on our PowerPoint slides – not to necessarily represent an idea, but more to break up text! While our authors note that images are not good for conveying abstract ideas, they do discuss the flexibility of digital media that takes one piece of information that can be quickly presented as text, auditorily, and graphically. In an effort to reduce costs (grantors no longer want to pay for face to face training) and to be responsive to evaluation results, we have started moving these navigator trainings to an online, self-paced format. They include slides, embedded videos (2 minute or less mini videos of parents or youth sharing a short story or topical experts giving quick snippets of information) pop up boxes to highlight key information, links to resources, etc. We still want more experiential learning – vignettes that they have to brainstorm or solve. Unfortunately, it has taken 4 months to convert the first module – we aren’t done yet- and I have 6 more to go.
Overall, we are constantly challenged to meet a variety of needs – some want hard copies of everything; some want it on line that they can access only when they need it. Some want more activities; others hate to participate in them. Some want all the information they can get in one long day because it’s too hard to get away from home or work for more training; others want information in short spurts.