25 Nov

Creating The Learning Container

Learning Container

Imagine: You have just arrived, a little late, after a long commute, to attend a ‘workshop’ (which you have been sent on) and find yourself in a ‘training room’ reminiscent of your classroom days – except there were more windows in that youthful classroom than here. What is the same is that everyone is sitting at ‘desks’ and is facing the teach… no, the TRAINER. Is this preparation for a stimulating, engaging learning experience, or a waking nap?

As HR/Learning and Development practitioners or managers who must gather people together for some form of brainwork, sometimes, being solely focussed on end-goals, we overlook the necessity of creating the very CONDITIONS that make collaborative thinking, learning/engagement possible and valuable.

Entering a sterile room devoid of personality, maybe windowless, too warm or too cold, too airless, harsh fluorescent lights; these things do not set the stage for optimal attention. If asked, most participants will probably not even notice this environment – because this is typical of what we have come to expect in a training/learning experience. Participants have come to expect that they don’t matter very much… unless of course, they live at the upper levels of the organisational food-chain where conditions are somewhat better. In saying ‘participants’ I mean us too.

How’s this alternative..? Arriving at your training venue after a long commute (from dropping the kids off) you are warmly greeted and welcomed by a facilitator – who has arrived a while earlier, got some music going to set the stage. Maybe there is the even the smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls in the air. The chairs are in a circle not rows. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, and you begin to feel at ease. The subtle message of being cared for and thought about impacts the experience far more than is immediately obvious. It says “You matter!”

This is often referred to as ‘setting the container’. A facilitator, trainer, leader, anyone who leads a group of people will get farther, faster by first creating the conditions to make optimal thinking possible. We often do not realise how powerfully the first impression sets the context for everything to follow.

While the physical conditions impact people immediately, more essential are the attitudinal conditions that most enable people to think/participate well. Author Nancy Kline calls these enablers the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment. They are: Attention, Equality, Ease, Appreciation, Encouragement, Feelings, Information, Diversity, Incisive Questions and Place. If you Google ‘Ten Components of a Thinking Environment’ you will find a full and very useful description of how these behaviours are a profound game changer in your training room, team organisation and personally.

We so often need to learn together – but then don’t think to create the very conditions to make it happen smoothly and powerfully. When I have my friends or business associates come to my house, I make it ready and welcoming for them. When I set up a course I make it ready and welcoming for participants. A training room IS your home for that time, and we need to own the space.

Nancy Kline says “Creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter.” When the physical environment affirms your importance, you think more boldly.”

Being intentional about creating the optimal pre-conditions for learning, taking the time to consider these hidden factors will go a long way to differentiate a so-so experience from an engaging and successful learning experience. It takes deliberate action.

This little editorial deliberately does not include a check-list of what to do to set these conditions, because you already know what would make YOU feel relaxed and welcome in a learning situation. Do THAT.


Business Essentials is Africa’s premium networking and business directory.

Read more from our Press Room.

Related Articles:

Cheffing Success Takes A Lot More Than Cooking

By Sandton Convention Centre 0 comment(s)

Why Saving Money is Important

By Meerkat 0 comment(s)

East Africa-China: A Delicate Debt Balance

By LEX Africa 0 comment(s)

2020 Risk Outlook: Use GRC to Build Resilience

By Continuity SA 0 comment(s)

2020 Ushers in New Importance for HR and Payroll Data

By CRS Technologies 0 comment(s)