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Training Illusions
Saturday, May. 28, 2005, 11:17 a.m.

QUESTION: What's that on your computer screen?

WHAT I LEARNED: Friday afternoons should be banned.

Part of my job involves training people. Yesterday I had two training classes set up at the same place – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The coordinator for the training is just so amazingly nice that I’d like to take her with me to all my appointments – she makes it easy for me to do my job. The training room is brand-new beautiful. I was on a training roll in the morning. Hmm. The day was going suspiciously well. The afternoon was not so simple. The reason for that is simple enough though – simple human nature.

Do you know what the worst time for training adults has to be on a sliding scale of bad to worst? I’d say it goes in this particular order: Training after lunch, training after lunch on Friday, training after lunch on the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend, training after lunch on Friday before a three-day holiday weekend after received an email from management at your own organization saying that they consider your Friday done at noon and have a lovely holiday weekend – that is if you have no pending appointments on your schedules. Darn. Now that’s the worst kind of class to teach on a Friday afternoon.

The afternoon turned out to be unexpectedly illuminating, funny, and a little traumatizing for some – like my whole afternoon class. I am now just a bit wiser in the ways of students with individual computer workstations in the classroom than I was 24 hours ago. The temptation to explore online, to multi-task, and just basically get lost in your own little electronic world is just too strong for many to resist.

We were all doing pretty well together – I was projecting my voice all the way to the back of the class, I was telling them things they needed to know if a positive and upbeat manner, I was moving the class along a good clip so that we could all finish up a little early. Near the very end of the class, one of the attendees asked me a very pertinent question. I began to walk the class through the steps online in answer. I stopped at a point and asked them if they had come to a particular screen and described it. They looked at me like I had just stepped off the Star Wars III backlot without removing my costume and makeup. How curious…

I took a stroll to the first row of computers to see what the problem could possibly be and I see the first student in the row is not in the right place. I think maybe she just couldn’t keep up with what I was showing them – but at least she was trying. Then I notice that the guy next to her was reading email. I start to look at everyone’s computer up and down each row – not one of them was were they were supposed to be. In all fairness, it was probably the last question of the class, however it was pretty surprising to me – upon discovering the state of affairs – and to them – at being discovered slacking off on the final example.

Yup, they were all busted.

This was indeed an ironic end to my Friday-afternoon-before-a-three-day-weekend-when-I-could-have-been-home-already class. I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. It was so ridiculous – they had all been a little too relaxed and non-participatory at the tail end of the training but they were so secure in the illusion that nobody would notice. Someone did. I think the coordinator was more traumatized then anyone. It’s not easy being a training coordinator - especially a really nice one.

You guys are really scamming me here – I laughed. It was the truth but it was also pretty funny. I went back up to the front of the classroom, finished answering the question, and gave up any pretense of the expectation of further participation. It seemed that we had really finished up a few minutes earlier anyway.

I am sure they learned a valuable lesson – it’s dangerous to fake class participation. You have to hang in there to the bitter end. You can never tell when someone is going to figure out your not doing your class work. Besides, you may need the stuff someday - especially professional training in the workplace. You might need it right away in order to get your job done.

Me – I learned that things aren’t always as they seem and that just because somebody looks like they are doing something doesn’t mean they actually are. I also learned it’s important not to take yourself or the merely irritating moments in life too seriously.

Especially on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend when you really could have been home starting your holiday weekend at high noon.

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