Who are you?


This blog was meant to be about the ownership of learning activity, but as I was writing it, I thought it might be more fun to recount some ideas about participant motivation to attend training.

There seems to be an implicit expectation that people ‘own their own development’.  I’ve seen the phrase in policies, heard it trotted out by managers and trainers, but have rarely met an individual who

a) subscribes to that belief or
b) can detail what it means to them in specific practice.

In an interesting article published today in Training Journal, Peter Honey bemoans the fact that classroom based learning is getting short shrift in the ever-changing world of e-learning.  He quite rightly points out that:

“Classrooms provide a temporary respite from the wicked world. They lend themselves to reflection – rarely possible in busy workplaces. They make it possible to focus, without distractions, on whatever has to be studied or mastered. They allow people to meet together to share experiences and indulge in reciprocal learning. “

However, how many classroom attendees think the same way?  I remember observing a classroom based activity where the attendees were definitely of the ‘training is done to me’ ilk.  Would those participants have appreciated the value in the time away from the workplace to consider how they would get the best from the event?  I felt for the trainer who was having to spoon feed the personal skills based material to participants who appeared to lack either the ability or the  motivation to consider reciprocal learning.

Over 16+ years in L&D I’ve seen a range of candidates from the aggressive who threw a chair at me, to the over-enthused who hang on the trainer’s every word and follow them to the point of stalking.  I’ve found that there are, in my experience, 3 general types of participant:

  • The Learner

The learner is typified by their enthusiasm for the training.  They will have pursued their line manager to make sure they are briefed beforehand, will have completed the pre-course work, will be on time, prepared, open to new ideas and able to clearly identify how the learning will be applied on return to the workplace.

Learners are rare.  They are not extinct, or even diminishing in population.  It’s just that they are selective about the training they attend, and, as such, don’t turn up on every course going because ‘it was there’.  A classroom of learners is a joy to train but also bloody hard work.  They need facilitation and direction, but will tend to engage throughout, and are (generally) honest enough to tell the trainer when it’s gone off-topic.

  • The Tourist

The tourist  sounds like a learner, but isn’t necessarily there to learn.  They will have seen the ‘new’, or ‘improved’, or ‘advanced’ class title and will use it as a way to get out of the office.  Tourists aren’t malevolent in nature, they’re there for a good time, some nice coffee, a chat with people they haven’t seen before (or for a while) and will engage whilst the training is entertaining or fun.  Tourists are always early and the last to leave (unless they have a personal appointment later in the day).

Tourists are common when something new is launched.  They’ll prod it, photo it, and make positive noises about it both at the training and afterwards; it’s in their interests to show they’ve learnt something so they can keep coming back for more new things.  They rarely learn at an event; they do, however, remember well and can rattle off procedures, theories and models without ever making the link to their own performance.

  • The ‘To be Fixed’ (TBF)

The ‘to be fixed’ group will turn up at an event with a large flashing neon sign above their head that says something like:
TBF turn up on training because they’ve ‘been told to come’.  The TBF is there because they’ve done something inappropriate/risky/wrong and the managers way of ‘fixing’ them is to put them on training.  Because when they’re been on training, everything will be alright, won’t it?

Unfortunately, the TBF group appear en masse, particularly when there’s an organisational change, a procedural change, and around appraisal time.  They don’t waste a trainer’s time; the skill is to treat them as a challenge and turn them from a TBF into a Learner.  It’s not impossible, and, on most occasions, fun to do.  Even if they’ve walked in (usually late) dragging their heels because they ‘don’t see the point being here’, the TBF who becomes a learner will leave the classroom enthused enough to talk to their manager the next day about the value of the learning.


The three way agreement between manager/learner/trainer has become blurred as we see more forms of social and informal learning.  However, the formal classroom based activity should still have a clearly defined contract in place.  The role of the manager is not to waive their responsibility for their team’s learning.  The trainer is rarely a miracle worker, and the L&D manager role should be about facilitating the best intervention to help the staff member learn – even if that means telling the manager to manage, rather than shirk their responsibility by putting the staff member on a training course.

Who owns learning?  The participant of course.  Who thinks they own the learning?  The trainer, after all, they write and deliver the training and that’s the same thing isn’t it?.  And the manager’s role?  To make sure that they understand the individual’s needs, what the L&D professional can and will do, and agreeing the best way forward to help the staff member develop.


If you know of any more types of participants, leave a comment below.

One thought on “Who are you?

  1. Food for thought Andy, fnar! I will need to ‘digest’ this a bit, and always think the proof of the pudding is in the eating (do they do puddings in Mexico?!). I enjoyed the read. Carry on blogging!


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