Six ways to keep training timely


Aside from building subject-matter knowledge, timing would be the next biggest challenge for new trainers and trainers of new material. It is often difficult to accurately ascertain how long material will take to cover and equally problematic to identify appropriate timeframes for learner activity. As such, trainers need to work strategies into their planning that will give them some flexibility when delivering and enable them to do more with the time they have. This article outlines six key actions to support trainers in managing and controlling their time, without diminishing the participant experience.

  1. 30-60-90 second discussions

Rather than setting group discussion times in increments of 5 minutes (i.e. 5, 10, 15), trainers should look to create some urgency by setting 30, 60 or 90 second discussions. Aside from giving time back to pursue other content and activities, these shorter time-frames will make for a more dynamic interaction. This approach is supported by the “Zeigarnik Effect”.  Bluma Zeigarnik, a Lithuanian-born psychologist first described this effect in her research on the brain and memory. She found that brains prefer incomplete tasks best, as the brain will continue to work on them until concluded. Therefore, learners do not have to exhaust all the possible ideas during discussion, because the brain will continue to work on them until complete. Moreover, Zeigarnik discovered that we in fact remember more when we leave the brain with additional work to do. Therefore, with shorter discussion timeframes, trainers can not only make better use of the participants’ time, but they can also promote greater recall.

  1. Using music for transitions

Music can be used as a subtle means for framing time that is helpful for both the trainer and the participants. The trainer can instruct the class to conclude an activity when the music stops (or move to a new activity or location when a piece of music concludes). Instead of being a slave to a clock, the trainer can be working in the room with the participants or setting up a different experience and the music becomes a trigger to move to the next task.

  1. Appointing a time-keeper

In some groups, it is wise to engage one of the participants to be responsible for the timeliness of activities or duration of breaks. This is particularly effective in groups where there are strong personalities or there is an existing hierarchy. In such groups, participants may respond better to their peers, than their trainer when it comes to respecting timeframes. Accordingly, the use of a time-keeper can ultimately result in a more successful management of time. Furthermore, the selection of time-keeper could be made into a fun process that engages some wholesome competition amongst the group. The trainer can even build up the time-keeper position as a coveted role which is shared amongst participants over an entire course.

  1. Random break durations

By setting odd-numbered break-times, the trainer will create a certain stickiness for the break duration. For instance, 17 minutes will be more memorable than the arbitrary of 15 or 20 minutes. As a result, participants are more likely to come back on time because the duration is more memorable. Further to this, the trainer can create additional buzz with random break durations by having the students roll dice, select playing cards or pick a box with alternative break-time options.

  1. Rewards for returning on-time

One of the strongest techniques in the trainer’s arsenal is positive reinforcement. There could be both team and individual rewards for returning back from breaks on time. This could include everything from chocolate bars to bonus handouts or resources. Additionally, there may be points awarded for their team which could be traded for other rewards or bragging rights at a later time.

  1. Building in activities for extension or contraction

By building flexibly in the choice of activities, the trainer can make some qualified decisions on the fly, that best suit the needs and abilities of the group, but also ensure that the session finishes on time.  For example, a group activity could be contracted to a quick pair share or extended to a more sophisticated group poster activity. The participants will still cover the same content and will have an opportunity to be involved in making meaning, but the trainer can select an activity that will help them to stay on time.

The bottom line is if the trainer doesn’t start on time, and participants are 5-10 minutes late back after every break, they could be losing up to 30 minutes of productive learning time every day. Add to this, the time misspent in activities or discussions that could be more effective and dynamic at a shorter duration and the trainer could have an additional hour each day to strengthen knowledge and skills.


Marc Ratcliffe