Captain! The engines can't take any more!

If a training session is going well and the class is receptive, it's easy to keep going when maybe you should stop. For a student, there's a fine line between satisfied and overwhelmed. Keep these tips in mind to avoid information overload.

Here’s the scenario: You’ve got a great mix of students who pick up on every lesson, the equipment is working flawlessly, and you haven’t been stumped or flubbed a line yet.

The students have learned a lot and they have a sense of accomplishment. You’re at a crucial moment of the learning experience. Do you keep going and sail through those cool shortcuts on the agenda that you never thought you’d get to? Or do you restrain yourself and call for a break before eyes start glazing over?

It’s a tough call. Only a few classes ever go this well. It’s a more typical session when the hardware or software breaks down or when the students just don’t catch on. The times when everything works are so energizing that it can be hard to know when to quit. But, you have to be able to read your students and determine when they’ve had enough. You don’t want to ruin a good thing by overloading them with information.

The light bulb finally came on
I found the perfect example of this situation when I was doing some one-on-one training with a man who had put it off for as long as possible. He had had his new PC for about two months, and had been scheduled to come in for an introductory session as soon as the computer landed on his desk. He blew off that appointment and never rescheduled. This was a guy who had never worked with a PC and didn’t have one at home.

Finally, he approached me in the hallway and asked when I could begin training him. I told him to pick the time and we’d spend an hour together. The week before, he asked me a couple questions and I provided satisfactory answers, so I reasoned that he must have decided the training would be worthwhile.

On the morning of the training, I prepared some documentation for him and we started with the basics. His PC was set up correctly and he was fairly familiar with it. He had a list of questions and I answered those and solved a couple problems that had been plaguing him. Everything was clicking.

He was even asking good questions and I was starting to enjoy myself. I was ready to launch into my final example when he held up his hands and stated “No more. That’s enough. I can’t process any more.”

I knew this was coming (having just sneaked a peek at the clock), but I thought he would have made it through at least an hour. No such luck. So, not wanting to ruin the progress I had made or discourage him from asking for a follow-up session, I made one more small point and left him to his work.

Recognizing the signs
When you’re working one-on-one or in a small group, it’s easy to gauge the processing capacity of the class and if you’ve reached it yet. It’s tougher with a big group, but the same problem exists. If you have the luxury of rearranging your agenda or taking shorter breaks more frequently, do it. People will get more out of the class if the pacing is right and they have a little time to digest everything.

Remember, you don’t often get a warning sign as clear as the one described here. When they’ve had enough, most students will stop making eye contact or get that faraway, distracted look in their eyes. If people stop nodding in agreement or comprehension, if they stop asking questions, if they’re doodling on their documentation, you know you’ve gone too far.

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