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How to effectively engage students during trainings

One of the biggest challenges for any teacher, trainer or instructor is always to make sure students are actually listening and learning. In IT trainings this is an even bigger challenge.

One of the reasons is that often trainings are very specific and detailed. Thus, they require people to be focused for longer periods of time which these days isn’t easy. Digital content and everyday life in general is conditioning people to want things right now and their attention span is getting shorter as there’s just so much stuff going on around us.

Another challenge is that IT trainings are often quite long and can last a few days. They are also mixing up practical exercises, challenges and generally can be quite tiring. Also, the audience is often professionals with specific knowledge and personality traits. It’s not the same as teaching students in high school or in college.

And there’s even more. These, let’s call them, professional students, aren’t looking just to pass the exam and get it over with. Most of them, at least. Quite the opposite. They want to actually learn something and retain that knowledge. The company that often pays for the training, also wants the same.

So, if you’re an IT trainer, making sure your students retain as much knowledge as they can is vital. One of the best ways to increase those odds is by keeping students interested and engaged during the training.

What is student engagement

The good news is that while your students are quite specific, they are still people. So, many student engagement strategies can work for them, as well. And the fact that you have a specific audience isn’t a drawback. On the opposite – it can be an advantage for you. You can use that fact to employ specific approaches to keep your audience engaged.

With that in mind, what exactly is student engagement? There are different definitions of it, but they all mean basically the same thing. It’s the degree of attention, interest and even passions students have during the teaching process. It’s also the degree of their personal investment in the process.

If you dive deeper into the term, you can split it into various other niches like intellectual engagement, emotional engagement, behavioral engagement, physical, social and even cultural engagement. Basically, you can use a variety of methods and strategies based on all of these indicators. It also means there’s not a universal solution for all students and any occasion. But that is part of the teacher/trainer’s challenge – to be able to adapt to each situation and student.

The good news is that the more experience you get, the easier it will be for you to decipher these indicators and act accordingly. Of course, it will always be part of the job and you have to learn to welcome it.

5 student engagement strategies

There are countless student engagement strategies out there. Chances are, you either have heard them or are using them without even realizing. And most probably you also have your own discoveries and methods which you’ve honed as you build your experience.

Here are some additional student engagement strategies which can be useful for IT trainers. And of course you can adapt them to your needs and given situation.

Victory loves preparation

Yes, yes, you do prepare quite well for the training material you will teach. But also prepare for the type of students you will teach to. This means learning more about the client and the company they work for. What are their main challenges, even what is their lingo. This will help you talk to them in a way they are familiar with and it will make them more interested to hear what you say.

Show them you’re a human, too

There’s usually a vibe around teachers and trainers that makes them feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the class. It’s like they just appear, teach and leave. Instead, show your students that you’re a human, too. Talk to them about your experience, the problems you’ve faced and how you solved them.

Of course, all of that should be actually related to the main topic at hand, not just general stuff. Basically, welcome discussions on the subject. One easy way to do so is that when someone asks a question and you answer it, to then ask everyone else about their opinion on the matter and what else related to this they would like to know.

Build a culture of teamwork and positivity

Yes, even if it’s just a short, few hour long training, it’s still enough for you to build a team. Set the tone right from the start and see it grow. Show that you are open to questions, to help them solve the parts they have problems with. If you see someone struggling, offer your help or encourage other students to give a hand, too. Basically, show them you actually care and you’re not there simply for a paycheck.

Give them nifty tips

Don’t just read the training materials or the slides. The students can do that themselves. Instead see what additional value you can give them. So, tell them extra tips and tricks that will save them time, show them additional possibilities and so on. Also, encourage them to ask questions and promote active listening. This can be done with interactive exercises, even small contests.

Set the goals early on

People like goals. And they like achieving those goals even more. So, when you start teaching the course, first set some time to talk about what you all want to achieve today. Do a quick resume of what the course will focus on. Also ask the students about what they expect from the course. You can also break the goals up into sections, write them on the whiteboard and mark them as done when they are. This will give a visual presentation to the students that they are completing their goals.

Additional tips for IT trainers

Here are some additional tips you can use during trainers. These can help you maintain student engagement:

  • Show them real examples and experiences of how the newly learned material actually comes to use
  • Focus on practical exercises at regular intervals (about 45 minutes to 1 hour) between lectures.
  • If you don’t agree with a specific point, don’t criticize or reject it, but instead offer an alternative view.
  • Focus on building trust and positive experiences and relations with the students and the client.
  • Build a friendly environment, by calling students by their names. Write them down on a seating chart as you take attendance and introductions or use name tags.
  • Show students you’re here to help them and don’t create a threatening feel.
  • Offer students to share relevant day-to-day issues they have and use them as examples on how the training will help them out.
  • Don’t use inappropriate language, keep it friendly, but professional.
  • Don’t tell students if this is your first time teaching this training. It can lower their interest and desire to learn.
  • Don’t forget to summarize after chapters and exercises. And offer another opportunity for questions.
  • If someone has difficulty understanding a certain point after several explanations or hasn’t listened to it, don’t get angry. Instead offer everyone to help tackling the challenge. Another option is to give everyone another task to do while you work personally with the struggling student. Or offer a short break as you do so.
  • Move! When a teacher sits at their desk all the time, this actually helps students zone out. Instead, take the occasional walk around the classroom, interact with the students more. Go to their desks and see how they are doing with the exercises. This helps the entire classroom feel coherent instead of being split into “teacher zone” and “student zone”.

Of course always be prepared to change, modify and adapt your approach as the training goes on. Sometimes you will see that the students prefer to have more breaks and other times they could prefer to work in bigger chunks.

It’s also possible that students could change their expectations as the training goes on. Some may feel disinterested in a certain topic, while others might find big value in a certain chapter as it closely relates to their daily work. You can use that to your advantage and focus on such parts as needed and give the students even more value.

A final bonus tip is that you should remember you can also learn a lot from your students. After all a lot of them will be professionals in their own right and certainly know a thing or you that you don’t. At the very least, each training you deliver will build on top of your experience and will help you become an even better trainer. So, each training is an opportunity that you should take full advantage of.