What is the ideal number of delegates on a training course?
As you may know I have been a delegate recently on a course in my role as church treasurer and it brought to mind one of the biggest issues that we have as professional trainers…how many people do you have on one programme?
Well the answer is, as ever, it depends upon the subject, the competence of the learners and how practical the learning needs to be. Adult learning theory shows us that we all have a preferred way of learning, be it reflective, and thus need time to consider and review the information or be it active, where the learner wants to get involved. It is therefore important that we as managers & trainers design a learning activity that is suitable for all types of learners, whether it is a five day programme or a 20minute tool box talk.
You may be in the fortunate situation that you know the learners whom you will be training and so with that greater insight you can provide a much more bespoke learning experience. However, if you are running open courses, such as those that I am involved in, you have no idea about the learners preferred way of learning. You must therefore design & develop your training programme to suit all four learning styles as identified by Honey & Mumford. Be aware that you are likely to design a training programme that suits your learning style and thus will bore the pants off other types of learner. I am an activist and like to ‘do stuff’ on a course, so this recent learning experience, which was aimed at reflectors, was hard work!!
Your other consideration is what you are training your people on…on my course there were 50 of us, so there was no chance for the trainer to spend time with us on an individual basis, so there was no practical learning or experience. This was not too bad for a subject like accounting practice and there were three trainers so their different styles helped to maintain attention. However it is not how training IT subjects would work at all, for example, as people want to be hands on & practical with these subjects…people need to practice the skills as they are being taught them, not just watch the upteenth PowerPoint slide!
The final and most pragmatic answer to the question is that of cost or sales, depending on how you look at this situation. I recently saw an advert for a ‘hands on, interactive training session where you will be one of only 4 delegates’ which I thought was fantastic. It was for a very practical subject and meant that you as the delegate knew you would have a lot of attention from the trainer and therefore, able to get a lot of hands on experience with good supervision. But this approach may not work in an organisation where you have to train a lot of people at once because they can only be released from their job all together, when the line is closed for example, in a manufacturing environment.
Commercial considerations also have to be made especially if you are charging people for attending the programme. You have to cover the venue costs, costs of the trainer and materials that you produce as well as refreshments and you are a business so you need to run this at a profit. So this may be the biggest influence on the numbers you train and in my experience this is very often the case. So despite you, as a professional trainer, explaining that the maximum number for a particular course is X people the company put X+ on the course as they will make more money, but will the learning happen?!
I hope that this has been thought provoking!
Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth