On LinkedIn’s Learning, Education, and Training Professionals group, two months ago, a member kicked off a discussion with this question:
Increasingly, we are finding that people bring their phones, computers and Blackberrys to class expecting that it will be OK to use them. How are you dealing with this issue?
As of this morning, there are 83 contributions to the discussing. Although I’ve disagreed strongly with some of the opinions and suggestions, I’ve come to see this question as yet another example of a complex problem–in other words, one without a single, correct solution.
Here’s my paraphrase of what several participants said. To minimize my biases, I chose every 8th comment. Well, I left out one, which happened to be my own. (Just coincidence that it feel into the every-eighth sequence.)
- I display a slide with logistics (breaks, fire exits, etc.) that asks people to turn off phones or at least put them on vibrate.
- I show a humorous YouTube video and say this is what I did with the last phone that rang during my presentation. I make everyone take out their phone and turn them off in front of everyone. I include a 20-30 minute break several times a day.
- Ask the class to set the rules. You are there to learn. If people were on vacation instead of training, why would they check email? They can do that during lunch.
- Sometimes people are using BlackBerries and other devices to take notes.
- Lately I don’t even mention phones. I trust adults to act like adults. I do like (another person’s) suggestion of asking people to turn them on to integrate outside information.
- Set your phone to ring 3 minutes into the session. Pretend to talk with the president of the company, who wants to know if everyone’s turned their phones off. Exception: if you expect the president to call, or if someone’s seriously ill. I also believe people are adults who must make their own decision.
- There’s no right or wrong answer. Some teaching strategies are still focused on a society that no longer exists. Use appropriate technology at the appropriate time.
- Go with the flow. I can get irritated if a phone rings, but if the class is good and people are engaged, they’ll take their own responsibility.
- I like letting the learners decide how to deal with device interruptions.
I don’t do much formal instruction any more, by which I mean acting as the primary source (and predominant voice) in a scheduled learning event. I’ve done quite a bit of that, but over time found that people seemed to learn best when I talked less and they did more.
Yes, when people are new to a topic, they generally need some grounding and some concepts. Most of my experience is has not been with people new to the organization and the industry, however. That means they tend to need less “before we begin” than a lot of instructors (and instructional designers) seem to think. Even for a topic as information-dense as Amtrak’s reservation system, I found that a lean approach (less talking, more doing) suited the goal of having people able to use the system.
The LinkedIn discussion does provide a glimpse at the many ways that people working in this field view cell phones, PDAs (does anyone say PDA any more?), and smartphones. (Almost none of the comments address computers as such.) I see a kind of clustering around “they’re here to learn (from me),” and a smaller one around “I’m here to help them learn.”
My own phone, like my computer, is as basic a tool as pen and paper. Yes, I take paper notes, but when I have the choice, I take electronic ones so I can tag, search, re-use, copy, paste–all of which are tougher to do with PowerPoint handouts or handwritten notes.
I don’t want someone else telling me how to capture or retrieve information. If they say things that I find condescending or just plain silly (“enter the world of civilized people,” “phones are an interruption to learning”), I’ll get the message–though it may not be the one intended.