Can larger group training be effective?

Image showing a large group training session
Larger group sizes are becoming more common in business training

Training larger groups at a time can be great value for money at a time when many organisations are looking for a truly cost effective way of delivering important training messages. However, many would say that whilst training larger groups might be more cost effective they cannot compete with smaller group training for learning retention and subsequent buy in.

We have had considerable success over many years in using our drama based approach when customers have needed to get a message across to large numbers of staff. For example, some years ago Stoke on Trent City Council required that all staff undergo basic Equality & Diversity training such that they were aware of the implications of the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. As they had around 9,000 employees, it would have been totally uneconomic to train this in small groups. We therefore trained the entire staff in cohorts of around 100 – 150 per 3 hour session. in cabaret style layout, in a theatre type setting using a mixture of interactive drama and activity based learning. Feedback was excellent and there was a high degree of participation from all concerned.

Lancashire County Council adopted a slightly different approach in that they have a number of small group sessions running in parallel in morning sessions, the whole group comes together for an interactive drama based session from ourselves in the afternoon. We have successfully run larger group sessions with typical group sizes of 40 – 50 for a number of organisations such as Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue and Swale Borough Council and all of these have proved effective. Typically, where people skills training is required, larger group training using drama has been shown to high levels of learning retention. This is particularly true of subjects such as customer service, corporate behaviours and values or equality and diversity.

So, what are the benefits to be gained from larger group training apart from the obvious economic arguments with respect to the training budget! From our experience in using drama based methods we have come up with the following reasons as to why there are learning benefits to this approach.

  • Training sessions using drama are entertaining. And with larger groups they are no less entertaining than smaller ones! Consider this…Is a theatre production less enjoyable because every seat is full?
  • Sometimes, they are more effective precisely because the group is so large. Your entire team or organisation are sharing the same experience together reinforcing the same skill set, culture, ethos, message, or values.
  • Quite complex information can be simplified and explained using a drama-based approach. For example, the highly acclaimed musical Enron enthralled and educated us on the ethics and details of financial mis-management…and how many were in the audience? About 1800!
  • Despite large groups, interactive drama gets everyone engaged. The delegates/audience are asked to think about what is being presented to them and then engage with the actors. For delegates who have not experienced a drama-based approach there is always a ‘wow’ factor and immediate attention!
  • A drama based approach is often fun and funny. Comedy gets people on-side, relaxed, and ready to learn and recall later. And again, a session is no less funny, because the group is large!
  • Larger group training doesn’t mean that the session is not reaching out to all learning styles. If the layout is cabaret style and lends itself to group discussions and activities, practical exercises can be dove-tailed between the drama to reinforce the learning points and generate ideas.
  • Drama can be used to demonstrate skills and tap into people’s emotions making it an idea vehicle for controversial culture change. The flexibility of a drama-based approach means that the audience can have an input into the scenes and this is again, no less effective with a large group.