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Trends in activity resources

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Contributed by Leslie Rae


The use of experiential activities in training and development programs has increased in a marked manner over the past 20 years or so. At that time, training courses consisted largely of a series of input sessions or presentations by the course tutors, guest speakers and subject experts. Realisation came that the required learning was not happening by means of these methods, and experience in the 1939-45 war suggested that more learning was achieved if the participants became actively involved. The most obvious way to do this was to include practical activities of both a work-related and a general nature to support the input learning. Most effective training programs now follow this pattern of input, discussion, activity, etc as a means of having the learners participate as actively as possible.

As more trainers started to use more activities, problems started to appear in the form of a sufficiently varied selection of activities. Earlier, some training textbooks had included one or two activity examples, but in the main, trainers had to rely on their own inventiveness or information from other trainers to extend their activity repertoire.

Commercial authors and publishers started to recognize this need and what has become a plethora of activity resource publications came into being. In the UK, the major publishers — Gower, Kogan Page, McGraw-Hill, and, later, Echelon and Fenman — started to promote what were initially collections of activities. These were collections of detailed activities covering a range of activity subjects, initially concentrating on management skills, but later extending the range to almost every training need.

Typical of these first collections was the series of ‘50 Activities for Developing Management Skills’ that developed through nine volumes from Volume 1 (author Leslie Rae!) by different authors to 1993. Each volume contained 50 activities and followed a regular format of a statement of the objectives, the duration, materials required and a description of the procedure to be followed. OHP masters are included where relevant, usually for use in the review following the activity.

Similar collections appeared from the other publishers mentioned above, supplementing the collections already available in the US, and the range of subjects rapidly extended to include collections of specific activities for counselling, interpersonal skills, negotiating, and all the other areas that trainers found themselves presenting.


The arrival of IT

It was inevitable, with the increase in the use of computers and other forms of IT that the world of training activities should be found interesting by producers of material with these sources. The first of these was a product by McGraw-Hill and consisted of an interactive CD-ROM that contained in full form all the 400 practical training activities that were previously contained in four hard copy collections authored by Newstrom & Scannell – Complete Games Trainers Play. The CD included an Index and the facility to find the activities in various ways and print these off, for modification as necessary.


The impact of the Internet

The next evolution of sources of activities naturally involved the Internet. A previously small publishing house – Echelon – that had published hard copy sources of activities in ringbinders, digitalised these activities, initially about 500, and placed them on their LearningMatters web site. The activities on this site take the form of ‘thumbnails’ that are summaries of the activities and can be used to find appropriate activities. When these have been found, the full activity, as a single unit or in multiples, can be purchased on-line for downloading, again on-line.

The significant benefit of this method is that, rather than purchase one or more hard copy collections at about £195 per collection, single activities (the one you really need) can be purchased for £15 (or £6 when multiple activities are bought). Since the introduction of this service in 1998, the number of available activities has been increased and now numbers more than 1000.

The latest innovation by Echelon is the production of a free CD-ROM that contains the activity thumbnails – having found the activity(ies) required, orders can be placed by phone or on-line through the Web site.

While the Echelon site was being launched, Gower was having a database produced on all the activities they had published to that date – some 2760 activities in 1999. A Web site was introduced that included summaries of these 2000 plus activities with a facility to purchase them, again as single units or in multiple groupings. In this case, the activities are delivered as hard copy rather than e-mails as with Echelon. The find facility on this Web site collection is especially good and easy, using a wide selection of keywords and the summaries are particularly comprehensive. To visit this Web site click on the GAIA button at Gower Training.

Further developments are planned by Gower, including the production of an interactive CD-ROM for users who either do not have Internet access or prefer to browse a CD. Another technological development is the digitalisation of complete collections on the Web site, from which the collection can be purchased, or single or multiple units of activities.

The Internet now bristles with sites that offer training activities, either purchasable or free. The majority of these are in the US, but an increasing number of British Web sites are starting to offer these facilities, usually activities developed from their own experiences.

Two major training-interest Internet forums offer facilities for subscribers (free) to ask questions of the other subscribers and frequently these seek suggestions for activities for particular purposes, or the location of required activities. There is always a flood of answers to these queries – trainers are renowned for their willingness to share their knowledge. The UK forum is at UKHRD. The main limitation of UKHRD is that the archive is not searchable at present; past knowledge is inaccessible and points can be repeated at intervals. The US forum is at TRDEV-L.

TrainingZone has a question and answer section for subscribers and a question on activities placed there is certain to produce positive responses. It has a useful library of free downloadable resources in the Toolkit area and plans to introduce shortly a new pay-per-view area for accessing a library of resources at a low cost in the ResourceZone.


Online learning development

Whilst this trend towards ‘bite-sized’ learning activities is growing fast in the print publication world, the same trend can be witnessed in the online learning field. Led by companies such as Netg, an increasing number of providers are reducing their online content to the ‘lowest unit’ level enabling training managers to customise and aggregate units into uniquely tailored online learning packages for their staff and trainees. Perhaps the most well-developed example of this is the creation and publication of thousands of Learning Objects for assembly and delivery through the ExtremeLearning website. A series of advanced tools allow managers to select and assemble exactly the right combination to meet their needs.


Developed resources

The original published collections of activities were in fact solely these, collections of activities as described earlier, usable as supportive activities in training events, or, in some cases, as unique events in themselves..

However, a developed form of resources of this nature is now available. This format offers separate sections that not only include a relevant activity or activities, but also instruments, questionnaires, checklists, handouts and OHP slide masters following material either as a full input session or includable in an input developed by the trainer. These resources are usually contained in subject collections, producing individual sessions that can be linked together to form complete courses in a menu decided by the trainer/designer. .

Resources of this nature can be obtained from Fenman and Gower.


Whither activities?

It would be foolish in these days of rapid development of the Internet and similar resources to suggest that the above describes the final extent of the provision of activities – developments may be being planned or produced as this article is written! However, wherever training courses and workshops are provided, effective training will include activities within the programs; open or distance learning and CBT or InternetBT also require their learners to perform activities in one form or other within the programs to be fully effective. But who would have thought, say five or six years ago that they would have been so readily available through the Internet as described above? So, ‘Quo vadis’ activities in the present millennium?

Many of the developed Internet facilities described here help the trainer to find the most appropriate activity (activities) for the specific purposes. But there are many activity collections published by publishers who have not yet embarked on Web availability, these collections being published in hard copy form, usually ringbinders. Publishers of this nature include Fenman, Kogan Page and McGraw-Hill, and of course the ones who are described as on the Web – Echelon, Gower and TrainingZone – and these publications are readily available. But trainers should not think that searches of these sources is an easy option; far from it. I maintain a personal list of all the activity collections of which I become aware, and constantly update this list. At the date of writing this article, this list, that contains the name of the publication, the authors, the publishers and the number of activities included, consists of 7334 activities in 189 resources. The list contains only the resources that are activity collections alone, not the ones with activities included in session guides. .

If any reader would care to have a copy of this list, please contact me at e-mail address wrae804418@aol.com


Leslie Rae, MPhil, FITOL, FIPD

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