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“What is the BEST training experience you’ve ever had?”

What makes a professional development experience so powerful? Here are three characteristics many have in common.

JD Dillon asked this question on LinkedIn last week.

Best Learning Experience

It’s a question I’ve asked often during my Train the Trainer sessions, but I’ve rarely answered this question myself. My answer was immediate. As I reflected on what made it so good, I think there are three fundamental things my experience shared with most memorable, impactful learning experiences.  

The absolute best training experience I’ve ever had was a 2-day training on racial and ethnic identity development. I was working for an organization that focused on foster care and there was a significant disproportionate representation of children of color in the foster care system. The people that volunteered to work with us were overwhelmingly white. I was responsible for developing training materials for the organization.

Why was this experience so powerful?

Self-discovery + Dialogue

For two full days, this training was designed to have us go through a series of activities and then engage in meaningful conversations. Activities such as the White Privilege Checklist or viewing a powerful video that clearly demonstrated the disparate treatment of people of color in every day activities allowed us context for personal reflection. Small group conversations allowed us to listen to others perspectives and challenge each others thoughts and assumptions.

A Safe Space

As anyone who has ever talked about racism among a diverse group of people can tell you, it can be an uncomfortable topic with a lot of room for misinterpretation and hurt feelings.

In order to ensure participants in this program could fully participate safely, the designers of this 2-day program established four non-negotiable ground rules:

  1. Speak your truth
  2. Stay engaged
  3. Experience discomfort
  4. Accept and expect non-closure

To ensure the facilitators were prepared to lead participants through this program while adhering to these ground rules, facilitators went through a rigorous certification process in order to be able to lead this training.

Immediately Applicable

This wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill, check-the-box diversity training. Anyone who completed the course was expected to put it to use in their work (and home life as well). Beyond such extrinsic expectations, however, this training session made me want to apply it in as many areas of my life as possible.

It gave me a new lens through which I viewed training programs that I created. I began to be intentional about the diversity of imagery we used in elearning programs – not because it was politically correct, but because it was appropriate. When trainers in different parts of the country reported that they would abbreviate the section in our standard training curriculum that focused on cultural competency (citing the idea that they lived in fairly homogeneous communities), I began to challenge them, and I now had information, data and a variety of new concepts to support my feedback to them.

Your turn. What was the best professional development experience you’ve ever had? What made it so good? 

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