I was recently intrigued by a decision made by a US restaurant to offer diners a 10% discount on their bills if they checked their cell phones at the door upon arriving. Novel idea. It still remains to be seen if the 10% is enough of an incentive for patrons to participate.
I’ve been pondering the whole techno-distraction question in the classroom for a long time. Back in the day, phones weren’t smart and bag phones were anything but portable. The biggest distraction faced by trainers in the classroom was quiet, real time conversations between participants upon completion of reading assignments. Participants sometimes arrived back late from breaks because they were on telephones in the client area or in their offices. Occasionally, pagers would beep or vibrate and dance across table tops. Don’t see many pagers around any more. Do they even still make them?
Back then, we used to have to circulate in the training room to see where people were in their reading assignments. I always used the 80/20 rule: when 80% of the participants appeared to be finished, I carried on. All that has changed. Now I look for heads tilted down, and hands below the desk while email messages are checked and sometimes responded to. So much for the 80/20 rule – everybody seems to be doing it. It’s certainly not a disruption to the rest of the group, but worrisome none the less.
We try to be cognisant and respectful of a participant’s need to check in and stay connected, but should we? What about the cost of the training, and the expectation that the investment companies make to send their people to training will translate into tangible organizational benefits?
I worry that people sometimes just skim the readings, don’t absorb the content (or the importance of it), or don’t truly engage because they are not able to separate themselves from the pressures and demands of their jobs beyond the classroom. There seems to be no clear consensus on what to do about it.
I have worked with clients who strongly advocate the incessant use of constant communication, model it for employees and expect the 24/7 availability of all staff. It can create an almost impossible workshop dynamic. I’ve also worked with clients who have provided small baskets lined up in a row with participant names on them just inside the meeting room door where all things electronic must be deposited and remain until breaks, lunch and day’s end. We try to be cognisant and respectful of a participant’s need to check in and stay connected, but should we? What about the cost of the training, and the expectation that the investment companies make to send their people to training will translate into tangible organizational benefits?
A client trainer I have worked with advises participants that unless they have a loved one on life support, all phones must be turned off and remain off during class. So far it’s worked for him but what happens when he asks the question and someone actually has a loved one on life support?
Smart phones are only going to get smarter and I believe that banning them from the classroom is not the answer. Could we take a similar approach to that US restaurant and offer something of value to clients in exchange for an unplugged classroom? Perhaps. What if we could incorporate those smart phones into our seminars and workshops for polling, quizzes, or even sub group discussion topics? The possibilities are almost limitless.
What side of the debate are you on? Ban or embrace?