OFF THE SHELF
Content and Process These two elements are intertwined in dynamic training. BY ROBERT BOLTON AND DOROTHY GROVER BOLTON
very training event is composed of two intertwined elements: workshop content and group process. Content and process are always present in a workshop, and the quality of each greatly affects participants’ learning. “Content” is what is taught. It is the subject matter of the workshop—the knowledge, concepts, methods, and skills that are to be learned. Participants are attending the workshop to learn new content or to develop more mastery in an area in which they already have some competence. Since the content is what people are there to learn, a dynamic trainer needs to be a subject-matter specialist in each course he or she teaches. That’s a major challenge for many trainers because the organizations they work for may not provide the time or resources needed to help them master the content they’ll be teaching. “Group process,” the other component of training, focuses on how the training group is functioning. It is composed of two related aspects of group experience: (1) the emotions the individuals in the group are experiencing, and (2) the ever-fluctuating interaction between participants as they encounter one another, the workshop content, and the trainer. Process is always present in training and inevitably contributes to or detracts from learning. When managed well, group process supports participants’ learning of the workshop content. And, as you might expect, mediocre or dysfunctional process undermines learning. The good news is that process can be observed, analyzed, and managed to serve the learning goals of the workshop. Good process kindles the want-to-learn part of people that makes
In your interactions with others? • What discomfort do you see? • How safe do people feel? With you? With one another? With the material? • What are you doing that’s helping them learn? • What is getting in the way?
the learning experience more enjoyable and far more productive. When looking at a workshop from a process point of view, you put the participants and their frame of reference first. You ask yourself: • What dynamics are occurring in the room? Among participants? In an individual?
Confluent: flowing together; blended into one. —The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
The content–process distinction, like the brain–mind dichotomy, is conceptual rather than actual. Thinking about content and process as separate but related entities enables us to discuss them independently as we do here. And it helps us to more skillfully observe, understand, and manage the interactions in the workshops we lead. Powerful training occurs when content and process flow together and blend seamlessly to foster peak learning. We use the term “confluent training” to designate workshops in which sound content and quality group process flow together, and are blended into one integrated process. Robin Montz, a ninth-grade social studies teacher, had always used a traditional, strictly content-centered approach to teaching. In time, however, he was trained in confluent education. Robin applied the educational methods that integrated high-quality group process with the teaching of the same content that he had taught the previous year. He then compared the grades with the previous year’s grades that were obtained when he used traditional methods. He also checked the average intelligence level of the two classes and, as expected, they were virtually identical. AMA QUARTERLY I SPRING 2016 I 19
Journal of The American Management Association