stop-watch-396862_640Have you ever attended a workshop during which you were constantly checking the time to see how much longer you had until the next break? Or did you have to resort to loading up on sugar and caffeine to stay awake?

If so, more than likely the way the course was paced was the culprit.

Pacing is more than how quickly the instructor moves through the material. It is also the flow of energy learners experience throughout the day. As an instructional designer, it is your job to manage this energy flow to maximize learner engagement.

Here are five rules to help you to master course pacing.

  1. Start off with a bang. The first activity, or icebreaker, should capture learners’ attention and get them up and moving. Use this activity to set the expectation that the course will be a highly participative workshop with the emphasis on “work.” And, introduce them to the content in a fun way that lets them know what benefits they can expect to enjoy as a result of attending the training.
  2. Mix it up. Alternate between short (no more than 10 minutes) lectures, group activities, and individual work. Also, avoid falling into the trap of using the same type of activity over and over again. One I see a lot is to divide the class into groups, have them do something, and flip chart their findings to present to the class. Done too much, this activity becomes monotonous even though it is highly participative.
  3. Plan for dead zones. Right after lunch and again around 3 p.m. most people feel their energy flag. Plan high-energy activities for these times to keep learners from turning into zombies. Competitive review games such as Jeopardy, and challenging case studies and role-plays are all good choices.
  4. Avoid content stuffing. Content stuffing is the practice of including more content than fits in the time allowed for the workshop. When you content stuff, you have no choice but to cruise through the content as fast as you can via lecture. Even if activities are included in the design, they are too short to be meaningful.
  5. Take more frequent, but shorter breaks. If at all possible, substitute two 10-minute breaks for a single 20-minute break. To get people back on time, plan a game that rewards those who returned on time. I have played a fun version of poker in which those who returned on time received a card. At the end of the day, the person with the best poker hand won a prize.