Book Review -
101 Ways to Make Training Active


101 Ways to Make Training Active is a compendium of activities and strategies that trainers, presenters, and discussion leaders can use to improve audience engagement.

The author, Mel Silberman, is a professor emeritus of adult and organizational development at Temple University where he specializes in instructional design and team building.

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews from Six Minutes.

What’s Inside?

The core of the book consists of a series of techniques (101 of them!) described in 1, 2, or 3 pages each. The activities are organized into the following categories:

Want to learn more?
While 101 Ways to Make Training Active focuses on training techniques, Telling Ain’t Training (Stolovitch & Keeps) provides comprehensive advice on training theory, design, and best practices. Both books are excellent and complement one another.
  • Team-Building Strategies (10 activities)
  • On-the-Spot Assessment Strategies (6)
  • Immediate Learning Involvement Strategies (8)
  • Active Lecturing (9)
  • Stimulating Discussion (7)
  • Prompting Questions (4)
  • Team Learning (6)
  • Peer Teaching (6)
  • Active e-Learning (6)
  • Emotional Intelligence (7)
  • Skill Development (10)
  • Reviewing Strategies (7)
  • Self-Assessment (4)
  • Application Planning (7)
  • Closing Sentiments (4)

Each activity is described using a four-part outline:

  1. Overview: Describes the activity concisely, and training context in which it most suited.
  2. Procedure: Detailed, step-by-step instructions for leading the activity.
  3. Variations: Suggestions for modifying the activity (some small; some large) to better fit your audience, your goals, or your available time.
  4. Case Example: A practical, real-world example of the activity in action. Although the descriptions (the “Procedure”) are very clear on their own, these case examples help take an abstract idea and make it concrete.

This format is fantastic, as it makes for a very easy read. The self-contained nature of each technique also makes this a convenient reference source.

Why is it necessary to make training active? In order to learn something well, it helps to hear it, see it, ask questions about it, and discuss it with others. Above all else, we need to ‘do it’.

-- 101 Ways to Make Training Active

The Price

At the time of writing this review, you can get this book for only $58.55 from amazon.com. This is 29% off the list price. Great value!

What I Loved about 101 Ways to Make Training Active

1. Tremendous Variety and Practicality

The core of the book (i.e. the 101 tips) covers an amazing array of techniques. I like that these techniques are generic; they will fit in a wide variety of training contexts, regardless of your subject matter.

For example, I’m creating a 5-module Train-the-Trainer course and using the book to research ideas. I identified thirty-seven activities that could be used in this course! (Naturally, I don’t have time to fit in that many, but it’s great to have plenty of options.)

2. Infinitely Customizable

I really like the “Variations” section for each technique, as these spark ideas for how to customize each activity for my personal needs. It would take decades of training full-time to exhaust all of the possibilities in this book.

3. Great Bonus Material

The book opens with a series of quick mini-tips, 10 per topic. For example, there are “10 Techniques for Learning Names”, “10 Ways to Make Learning Visual”, and “Ten Props that Dramatize Learning”, to name just a few. Silberman calls these the “nuts and bolts” of active training, and several of the activities covered in the book build on these mini-tips.

This isn’t a trivial bonus. There are 44 pages of inspiring ideas that provide pretty good value all by itself. A CD is packaged with the book which provides these in PDF format as well.

How could it be better?

1. Make the timing explicit.

When I discover a new training activity, I often wonder how long the activity will take. Sometimes I’m specifically looking for a creative idea to fit a time slot within a course. For example, I may be looking for a review technique for the last 20 minutes of a course module.

So, although many of the descriptions in the book have timing references, I wish the average time (or a timing range?) for each activity were explicitly called out as reference aid.

2. Provide a few lesson plans to see how the activities blend together.

In the book’s introduction, Silberman writes:

Don’t overload participants with too many activities. Less is often more. Use just a few to enliven your training program.

This advice is generally consistent with my training experience, but I think novice trainers would benefit from more detail here. How many is “too many”? Do I use “just a few” in an hour? In four hours? Or a five session course? I think it would be helpful to include a couple of complete lesson plans (in an appendix?) that show how some of the book’s activities are mixed and matched in a real-world course.

What Others Think

Ratings on amazon.com are solid: 62% of reviews are 5 out of 5 stars.

62% of reviews are 5/5 stars

Keith Webb:

As a professional trainer and coach I know my subjects well. That’s my problem! It’s too easy to stand up and lecture. The trick is to involve participants in meaningful ways. “101 Ways to Make Training Active” is just the ticket. […]

I’ve seen a lot of books on training games or activities. Most have a couple of “winners” but this one just doesn’t quit. Buy it, use it, and watch participation, learning, and your course evaluations improve!

Charles Henderson:

I have been facilitating training workshops for over 20 years and have read many books on the topic. Without a doubt, Silberman’s are among my favorites. All of the exercises and training strategies are both practical and effective. This book is among the best of the best. It is easy to read and easy to use. I cannot imagine any facilitator not finding something in here that will help make their training sessions more interactive, and the learning more effective.

Bill D. Stinnett:

I have owned my own consulting firm and have been a professional trainer for 10 years. I have read a lot of books on training philosophies and techniques, but I have never seen a resource quite like this. Every single page of this book is filled with interesting ideas for getting people involved in learning.

Verdict

This book makes me want to train more, and inspires me to do it better. If you want to improve audience engagement, I strongly recommend that you get a copy of 101 Ways to Make Training Active.

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101 Ways to Make Training Active by Mel Silberman Andrew Dlugan 4 September 25, 2018 Compendium of activities and strategies that trainers, presenters, and discussion leaders can use to improve audience engagement.

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews featured on Six Minutes.
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