Grouping Learners Using Props

Grouping Learners Using Props

There are many reasons for creatively finding ways to group your participants in a learning environment. Many of them relate to the concepts of brain-based learning which emphasizes factors such as novelty, fun, and movement to stimulate brain neurons in order to enhance learning.

To make your life easier and save time when trying to come up with creative ways to effectively organize participants into small groups, try using small toys or props. Simply decide some item related to your session theme and gather an equal number of various colors or types of the toy or prop to use in identifying team members.

Grouping Learners Using Props by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

To use any type of item for identifying group members, count the total number of people in the room, divide equally based on the number of groups you desire for an activity or discussion, and then select an equal number of different colored or shaped toys or props. Randomly place one item at each learner’s seat location before they arrive. When ready to group them, just announce where they should gather for a group based on the type or color item they were given. For example, if you were doing a train-the-trainer program focused on brain-based learning, you might use a small colored rubber brain-shaped pencil erasers. People with yellow brains would go to one corner, blue, another, and so on.

Here are some suggestions that may help get you started.

  • Different denominations of play currency or coins are effective for a bank teller or cashier training;
  • Brain erasers of different colors can be used in train-the-trainer or creativity sessions;
  • Various colored smile faced items can be used for customer service programs or virtually any other topic. For example, stuffed animals, hacky sacks, or foam balls;
  • Colored fish exemplify successful programs/projects when things are “swimming along”;
  • Foam stress toys in shapes related to your session topic (e.g. cell phone for telephone skills training or smile face balls for customer service training);
  • Assorted zoo animals can add fun to virtually any subject or when discussing stress or a high energy topic when things are hectic (e.g. It’s a zoo around here);
  • Assorted insects or bugs help in activities when discussing pet peeves or things that “bug” participants either in customer interactions, or the workplace;
  • Colored spinning tops made of plastic can emphasize high sales or improvement levels (on top of the world);
  • Back scratchers made of wood or plastic can be related to ways of “reaching or attaining a goal”;
  • Sheriff’s/Law enforcement badges can be tied into concepts of taking charge, authority or ownership of an issue;
  • Rubber ducks made of rubber or plastic might be used to remind people that sometimes things are not always what they are “quacked up” to be (when discussing problems or how things can go wrong in a specific situation);
  • Handheld novelty shaped pencil sharpeners can stress the need to point out the need to ask direct questions or “get to the point” when doing customer service or interpersonal communication program;
  • Footballs, baseballs, sponge balls, or similar small items may help emphasize teamwork or “getting on the ball.”

These simple, yet fun approaches to group formation can get people laughing and be a novel way to save time rather than the traditional “count off” method that many trainers and educators often use.

Tying Adult Learning Theory to Brain Based Learning Research

Tying Adult Learning Theory to Brain-Based Learning Research

Since the first part of this year, I have been conducting a lot of workshops and presentations on creative training techniques and brain-based learning for adults. Frequently attendees ask questions related to adult learning and what strategies or techniques work best to help their participants better gain, retain, recall, and use what they experience. Invariably, the answer comes back to how the type of learning environment you set for your participants.

Tapping the Brain for LearningTying Adult Learning Theory to Brain-Based Learning Research by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

For decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists have explored the intricacies of the human brain in an attempt to learn what happens when various stimuli are introduced into a learner’s environment. Since many elements can impact brain functioning and stimulate brain neurons it is sometimes easier to look at some things that researchers have found related to adult learners.

Here are four things to know about adult learners that might assist you when you are designing and delivering content for your participants:

#1 Adults want to know how what they learn will help them personally and/or in the workplace.

Presenting theory will not work with today’s adult learners. Because information is so readily available in today’s world and training time is often limited, adult learners want to quickly understand what they will gain from attendance at your session and how they will be able to apply it. If you cannot explain or demonstrate how they will immediately be able to use information, strategies, and techniques, you are likely to lose their interest.

#2 Adults tend to self-sufficient.

Typically, you will encounter participants who come to the learning event with a wide array of experience, knowledge, and competencies. As a result, they do not want to be told what, when, and how they will learn. Instead, they want information shared and have an opportunity to be actively engaged in the process and experience the learning on individual levels.

#3 Adults want to feel ownership of the learning process.

To accomplish this, it is good to build in opportunities where they can mold the approach to learning in their own way. As you design your sessions, address the needs or learning modalities of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners by adding activities in which learners experience “ah-ha” moments about content as they jointly explore the who, what, when, how, and why of information they are receiving.

#4 Adults want to have an enjoyable learning experience.

Life is stressful enough without having to sit through some painful learning experience in which rote memory or tedious activities are involved. During the learning process, you have to build in interesting, interactive, and sensory-oriented strategies and techniques (e.g. music, magic, games, puzzles, and other FUN elements). These help your learners’ brains release dopamine, which stimulates the pre-frontal cortex to aid attention and long-term memory, and endorphins, which come from laughter and pleasurable experiences and help participants feel good about their learning.

Ultimately, your goal should be to treat adult learners as partners in the learning process and allow them ample opportunity to become fully engaged throughout the event.

Applying Brain-Based Learning Research to the Learning Environment

Applying Brain-Based Learning Research to the Learning Environment

Training and education professionals are always looking for new ways to creatively share concepts and information with their learners. Unfortunately, there is no one strategy that will turn classroom learning events into the utopia that trainers and adult educators strive for — 100 percent success related to the participant and student acquisition and retention of everything to which they are exposed. This is why they know that using a variety of strategies and changing their tools and routine regularly is crucial for learning success in the classroom.

Applying Brain-Based Learning Research to the Learning Environment by The Creative Trainer - Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning AuthorApplying Brain-Based Learning Research to the Learning Environment by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning Author

Luckily, there are exciting neuroscientific studies and continued developments in cognitive psychology related to learning going on that can help. Some of the research completed thus far certainly points to opportunities for application in the classroom even though it is ongoing and there is widespread discussion about the applicability to education and training. One thing that seems to have surfaced is that the classroom environment is certainly a major factor in learning. Still, the human brain far too complex to categorically state that by doing this or that, you will end up with a specific result so much more needs to be explored.

What seems to be obvious to numerous researchers is that certain classroom elements can potentially aid learning and long-term memory development. Many trainers and adult educators are realizing that they can apply lessons learned by the neuroscientists to their classrooms.

For example, through the use of environmental elements such as color, sound, motion, light, and smells and the addition of other factors like engagement, novelty, and fun to the classroom, participants potentially better gain, retain, recall and use what they experience. This is because these factors have been shown to impact brain neuron stimulation which aids memory formation and the ability to later recall and use what was learned.

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development 

These are exciting times in our lives. There are so many options for those of us who are trying to enhance our personal and professional skills these days that sitting in a traditional classroom where someone talks at you is not really an option any longer.

Alternatives to Traditional Personal and Professional Development Training by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Author

With the advent of webinars and other online training, social media, and learner-centric programs available, all you have to do is search the Internet to get started in transition much of your existing learning content from the classroom to electronic format.

If you are looking for opportunities to gain fresh perspectives, knowledge, and skills on the use of technology or blended learning (a combination of standup/classroom training and electronic format), check out organizations like ASTD (http://www.astd.og).

You can also get training from colleges at iPad U on your iPad, free Microsoft software training ( and non-conventional experiential learning sessions related to writer development and train-the-trainer courses aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship ( Whatever your needs or interests, you can probably find it through your computer.

Learn This Blogger – Robert W. Lucas

Robert W. Lucas is an internationally-known author and learning and performance expert. He specializes in workplace performance-based training and consulting services. Furthermore, he has four decades of experience in human resources development, management, and customer service in a variety of organizational environments. Robert Lucas was the 1995 and 2011 President of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Robert W. Lucas has lived, traveled, and worked in 28 different countries and geographic areas. During the past 40 years, Bob has shared his knowledge with workplace professionals from hundreds of organizations, such as Webster University, AAA, Orange County Clerk of Courts, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Martin Marietta, all U.S. military branches, and Wachovia Bank. In addition, Bob has provided consulting and training services to numerous major organizations on a variety of workplace learning topics. To contact Bob visit his website at or his blog