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Getting Things Going – the Start of the Course

In this phase the trainer should achieve the following:

  • Get participants out of their “boxes” and promote communication among them.
  • Balance participants’ expectations and the actual content/requirements set by the trainer and the programme.
  • Extract some background information about the participants that will be helpful later in the course.

Getting people out of their boxes

The following description exemplifies the behaviour of a participant when entering into a training course where the other participants and the trainer are unknown to him/her:

Peter enters the classroom. He stops and looks around; he finds a place to sit; he starts browsing the handout that is placed on the table; he raises his head to get a better idea about the other participants; he returns to browsing the handout; he checks whether his mobile phone is switched off before continuing to observe the other participants and deciding which of them are likeable and which create negative feelings…

Peter’s behaviour reflects the typical emotions participants experience when starting a course:

Will the course justify my efforts or will it be a waste of my time? What will the other participants be like? Will I meet interesting and nice colleagues? Will I be able to show my best side? What will the trainers be like? Will the course be interesting? What will be expected from us? Will I get what I hope for?


When a new group starts their work, group members experience doubts and questions. As soon as the trainer enters the room all focus is placed on him/her. The participants expect the trainer to provide them with the required information and skills and to ensure a positive atmosphere, an interesting teaching process, and the possibility to learn more about the other participants.

In order to create healthy group dynamics, it is important to overcome the participants’ focus on the trainer and to develop relations among the learners. This is the main purpose of using ice breakers at the beginning of a course – small exercises that reduce tension and get people talking to each other.

Balancing expectations

A mismatch between the content of the course and the learners’ interests and needs is likely the main reason for dissatisfaction among participants. Previously circulated information is no guarantee that participants will have an adequate understanding about the course. Therefore, the trainer should clarify in the beginning what are the participants’ expectations and interests for the course. In most cases it will not be realistic to introduce any major changes to the content because it is predetermined by the curriculum and other factors or because certain expectations are expressed only by a few participants and do not represent the interests of the whole group. In these instances the trainer will still be able to comment on the expectations expressed by participants, explain what will or will not be addressed within the course, and show the “bigger picture” by explaining the course’s aims and content. As a result, everybody will have a more realistic understanding of what to expect from the course and there will be less room for disappointment later.

At the beginning of the course participants will still be in their “boxes” and will not publicly express their honest expectations. Typical replies are vague and general, e.g. “to gain new knowledge”, “to learn something interesting”, “to get to know new people”. One way of gaining more in-depth information is to give this task to pairs or small groups, e.g. by using the methods “Partner interview” or “Life trees”. Participants are more likely to be frank with each other, e.g. admitting that the true reason for attending the course is to get away from the family for a few hours or admitting a weakness he/she wants to address.

This work by Toms Urdze is licensed under
CC BY-SA 4.0