Dozens of Ways to Build Interactivity into your Training

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Lectures don’t work. I realize it sounds harsh, but studies show that retention measured three days following a lecture is only 10%. With retention that low, the claim that interactive teaching methods can increase understanding by 150% is easy to imagine. True learning requires participation, thought, and trial and error. For those who have only taught by telling, it may be time to shift your approach. Teachers and trainers have found hundreds of ways to foster learning without lectures. Challenge yourself to incorporate at least a handful.

With so many ways to foster learning without lectures, let’s categorize these interactive teaching methods in terms of braining, gaming, and enabling. Each approach puts the student at the head of the room rather than positioning the trainer as the sage on the stage.

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These six brain science principles are a perfect place to start and will improve your teaching and training dramatically. Here, your focus should rest on what YOU DON’T DO and what you let the LEARNERS DO.

Your goal should be to get your learners:

  1. Moving
  2. Talking
  3. Incorporating Visual Images
  4. Writing and Drawing

As trainers, your “to-do” list includes:

  1. Keep it short – less is more
  2. Shift gears frequently


When we overlay these principles onto different stages of the learning process – building knowledge, enhancing comprehension, analysis, synthesis, etc. – we come up with dozens of creative, interactive teaching methods. So, go ahead and toss the scissors and glue of elementary school worksheets, but keep the interactivity using old-school tools like pens and Post-its. Try these activities in person or online:

  • Sort and Match – organize new principles by moving them into place
  • Identify and Describe – pick out examples of core concepts and explain them to another person
  • Critique an idea or example – articulate what could go wrong if a concept were implemented
  • Compare multiple approaches – discuss options in small groups
  • Create a picture, collage, or image board – invite a “gallery walk” so others can see the work
  • Write a story, poem, or jingle about the material – perform favorites for the group
  • Solve a problem – set out a challenge or have teams create a challenge for one another
  • Practice through role plays – create challenge scenarios for the group to practice
  • Teach back – have teams of learners create a lesson to share with the rest of the group
  • Map out a path forward – consider the challenges and solutions of taking the next steps


These activities just scratch the surface of possible non-lecture teaching techniques. Facilitators who get their participants walking, talking, moving, and using visual images will take huge strides in facilitating learning without lectures.


A seventh brain science principle of great importance to trainers and teachers is that emotional experiences are more memorable. Many neuroscientists have studied this phenomenon, and there are seemingly numerous explanations (see Brain Research links below).

For us lay people, scientific explanations are less important than what we do with the knowledge. One way we can trigger strong positive emotions during the learning process is through competitive games. A far cry from lecturing, games energize players, create competition, build team associations, and create cause for celebration. They also take players away from their day-to-day realities, allowing them to try new approaches or examine their habits in a safe space.

  1. Choose the perfect game: Select an experience uniquely tailored to your needs. A plethora of existing games will let you focus on team building, leadership, communication, project management, emotional intelligence, negotiation, process improvement, marketing, accounting, and you name it.
  2. Create a custom game: For content reinforcement, it may be best to identify the key concepts you hope to relay and then create your own game. These game templates may be familiar: Jeopardy, basketball, toss games, Thumballs, tic-tac-toe, etc.


Finally, teachers and trainers looking to transfer learning without lectures work hard at enabling students to learn on their own. Key approaches include “flipping” and “thinking” time.

In “flipped” classrooms, attention is moved away from the instructor and refocused on learners. Aaron Sams describes it aptly, “Flipping the classroom is more about a mindset: redirecting attention away from the teacher and putting attention on the learner and the learning.” The flipped approach calls up learners to read and listen to presentations at home, then join the class to do traditional homework of practicing and putting concepts to use.

We add “thinking time” to our list of interactive teaching methods because lecturers frequently undervalue the importance of pausing. Too eager to move on to the next learning point, lecturers neglect their audience’s need to process what they heard, take notes, or consider questions.

Learning without Lectures through Braining, Gaming, and Enabling

Brain science tells us that lecturing is one of the least effective forms of teaching because it doesn’t address the key methods by which people learn and absorb information – by engaging deeply with the material and committing it to memory. While integrating memorable stories might help transform lectures into memorable learning events, teachers and trainers are better off dropping the lectures. Instead, use that time to creatively incorporate movement, talking, writing, drawing, and visual images. After all, the ones doing the walking and talking will be the ones doing the learning. Let it be the learners.

Abandon your notions of being the sage on the stage. Toss out your lecture notes. Facilitate your learner’s discovery by being their “guide on the side.”

Brain Research on Emotional Experiences Heightening Learning

Headshot of Susan Landay
Susan Doctoroff Landay

Susan Doctoroff Landay is currently the President of Trainer’s Warehouse. She joined her father in 1997 in what was then a fledgling business. Prior to that, Sue spent two and half years consulting and training in the field of negotiation and another two years marketing a business history consulting company.

Susan graduated from Yale College (BA in 1986), the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University (MBA in 1992), and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College (MFA in 1987). Susan values blending humor and professionalism to enhance training.

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Practice new approaches to transform your training into engaging, experiential learning events with brain-based active learning skills.

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