What is the ideal number of participants in a training?

  • Training management

5, 10, 15 or 30 participants? I am glad to know that you are interested in this information because it demonstrates your interest in ensuring that you provide your employees with training experiences that will allow them to apply what they have learned in their work context. We are talking here about the transfer of learning: your main return on investment when buying training.

Obviously, this can depend on several factors. I will focus on technical training for adults at workplace, because that is our area of expertise.

What research tells us

We asked Ms. Béatrice Pudelko, Ph. D., Professor, Head of Adult Education and Training Programs at Téluq University and researcher at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives de l’UQÀM, to share some ideas from research highlighting the impact of small groups on learning transfer. Here are the elements that caught our attention.

According to Dr. Pudelko’s research, “In adult learning, learning in small groups (about two to twelve people) has always been an inescapable andragogic strategy, because of the importance it places for discussion (Brookefield, 1989; Solar, 2001). The discussion allows adults to draw on their personal experience and knowledge gained at workplace. In this way, they can better target what interests them in the content of the training they are currently taking and make better connections between new information and what they already know.”

In addition, Mrs. Pudelko tells us that “(…) Learning in small groups also allows the trainer to set up two essential conditions for the transfer of learning: guided practice and feedback. By providing opportunities to put into practice the newly acquired knowledge and skills of all participants, the trainer improves the chances of transferring them to actual post-training practice. He can also monitor everyone’s performance by offering personalized feedback just in time.”

These concerns are those that led Sylbert to develop its business model by offering practical training in companies in small groups of 7 participants maximum.

Quality before quantity

Sometimes I get requests to form a group of 15 people. We would obviously like to say yes to all requests, but I simply have to refuse the mandate, because I know very well that the results will not be there. Having accumulated almost 20 years of experience in training, we have come to the conclusion that the best way to develop the skills of our participants is among others through small groups.

Practice, practice, practice

When a client calls me to train their employees on Excel pivot tables, for example, I like to explain that our mandate at Sylbert is not that their participants know about the existence of pivot tables, but that they are able to create them at the end of the course. And that’s the difference between a lecture and hands-on training. With our practical trainings, we want first and foremost to develop the skills of the participant in order to make his work easier and save him time when it comes to release his reports and analyses. It is really by doing it yourself, accompanied by an expert, that you have the best chance of learning. This is also the reason why each of the participants has his own laptop during the training in order to quickly apply the notions taught. Moreover, as my colleague Mylène pointed out in her article Andragogy and pedagogy – What’s the difference?, it is extremely important to focus on practice, if you want your employees to retain the concepts learned. There is no magic formula; Practice is the most effective way to assimilate the notions.

The sense of accomplishment for the trainer

Our trainers who have had previous experiences of training in groups of 15, 20, or even 25 people can testify to this: they rarely have the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day with such large groups. It must be understood that we are not in a school context where the teacher follows a group of students at the rate of 6 hours per week for a full session. The intervention window of a trainer in a company is often only a few hours. Our small group formula is also one of the reasons why trainers choose to come and work at Sylbert.

In conclusion, we understand that the return on investment of a training depends mainly on the learner’s ability to put into practice in his work context the new concepts learned. This transfer of learning is easier in small groups, since it promotes exchanges between participants, allows the trainer to offer more personalized support to each participant and ensures to maximize practice time during the training.

After reading this article, I hope I have convinced you that limiting the number of participants, in the name of quality, is a determining factor in the success of your future training activities.

Subscribe to our newsletter !

Subscribe to our newsletter to make your work easier and to keep yourself updated on Sylbert news