Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.
I recently led an out-of-state training session. As usual, I arrived early to make my last-minute preparations and found that this fifteen-person session was to be held in a five-hundred person auditorium! Good thing I arrived early and—despite the room coordinator’s eloquent Manifest Destiny-esque argument that people need their space—was able to change rooms.
So this month I’ve been thinking about propinquity, the property of being close together, and how it affects the learning experience. And if you’re wondering if it’s really that big a deal, the answer is “yes.” How you set up the classroom determines the amount and types of interactions and learning experiences your participants have.
For example, it’s really difficult to facilitate a class discussion that involves everyone when the room is set up classroom style—with participants seated in rows. It’s also really difficult to teach a class of twenty to twenty-five participants and involve everyone when the room is shaped more like the narrow hallway that leads up to the room than a room itself.
So yes, propinquity matters. Changing or adjusting the seating space in the class (for example, seating participants in small groups) can have a dramatic impact on the type and quality of the group’s interactions.