How we used to live: Training

John Cleese OHP

Can we just rewind this bit? There’s a really important part that I want us all to revisit. Ah, too far. What’s that crunching noise?

Steve Webster puts himself in an imagined bright new future of learning and looks back to some bits of the training classroom that we won’t miss…

Up until the Great Social Learning Revolution of 2015, employees had to “do training”. We uncover some of the quaint artefacts and peculiar practices of this bygone age.

The overhead projector (OHP)

Heavier than Jupiter, with a burning light that was guaranteed to temporarily blind at least one person in the classroom. Early 1970s models often came with a dead insect pre-installed under the glass. The OHP enlarged your horrible spidery handwriting to gigantic proportions, and invariably came with the mantra “you’ve got the slide upside down!”

Training record sheets

“It’s two days before the quality auditors visit, can you remember what training you’ve done this year…look just sign it!” Training record sheets often sat in filing cabinets (metal wastepaper bins with sliding doors).

Fixed training budgets

Every springtime corporations would not spend any money on training for approximately three months, whilst they worked out the training requirements for the year. Then, after the summer holidays, they would spend most of the budget in one go buying classroom training credits. Actual training would then be planned in between January and March (not during Easter) for employees who were still awake enough to realise they could have training on anything they wanted because the money had already been spent: ‘An Introduction to Creative Finger Painting’ anyone?!

Ring binders

A protective covering for the training notes employees will never look at again (see Handouts). In offices up and down the land, there are skips full of ring-binders, all lurking, waiting to trap someone’s finger in their evil metal snappy jaws.

The five-day training course

In the past, employees of large companies would travel from all over the land (usually to Coventry) for a five-day training course. Great for team morale, bad for the delegates’ liver function. The five-day training course was banned by European Law in 2015 after the weight of unread emails crashed the internet.


The singularly most divisive prop in the classroom. Trainers could immediately assess how much trouble each delegate would cause by whether they: a) Immediately started speed-reading the handouts whilst the trainer was still ‘telling ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em’. b) Ignored the handouts throughout the course. c) Scribbled dubious / hilarious notes about the trainer on the back of the handouts, for the entertainment of adjacent delegates (a practice still possible if you upgrade to the premium version of your web meeting software).

VHS tapes

“Can we just rewind this bit? There’s a really important part that I want us all to revisit. Ah, too far. What’s that crunching noise?”

The icebreaker (see the five-day training course)

Before the days of collaborative online learning, geographically-dispersed staff would often meet for the first time at a training event. To ensure that delegates were relaxed, an ‘icebreaker’ would be employed – typically a nerve-shredding two-minutes hurriedly introducing yourself by your name, star sign, and what special skill you have that no-one else knows about- whilst your colleagues concentrated on your un-ironed blouse or stained tie. Sales staff were exempt from this initiation, as they were generally to be found outside on their mobile phones, or gathered around the coffee machine talking about the big deal they were due to close ‘any day now’.

Course feedback forms

A sheet designed to provide either glowing feedback for the trainer, or a guilty sense of helping someone get fired. “I won’t read the forms, and they are completely anonymous, to help us improve our training….WHO PUT A ‘FOUR OUT OF TEN’ FOR THE TRAINER!!??”

Sweets and water on the table

Since we all started learning electronically, socially, collaboratively… who can honestly say they haven’t recently put a warm bottle of still, a warm bottle of sparkling and a small bowl of noisy sweets on the table? Not everything has changed for the better.

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