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This article by Caroline Calogero was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on July 26, 2000. All rights


Creative Training


Did you nap through your last corporate training


Or were you the teacher, trying to make a wake-up call? Trainers


learn how to make the courses they run — dare we say it —

enjoyable, says Jane-Alyse Von Ohlen, who teaches a course in

Creative Training Design as part of the training certificate program

at Mercer County College.

"How do you make it fun? How do you make it so people want to

be there, so they’re not what we call training hostages?" Von

Ohlen asks.

"You need to have the basics first. You need to have some


skills. You need to understand how adults learn, how to create a


or a presentation." Von Ohlen explains most adults like to learn

by relating a topic to their own personal experiences or by


how an idea can be applied to their own lives.

Her course is scheduled for Tuesdays, August 1 and 8, at 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $90. It is not a course for the inexperienced; prerequisite

courses in training fundamentals and/or the equivalent work experience

is required. Call Lynn Coopersmith for information at


extension 3241, or to register call 609-486-9446.

Von Ohlen will discuss how to use music as a tool to energize a class

or put people at ease. Room arrangements will be deliberated including

the podium dilemma. Podiums are considered a definite no-no since

they create a barrier between speaker and listener. "We look at

creating an atmosphere," she says.

The ideal group size for break out activities will be considered.

Even flip charts and handouts will be subject to scrutiny, including

how to make them more appealing by using color and pictures.

Von Ohlen is the training and development manger at Virtua Health,

a health care system with 7,000 employees that runs five hospitals

and two nursing homes covering Burlington, Camden and Gloucester


She lives with her attorney husband in Roebling, majored in human

resources at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, Class of 1995, and has

a master’s degree in training from St. Joseph’s University in



She readily gives away a few experienced trainers’ tricks of the


Peppermints make the ideal after-lunch treat. The mint

is energizing and counteracts the effects of a full stomach.

Give freebies. She believes in buying a bit of good will

by tossing out little giveaways like stress-reducing squeeze balls

to those who answer questions. "People like free things,"

says Von Ohlen.

Open and close creatively. "To start, I sometimes

ask everyone to draw pictures representing aspects of their life.

I always draw first on a big flip chart, and once they see that I

can’t draw, no one is shy." For a closer, she often has her class

blow up balloons. "We put all our stress into the balloon, and

we throw them up in the air to get rid of the stress."

Choose a theme to enhance a training course. "If


going to be creative, you’ve got to come up with how you’re going

to make it fun and interesting. Themes are a way to do it."

For training courses dealing with adapting to change, Von Ohlen


taking students on a trip to Oz. Whether participants are adjusting

to a corporate merger or just a new department manager, Von Ohlen

believes a walk down the yellow brick road can ease their experience.

The Oz-inspired meeting room includes a floor mat printed with a


masonry motif, tables covered in blue and white checked cloth, and

red glitter boxes filled with candy scattered about. Even handouts

are adorned with a picture of Dorothy.

Von Ohlen then lowers the lights and shows her students a part of

the Wizard of Oz film. They watch Dorothy’s house detach from Kansas

during the cyclone and whirl away into the unknown.

A discussion follows of how Dorothy felt during these changes and

how she managed to make it through. Von Ohlen extracts from the class

that Dorothy, surrogate for the seminar participants, got through

by relying on her friends. This teamwork approach will help


negotiate changes, too.

For courses dealing with problems in communications, Von Ohlen uses

a jungle theme. The training room is transformed. Animal masks


the walls. Green crepe paper vines flutter above. A tape of jungle

sounds plays in the background. Von Ohlen even dresses in a safari


She explains to participants their train has derailed. They need to

learn how to get out of the jungle and back to civilization.

As a means for escape from the jungle, Von Ohlen has the class build

helicopters, made from kits. This project requires teamwork,


and good communication skills. After the whirly birds are assembled

and the participants’ rescue assured, "then we debrief it,"

she says.

"People have a difficult time talking about what’s happening with

them. But they have a real easy time talking about what just happened

in this group as we were building a helicopter."

She leads the discussion to how communication can break down. "It

makes it non-personal,"she says, "It makes it very


Von Ohlen believes everyone can benefit from improving their training

skills and remains steadfast to her goal of making even mundane


interesting. "No matter what your job is you are always training

other people," she says "If people aren’t laughing and having

fun in a program, there’s a problem with that program."

— Caroline Calogero

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