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Training Room Design Layout: How To Successfully Setup A Room For Adult Learning

At my elementary school, every single room looked exactly the same: The teacher’s desk was centered in front of a blackboard that covered an entire wall. There were five vertical rows of wooden wrap-around school desks facing the blackboard. Each row consisted of six desks. Every single room- for every single grade – except for Ms. Stevens’ fifth-grade class.

In her room, there were horizontal rows as well as vertical ones– no row had more than three desks. It was — for a 10- year old used to conformity– a shocking arrangement.

In Ms. Stevens’ room, when someone answered a question, instead of looking at the back of their head, we looked at each other’s face. It was a novel experience.

It made a lasting impression. There are some people who believe the room set up for your training is as important as the syllabus. I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far, but I do believe that the training room setup is critical to maximizing the learning experience.

I loved Ms. Stevens’ classroom. Today, I think of her often when I walk into a training room that is set up classroom style. I am not a fan of talking to the back of anyone’s head.

I was reminded of Ms. Stevens’ classroom recently when I volunteered to teach a class for hopeful entrepreneurs. A technical error overbooked the class, and there were 26 participants in a class that is supposed to accommodate no more than 20.

The Traditional Classroom Design Layout

Traditional Class Room Setup


The training room setup was in a traditional classroom format: each table had two chairs. There were three rows across and five rows
deep. It was not easy to walk the room, and it definitely was not easy to walk to the people in the back of the room. Because of the overbooking, an extra row was set up against the back wall– making it impossible for me to walk behind or around that row.

As the class got started, the two participants in that very back row became very chatty. I used all the techniques from my toolkit of how to handle disruptive participants, and nothing seemed to work. My normal mode would have been to walk over and stand by their desk–this usually quiets disruptions, but because of the training room setup, I couldn’t walk over to their desks without creating a commotion.

That day reminded me of the importance of room setup.

The Square-Pod Training Room Design


If I could have changed the room, I would have created square pods putting two tables together and seating four to five people at a pod. The pod layout, like rounds or banquet style seating, makes it easy for large groups to break into teams or small groups.

It allows the presenter to move around the room. Most importantly, pods do what my fifth-grade teacher Ms. Stevens achieved with her layout – you can look at other participants while you are talking.

It is a great room layout for training when you have 15 or more participants in a workshop.

One last thing on the Classroom-Style layout: There are times when it’s just fine to use that layout–particularly if it’s a large group where little or no interaction is planned. If you are going to lecture or do a presentation for a large group, then the classroom setup is just fine. That’s important. There is no such thing as the best room layout for training: that depends on the size of the group and the type of training being presented.

The Chevron Style Training Room Layout


What can you do if you find yourself in the situation that I was in – a workshop that had lots of interaction, pre-set to the classroom layout? One of the best options in these situations is to use the Chevron-Style layout.

In this training room setup, the tables are angled inward at about 30 degrees. Just angling the tables instead of positioning them in the classic Classroom-Style promotes a sense of participation; a great choice for the room layout for your training, if you have a large group and can’t do pods or round tables.

The Perpendicular-Style Training Room Design


When you have a smaller group consisting of six and 15 participants, you have several options to increase engagement. You can use the Perpendicular-Style where you line up two long tables and have people sitting on the outside each of the tables.

People can look at each other and as a trainer, you can easily walk the room by going in between the two perpendicular tables.

The U-Shaped Training Room Design Layout


The U-Shape seating layout works well for similar reasons; The center area can be used for role plays, demonstrations, and presentations.

What if you find yourself in a room designed for 200, and you have 20 people in your training? What’s the best room layout for training, then? If you can, use tables, chairs or even tape to section off the area that is not being used for training.

When people find themselves in a space that’s too big, they often feel overwhelmed– cordoning off the unused space helps reduce the perception of the size of the room and relaxes participants.

The room layout for training may not be as important as the syllabus, but a room layout that is not conducive to learning can negatively impact even the best syllabus.

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Elana Centor

Since 2013, Elana Centor has partnered with TrainSmart in three key areas: training, business development, and writing. As a trainer, Elana often teaches TrainSmart’s flagship workshop: Train-the-Trainer. She also heads our Minneapolis office and as a writer provides support on everything from marketing and website content. A former journalist, Elana has previously served as a business editor at BlogHer and worked as a freelance writer for Chicago Tribune and Marketplace on NPR.