An important determinant of successful outcome of activities and training is the quality and configuration of seating. There is an old training adage that says, "The brain can only absorb as much as the rear can endure." In layperson terms, that means have comfortable chairs that are properly placed and do not keep learners in them for too long. Depending on the room, size and makeup of your group, and planned activities, you need to select an appropriate room configuration.
Where possible, choose furniture that fits training activities and participant needs. Select rectangular tables that are wide enough for materials and task completion. Rectangular tables are typically available in 6- to 8-foot lengths and in widths of 24, 30, and 36 inches. I personally like folding tables that are 30 x 72 inches. These allow for a variety of configurations and flexibility along with ease of movement and storage. If learners are using computers, or if both sides of the table are occupied, 36-inch widths seem to work better. Great alternatives to rectangular tables are round ones. These typically are designed to seat six to ten participants. I like to use the larger tables, but seat only five to six people per table. This allows me to position learners in a crescent or semicircular configuration facing the front of the room so that no participants are seated with their backs to me. Otherwise, some learners are inconvenienced by having to turn around to face the front of the room and end up with no firm writing surface.
A third option is to eliminate tables altogether and simply use chairs. Although this saves space and increases the number of participants you can get into a room, writing surfaces and personal space are sacrificed. This latter element varies according to individual preference; however, research has found that most participants feel more at ease when they have approximately 10 square feet of personal space in any setting with theater style seating. Therefore, space should not be casually dismissed just to increase numbers. If effectiveness and learning are negatively impacted, it may be a bad return on investment. When using only chairs, make sure that they are ergonomically structured to provide back support, without causing undo physical stress on any area. Adjustable, cushioned chairs, and those with arms, are often preferable to hard, solid straight-backed chairs.
As you decide on the configuration of furniture you will use in a given program, answer the following questions:
Does the arrangement provide adequate personal space? Does it facilitate learning?
Will ease of movement be possible (e.g., during activities)?
Will it contribute to an energized, interactive environment?
Does it mirror planned content, delivery, and trainer style?
Does it allow ease of visibility and hearing for everyone in the room?
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