top of page

Do You Know Who's in Your Classroom? Prisoners, Vacationers and Engaged Learners (oh my!)

As you observe the students entering your classroom, their nonverbal expressions tell you much about their desire to spend the next few hours with you.

And as you continue to observe your students, you will be able to associate them to one of three types of students:

Each has a specific motivation for being in your classroom. Sadly, all are not there simply because of how awesome an instructor you are.

As with any attempt to "categorize" people, some will push back against such "labeling." But when I first learned about these types of students from Becky Pike Pluth of The Bob Pike Group, they just resonated with me. Hopefully they will with you as well.


Imagine you come into the office one day and your boss says, "Ken, I need you fly to Fargo next week (which is early March) and attend a two-day course on How to Enhance Teamwork in Your Company. It's a certification we need for the company and no one else is available. Oh, and thanks!"

Likely you've never had THAT exact scenario play out in your life - although I did go to Fargo in early March of 2015 (and yes, it was horribly, horribly cold: -22 F). But for such a scenario, you walk away thinking (and feeling), "This is the last thing I want to do."

And that gloriously bitter attitude is what a Prisoner brings into the classroom. They make nice and smile for the instructor, survey the room quickly and look for seating as far away from the front of the room as possible.

Turns out, you the instructor have laid out the room exactly how they hoped you would - classroom seating (rows and chairs). "YES," they say to themselves as they make their way to the very back row. After all, they might have to be here physically, but they have zero desire to be here mentally, or to participate in any way.

They've got other things to do, after all, like checking email and meeting other project deadlines.

"Stupid training," they mumble as they open Facebook.


If you were to listen very carefully inside the brain of a Vacationer when told they have to go to a training class, you would hear: "WOO HOO!"

Vegas. Fargo. Whatever. The location really doesn't matter. As a Vacationer, they are simply beyond thrilled to be out of the office.

Vacationers greet the instructor with a face that screams, "I AM SO HAPPY TO BE HERE..." (but let's don't forget the true meaning of that happy face: "I AM SO HAPPY TO BE AWAY FROM THE OFFICE!")

Vacationers will scan the room for seating and will be content with sitting in the middle row - especially since the prisoners may have arrived early to guarantee their prime seating at the back of the room. And there's no point in sitting up front - that's for the folks that actually want to learn...or the procrastinators that arrive late.

As you start your opening statements for your class, the Vacationers will most likely give you their attention. After all, they are not completely against the idea of actually learning something - provided that you are somewhat interesting as an instructor and that what you have to say is of value to them. If not, they are going to check out mentally.

"OK Google, where are some cool places to go after class?"

Engaged Learners

Ah, the group all instructors dream of. Engaged Learners are in your classroom to learn!

Engaged Learners have heard about your company, your course, or perhaps even you, and are incredibly excited to learn what you have to teach them. They've done their research (which could be as little as reading the course agenda - something that prisoners or vacationers likely did not do) and come into your course excited about what they will learn.

They greet you as they enter the room and may even make small talk about how they heard about the course. They choose the front row because they want to be close to the action.

"Is it time to start?... Is it time, now?"

They will both ask and answer questions...something that could become a time management issue if you don't know how to handle it properly. Even though they are most likely the ones most involved, you still have to involve everyone.

"Seriously, it's 8:29 am. Can we start NOW!?"

What's Your Role: Warden, Tour Guide or Instructor?

As an instructor, you've got quite the challenge. Three disparate groups of participants, each with their own unique motivations for being in your course.

How do you involve each of these groups in the learning process?

How do you capture and hold their attention throughout your course?

What if I said it was possible to do both - to capture and hold their attention, and to involve them - in a way that was easy for you to execute? Interested? That's what The EMU Experience is all about.


As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, Ken helps individuals and companies deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken will help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected.

Got questions: Email Ken –

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Me
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square

Subscribe to

The Unexpected EMU Blog

bottom of page