Turn Herbert’s face to the wall Mother – Training room layouts

By Stuart Box


“Turn Herbert’s face to the wall Mother,
never more mention his name,
he brought disgrace to the family,
ain’t it a bloomin shame”

My dear old Mum, who knew lots of old music-hall songs, used to burst into this one whenever someone was facing the wrong way at the dinner table, and it comes to my mind whenever I walk into certain training rooms.

It seems to me that some training rooms were designed more for the benefit of the Facilities or IT department than the delegates.

1) All around the wallsThe simplest method to lay out a square training room is to have desks on three walls with the PC’s on them, and the delegates facing them. Of course this is very easy for IT, they just use the power outlets on the wall and run cables along the desks. But the delegates are facing away from the trainer. If I want to show an example on the projector screen they have to turn around to watch me, then turn back to their PC to try things for themselves. Also, to compare their screen with mine means twisting around between the two. Then when I run class exercises I’m met with a solid wall of backs and it’s very difficult to tell how well someone is getting on with an application by watching their back! Equally delegates can feel isolated in this layout, without the trainer or any other delegates in view when they use the PC . I’ve found I get less questions or requests for help when running exercises in this layout. That doesn’t mean the questions aren’t there, but this layout can dissuade the delegate from interacting with their trainer or other fellow delegates.

2) Classroom (AKA Back to School)If I’m met with a room layout like that, I generally try and change it around. If cables and power are a real problem one compromise is the “Classroom Layout”, which still keeps cable runs short from the wall, but at least the delegates are facing the Trainer. However I feel this layout reminds everyone too much of the School Classroom, with all its bad connotations. With delegates facing forward in rows like this the potential for collaboration is less. Additionally many delegates, faced with a schoolroom layout, adopt a “schoolroom mindset”, where they believe they can sit passively and watch a class unfold counting the minutes until breaktime.

3) Horseshoe, for good luckProbably my favourite layout in these circumstances is the “Horseshoe” layout. Although you have to run cables from the wall to the desks, for me the benefits outweigh this difficulty. The delegates can easily face the Trainer for demonstrations and discussion. They can compare their screen without twisting around too much, and during exercises I can walk around the outside of the room to keep an eye on each delegate and offer assistance as needed, without having to specifically ask them if they’re OK. Another advantage is that the delegates can easily engage with each other. We shouldn’t forget that learning should be a collaborative effort and this Horseshoe layout gives everyone a chance to see and interact with each other as much as the trainer.

4) Boardroom not Bored RoomIf you can get it, I believe the best layout is the “Boardroom” or “Island” layout, which is a step up from the Horseshoe. This however usually needs special “boardroom table” style furniture, with an optional cable management hole in the centre. This has all the advantages of the horseshoe, but is less restrictive of placement because there are fewer desk legs to accommodate. Thankfully, many companies I train for don’t have a dedicated training room and usually use their boardroom for training, which lends itself readily to this layout.

Although a good trainer can overcome the difficulties with most room layouts, it does help to have a training room laid out in a way that fosters collaborative learning and engagement, so please don’t “Turn Herbert’s face to the wall Mother”, get ‘em around the table working, and learning together.


Isn’t the web a wonderful thing! Here is a link to Video of Gracie Fields singing that song my Mother sang to me, so now you can sing along….

One Comment

  1. I've personally always preferred methods 1 & 2 for my classrooms, but I just took some computer training classes in #4's format and felt that way was effective as well. Thank you for the ideas!

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