Don’t worry, this is not an ethereal post about how meditation will solve your instructional design challenges (although…who knows, it might!).

Buddha was actually a down-to-earth, excellent observer of human nature. And 2,500 years ago, he was helping people understand how the mind works, so they could understand themselves better and find a way to escape their suffering. He described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, hopping around, chattering relentlessly – usually distracting us from higher-level intellectual pursuits. We all have monkey minds, with countless monkeys clamoring for our attention. They are often the mouthpiece of our baser instincts: anxiety, fear, impatience, and boredom, to name a few. (Check out this great video explanation!)

One of the most challenging tasks for instructional designers is finding ways to quiet the monkey minds of our learners, to center their focus on absorbing the information being presented.

Here are a few ideas for icebreakers to bring learners’ attention into the present moment, and keep it there. No Zen masters or meditation required.

  • Introductions: Who’s My Match? – Who’s the peanut butter to your jelly? The Romeo to your Juliette? This is a fun, active opportunity to introduce the group to each other. It requires some effort on the facilitator’s part to create pairs and make up nametags.
  • Getting to Know You: Human Bingo (Did You Know?) – This is an active version of the familiar bingo, where participants are given a list and they have to walk around the room, talking to others, until they find various people who match the qualifiers on their list (i.e., someone who’s ridden a horse, someone with an October birthday, etc.). When they’ve met enough people to complete the criteria on their list, they shout, “Bingo!”
  • Wake Them Up: React and Act Game – This game is sure to bring on the laughter and draw people into the moment. It’s based on play-acting. For example, say someone draws a slip of paper that says “you won a million dollars,” and she has to make expressions and gestures that mimic the response if that scenario happened in real life.

These are just a few creative ways to get people’s attention and enliven your instructional design. For more active icebreaker ideas, click here.

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