Monday, February 28, 2011

Tip #364: How to Facilitate Learning Activities

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” Herber J. Grant

In response to last week’s Tip on How to Close a Training Session on a High Note, Tom Jackson, Training Team Lead, Division of Strategic National Stockpile, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered this great closing activity.

I thought I’d share a closing activity that one of my old employees showed me and I’ve used quite effectively. I am always amazed at how much energy it creates for my wrap up. It may not work too well with large audiences, but for 10 – 50 folks, it seems to do just fine.

Here’s a wrap up activity that I think is pretty cool…I write the alphabet on a few flip chart sheets (takes 3 – 4) and at the end of the class, the participants have to give me something that they learned using the letters of the alphabet…for example…A – we learned about antibiotics, B – we learned about biological agents, etc.

For some of the more difficult letters, you can lightly pencil in a suggestion (they won’t be able to see it, but it helps things go quickly). I do however change the alphabet a little and place “X” as the last letter and I tell them that one’s for me…At the end we come to “X” and I write “eXpectations” and I point to the flip chart sheet that listed their expectations we opened the course with. I read the expectations and ask them if we covered them…when we get to the last “yes”, I finish with, “Together we met all of our expectations. We did a good job, so let’s give ourselves a round of applause.”

You’d be surprised how much energy people get from that little activity and it is a great finish. Then you hand out certificates at the back of the room as people leave. Shake their hand and thank them for coming.”

What a wonderfully creative and easy way to end a program with an energetic recap of the key learning. Thanks, Tom!

Today's Tip focuses on how to facilitate learning activities.

Facilitating learning activities involves more than simply giving the learners directions for an assignment. In order for the learning experience to be effective, the learners need to: (1) see a completed worked example, (2) practice completing partially worked examples, and then (3) work either independently or in small groups to complete a third example.

If a trainer attempts to facilitate a learning activity by handing it off to the learners without modeling what they are expected to do, one of two results will occur. The more likely result is that the learners will interpret the assignment with varying degrees of accuracy and end up working through the activity incorrectly. The less likely result is that the learners will miraculously intuit what the trainer wants and perform the activity correctly.

In the former case, the learners will be frustrated, the training time will be wasted, and the trainer will have to correct the situation by providing the demonstration of the desired process that should have been given at the very beginning. In the latter case, the learners will not endear themselves to the other learners who floundered in the activity.

Cognitive load research has shown that effective learning occurs more easily when there is a clear progression. The first step in learning begins with the review of a completed worked example. This gives the learners a model of the expected process or outcome.

The next step in learning has the learners practice completing partially worked examples. In one practice example, the first part of the problem might already be completed so that they need to complete the last part of the problem. In another practice example, the last part of the problem might already be completed so that they need to complete the first part of the problem. Once they have mastered how to complete each part of the problem, they are ready for the last step.

In the third step in learning, the learners work independent of trainer guidance or input to actively complete an entire problem on their own. At this point, they have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to successfully apply what they have learned.

A key adult learning principle is that the trainer should become increasingly less involved in the learning process (fading) so that the learner will perform the learned skill or process with increasing independence. This three-step learning process produces this desired adult learning outcome.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Tip #363: How to Close a Training Session on a High Note

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Thomas J. Peters

“Begin with the end in mind.” Steven Covey

Training programs typically end with the participants quickly completing an evaluation sheet. The activity is fine but the timing is problematic.

Trainers spend the entire session attempting to create connections between the participants to build a learning community. When participants complete an evaluation at the very end of the program, it takes all of the energy out of the learning environment. Their focus immediately goes inward and they stop communicating with those around them.

There is a better alternative. Make evaluations the next-to-last activity in the session. Then use one or more of these four more engaging, physical and interactive activities to close the training session in a manner that will maintain learning excitement and energy.

The first two activities reinforce what the participants have learned. The last two activities reinforce the social connections that the participants have made with each other.

1. Report key learning.

Give participants a minute or so to write down the most significant learning they gained because of the program. (This may be either new learning or validated previous learning). Then have them stand up and take turns reporting their key learning. A Koosh toss works well for this. The participants sit after they state their key take away and throw the Koosh to someone who is still standing. If some participants identify the same key learning, this will simply reinforce its importance.

To set up this closing activity, create a learning contract with the participants at the very beginning of the session. It asks them to let you know whenever they have issues with the training content or process. It also encourages them to take charge of their own learning, so they will be able to report their key learning at the end of the session.

Their reports will provide an effective summary of the training content, emphasize and reinforce what the participants found most important, and give the trainer immediate feedback about the program’s effectiveness.

2. Go on a walkabout.

Ask the participants to jot down how they plan to use what they have learned. Then have them pair up with someone with whom they have not worked during the session and go for a short (4-minute) walk.

While they walk, they should take turns talking about their plans. This will increase the probability that they will implement them. When the pairs return from the walkabout, they can give each other a high ten.

This closing may be less satisfying for the trainer than the key learning reports, because the trainer will not hear what the participants are saying. However, the process of walking and talking will generate a high level of energy and enthusiasm among the participants. Choosing to walk with someone “new” to them will also create new social connections.

3. Write personal notes.

This activity works well with a multiple-day training program when the participants have a number of opportunities to work together in different situations. This activity must also be set up at the beginning of the session.

It begins as an art project. Give the participants colorful markers and something to draw on. It might be a light-colored cloth bag, a large paper bag, a flip chart page or a piece of paper. Ask them to draw pictures or write words that describe what is important in their lives. (One option is to have them trace a hand and write or draw something for each finger). If they have a motto or saying that speaks to them, they can also write that down.

The participants will use what they have drawn or written to introduce themselves to the rest of the group. Make sure that they put their name on their project, because other people will be writing on it later.

At the end of each day, have the participants trade their projects and then write something to the owner of the project. It helps to give them a sentence to finish, such as: “What I learned about you is....,” “I hope that we will both remember...., or ” “Thank you for....” Ask them to sign what they write.

There will be a lot of laughter when they pass the projects back and read what was written on their own.

This is a great closing activity that, used every day during a multi-day program, provides continuity and reinforces social connections.

4. Create a celebration circle.

This activity can be used to close any training program, but is particularly effective at the end of the last day of a multi-day program. Have the participants stand in a circle and then use one or more of the following variations:

Express gratitude. Let them take turns walking over to participants to thank them in specific terms for what they did to enrich their learning. This celebrates the supportive learning community.

Blow bubbles. Hand out small containers of bubbles with wands and have the participants blow bubbles while an upbeat song plays in the background (“Celebration” by Kool and the Gang is a great one). This celebrates the conclusion of a job well done.

Sing a song. Have the participants sing a song or anthem that is relevant to the training experience. This celebrates the shared bond between the participants.

Each of these four closing activities will generate energy, joy and connection. The training will end on a high note and the participants will leave happy and enthusiastic.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tip #362: How to Build Learners’ Confidence in Their Own Competence

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” Arthur Ashe

If learners lack confidence in their mastery of new learning when they leave the classroom, they are much less likely to apply this new learning back at their work site. As a result, the prime mission of every trainer should be to build the learners’ confidence in their own competence.

There are three closely related approaches that a trainer can take to accomplish this. Together, all three approaches will ensure that the learners have the preparation they need.

First, plan for the learners to demonstrate their learning in the classroom.

When designing the curriculum, the learning objectives should identify what the learners will do both to learn and to validate their learning during the learning session.

For example, the learning objectives for a program on coaching might include that the participants will: explain how to prepare to conduct a coaching session, discuss how to script the coaching conversation, outline the steps involved in conducting the coaching conversation, and prepare, script and conduct a coaching session.

The learning objectives for a program on sexual harassment might include that the participants will: describe examples of sexual harassment, and outline what to do in different situations that result in sexual harassment.

Second, ensure that the learners are able to get immediate feedback regarding their mastery of the new learning.

By definition, participatory learning activities enable learners to practice and, at the same time, assess their ability to use new learning.

For example, learners can check their level of comprehension by responding to a questionnaire, quiz, or case study, completing a writing assignment or giving a short report or presentation on the topic.

They can test their ability to apply the new learning by using it in a hands on exercise, problem solving activity, simulation or role-play.

Third, provide practice opportunities for learners that require them to assume increasing responsibility for their learning.

Brain studies have found that learners need three examples or iterations to learn new skills or concepts. Therefore, ideally they should have at least three practice sessions.

In the first practice session, the trainer can walk the entire group of learners through a new process or procedure. In the second practice session, the learners can work in small groups so that they can support each other. They still have access to the trainer if they have any questions. In the third practice session, the learners should work independently or, if that is not practical, then in pairs or triads.

The learners’ reliance on the trainer will be gradually decreased as the learners’ confidence in their own competence increases. By the time of this third practice session, the learners should be sufficiently prepared to perform without the assistance of the trainer

Planning for learners to demonstrate their learning in the classroom, using learning activities that provide immediate feedback regarding learner mastery, and providing for practice that gradually increases learner responsibility and independence will help to build the learners’ confidence in their own competence.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Tip #361: How to Prime Learners to Actively Participate

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it." Henry Ford

There is nothing sadder than a trainer who wants to engage an audience and can’t get anyone to participate. So how do you prime learners to actively participate?

There are three techniques that can subtly release learners’ inhibitions about participating from the very beginning of the training program.

The first technique is to simply begin with common ground questions. For example: “How many of you like to conduct training?” “How many of you think that your participants enjoy your training?” “How many of you are deluded?”

As you ask each question, model raising your hand. Then ask enough questions so that everyone has raised their hands. If it comes naturally to you, it helps to ask a question that will make them laugh. Both the physical movement (raising their hands) and laughter will relax them. Since the purpose of common ground questions is to create a sense of community, that will also make them feel more comfortable.

The second technique is to use a pair share that enables seasoned participants to share their knowledge and experience with less seasoned participants, who also have an opportunity to ask pressing questions. Have those participants who consider themselves more experienced in the training content think about what they wish someone had told them when they were first starting out. They should then stand and move to one side of the room.

Have the participants who consider themselves newer to the training content think about something that they have always wanted to ask a more seasoned person. Then they stand and move to the opposite side of the room.

When you give the signal, the participants move to the center of the room and create small groups that contain both seasoned and unseasoned participants. The seasoned participants can talk about what they wished they had known when they first started out and the less seasoned participants can ask their questions and get responses from the seasoned participants.

Next, have these new small groups sit together so that they can continue to interact and learn from each other. This gives the seasoned participants a role as a co-facilitator in their groups, and it gives the less seasoned participants a resident “expert” who can help them along when necessary.

The third technique is to have the participants select and then mark up two or three learning objectives in their materials that are of greatest interest or significance to them. Then have the participants take stickers and put them next to their selected learning objectives where they are written on flip charts placed around the room.

These associated activities (selecting key learning objectives, marking them on the page, and then placing stickers on the flip charts) give the participants a sense of ownership in the training program. They now have at least two reasons to participate.

When all three of these techniques occur in sequence at the beginning of the workshop, the learners will be primed to participate because they will have been participating all along!

May your learning be sweet!