Monday, August 22, 2011

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Thank you for following my Laurel Learning Tips blog. We have moved it to . You will find the most recent posts at that site.

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May your learning be sweet!


Tip #388: In Praise of Participants Who Continually Think and Question

"Who questions much, shall learn much, and retain much." Francis Bacon

Every now and then, there is a participant in a training session who asks thoughtful question after question. In those instances, it can be a real challenge for a trainer to stay focused on the lesson and not get frustrated or impatient. However, participant questions that are asked out of a sincere desire to learn and understand can benefit the participant, the trainer and the rest of the learners in several ways.

Participants who continually think and question force the trainer to give better explanations, provide greater clarity and consider alternative perspectives.

1. Better Explanations

Participant questions can be a useful indication that the trainer is operating on an unconsciously competent level. This happens when trainers know a topic so well that they make connections and follow steps automatically, without any thought to what they are doing. As a result, they neglect to mention certain pieces of information because that information is already hot-wired into their brains.

Technical experts are particularly likely to have this tendency, although any trainer who has performed or taught a procedure or the same information over and over again can also fall prey to this error of omission.

Thoughtful participant questions should cause trainers to slow down, rewind, and reteach more carefully, paying conscious and deliberate attention so that they provide all of the information that the learners require.

2. Greater Clarity

Sometimes, the examples or explanations that a trainer chooses to use are somewhat vague or confusing. In such cases, participant questions indicate a real need for trainers to give careful consideration to coming up with better and clearer explanations.

The best examples and explanations highlight the critical attributes of the new learning. These critical attributes are what distinguish what is being learned from everything else. When trainers take the time to recognize and articulate critical attributes, they are less likely to gloss over key information.

3. Alternative Perspectives

Participant questions can reframe how the trainer and the other learners perceive the content under discussion. Because the learners are viewing the information with new eyes, they may see things differently than the trainer does. Participant insights can shed new light on a topic, open up a previously unexplored variation on a theme, or generate an entirely new approach to a situation.

This is one of the real gifts of participant-centered training programs: when participants are free to ask questions, the trainer also gets to learn and grow.

Thank goodness for those participants who continually ask questions. Their desire to understand and explore a topic from a variety of perspectives reflects their strong commitment to learning. Their questions, and the answers and discussion that they generate, can result in better and deeper learning for everyone involved.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Tip #387: Don’t be Afraid to Use Participatory Learning Activities

“Knowledge is the antidote to fear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The idea of using participatory learning activities is alarming to many trainers for three basic reasons. First, they operate under the mistaken assumption that participatory activities require a great deal of time and money to create and deliver. Second, they fear that they will lose credibility if they move away from expert lectures. Third, they are concerned about losing control over the content and the learners.

It is true that there are costly participatory learning activities on the market that offer lots of bells and whistles. It is also true that are many participant-centered activities that are easy to create, take little time to deliver, and cost next to nothing.

As for losing credibility as the expert who delivers the training, there is nothing farther from the truth. Regardless of the learning activity, it is ultimately the trainer who has the final word.

Although facilitative skill in classroom management is necessary, there is also no reason for trainers to lose control over the content or the learners.

1. Participatory activities can be quick and inexpensive to create and deliver.

Simple participatory learning activities can be very effective. The point of engaging learners is to give them an opportunity to either check their comprehension or practice using what they have learned.

Simple inexpensive activities that check for comprehension and are quick and easy to create and administer include: paper and pencil questionnaires, crossword puzzles, small group brainstorming, a relay race to complete words or phrases on a flip chart, pop ups that involve participants standing to volunteer answers, small group discussion to solve a problem situation, and responding to questions about a visual on the screen.

Simple inexpensive hands on activities that are quick and easy to create and give learners practice using what they have learned include having them: make computations, operate equipment, simulate interpersonal communication situations, and/or demonstrate procedures.

2. The trainer is always the expert, regardless of the learning activity.

The reason that the trainer is in the front of the room is that the trainer has respected expertise in the subject area. The question is when the focus of the training belongs on the trainer and when it belongs on the learners.

If the training content is completely new to the learners, the focus must first be on the expert trainer who can present, explain and demonstrate the content. Then the focus needs to move to the learners as they practice the new content and develop a level of mastery.

However, during learner practice, the trainer remains responsible for coaching, guiding and re-teaching where necessary. At the conclusion of the learner practice, the trainer is also responsible for confirming or correcting the learners’ answers and results. After all, the trainer is the recognized expert.

3. The trainer can maintain control over the content and the learners during participatory activities.

Basic facilitation skills in classroom management that enable the trainer to maintain control include:

a. modeling the desired behavior in an example before the learners work on their own;

b. providing detailed instructions;

c. clarifying the desired end result of the activity;

d. allocating a specific time period for the activity;

e. monitoring the activity;

f. intervening where necessary to clarify instructions or better focus a small group on the desired activity;

g. keeping learners apprised of the amount of time they have remaining to complete the activity;

h. closing down the activity;

i. debriefing the activity by drawing answers or results from one or more work groups; and

j. confirming or correcting group answers or results.

The trainer is actually in control of the activity at all times. The trainer has designed the activity, can guide the learners in the direction they need to go, can stop the activity to clarify and refocus where necessary, and will have the final say regarding the time the activity takes and the learning that occurs.

Participatory learning activities can be inexpensive, quick and easy to design, and result in effective learning that builds learner mastery. When trainers embrace participatory learning activities in lieu of lecture, they still retain expert credibility and content control. The only real difference is that now the learners are doing the work rather than the trainer! Isn’t that the way it should be?

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Tip #386: The Value of Being Willing to Admit: “I Don’t Understand”

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” Marvin Minsky

Trainers often say with great sincerity that “There are no stupid questions.” Despite this clear encouragement, some learners are still hesitant to ask a question that will let others know they are having difficulty. This is a shame, because a learner’s lack of understanding is rarely a personal failure. It can just as easily be attributed to the trainer, the training content and/or the training techniques.

Learning is not a race where the person who understands first wins. The primary focus of any training program is to help all learners ultimately be successful. If a learner doesn’t let the trainer know there is a problem, the trainer will never realize there is a need to reteach the content and the learner will remain frustrated.

When learners are willing to admit that they don’t understand a concept or technique, everyone benefits: the individual, the trainer and the other learners in the workshop. There are many reasons why asking for help is the best thing to do:

1. It’s honest.

2. It indicates the learner’s sense of ownership and commitment to learning.

3. It shows that the learner wants to understand.

4. It means that the learners have seriously tried to work it through by themselves and come to a dead end.

5. It reflects the learner’s degree of comfort with and trust in the trainer.

6. It gives the trainer important feedback.

7. It puts a spotlight on key learning stumbling blocks.

8. It challenges the trainer to focus on alternative ways to deliver the information.

9. It forces the learning down to a real rather than a theoretical level.

10. It requires the trainer to dig deeper to discover more useful examples.

11. It frees the learner and trainer to try again.

12. It benefits those who were similarly confused but uncomfortable asking for help.

13. It encourages teamwork as co-learners try to help each other better understand.

14. It increases the likelihood of successful learning outcomes.

15. It paves the way for a real sense of accomplishment once understanding is achieved.

16. It enriches the learning process for everyone.

So, trainers, encourage your learners to let you know as soon as possible when they are having difficulty. And learners, recognize and admit when you need help. The trainer and your co-learners will appreciate and benefit from your honesty.

May your learning be sweet.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Tip #385: What is Magic About the Number Three in Designing Curriculum for Better and More Lasting Learning?

Education is the methodical creation of the habit of thinking.” Ernest Dimnet

If training is to effectively change learner behavior, then the curriculum must be designed with learning activities that encourage and require the learners both to feel strongly and to think deeply about their conclusions. These design models and principles come in sets of three:

a. Triune Brain Model

The evolutionary Triune Brain Model (developed by Dr. Paul MacLean) identifies three major layers of the brain:

1. The Reptilian System operates relatively automatically and is concerned with safety and survival. Pre-reason and pre- language, it is over 500 million years old. This is the first brain to engage in any situation, which is why it is so important for trainers to create a comfortable learning environment.

2. The Limbic System is over 200 million years old and also pre-reason and without language. It monitors emotion and plays a significant role in remembering new information and organizing events. The memory is lodged in the emotions. The more senses and sensations engaged, the more likely a memory will be created and retained.

3. The Neocortex is only 50 million years old, but it constitutes 80% of the total human brain. This is the seat of reason and language, capable of creativity and complex analysis. It provides the ability to put feelings and thoughts into words.

The fact that the memory is lodged in the emotions means that participant-centered learning activities that engage the learners’ senses will result in longer-lasting learning.

b. Multimodal Learning

Research conducted for Cisco by the Metri Group has identified three design principles:

1. Recognize and address learner’s prior knowledge, experience and preconceptions about the topic. Positive transfer means that this information will be useful as a base on which to build any new learning. Create learning activities that will draw these from long-term memory into working memory.

Negative transfer means that this information can easily get in the way of the new learning. A good learning designer makes sure to incorporate learning activities that enable the learners to identify and build on positive transfer- and disconnect negative transfer.

2. Make learning meaningful by relating it to the learners’ experience, goals, or interests and values. Create learning activities that help the learners’ discover why a topic is relevant and meaningful.

This will result in authentic learning that has three key components:

(1) depth of learning

(2) real life relevance

(3) learner application

Learning designers need to incorporate learning activities that engage the learners both emotionally and intellectually and then give them a chance to apply what they have learned. These activities will, therefore, draw on working memory, sensory memory, and long-term memory.

3. Teach learners how to think about what they are thinking (metacognition). Create problem-solving activities that require the learners to predict outcomes and learn from their failures. This learning strategy creates germane cognitive load in working memory when learners are encouraged to give their own explanations of work examples.

c. Productive Self-Explanations

Cognitive load researchers suggest three ways to promote productive self-explanations:

1. Train learners how to give constructive explanations of their thought processes and rationale;

2. Use faded worked examples (where they have to complete portions of the example) and have the learners explain their rationale; and

3. Use worked examples (where learners have to complete the entire example) and ask questions that will stimulate self-explanations.

This three-pronged approach gives learners the knowledge of how to explain their thinking and graduated practice giving explanations of the underlying rationale for their conclusions and decisions.

d. Influence Learner Behavior

The three concentric circles of the Golden Circle (developed by Simon Sinek) explain the phenomenon that training is more likely to influence learner behavior when it starts with Why:

1. The outermost circle is What. Here, rational decisions [made in the neocortex] are justified on the basis of facts and figures. Since facts alone can be skewed, decisions made at this level generate the least amount of confidence in terms of emotional commitment.

2. The middle circle is How. Here, gut decisions [made in the limbic system] are justified on the basis of a “gut feeling.” Decisions based on feelings generate somewhat more confidence in terms of emotional commitment than fact-based decisions.

3. The center circle is Why. Why decisions [also made in the limbic system] “feel right” and can be justified with facts and figures. Both factors generate great confidence in these types of decisions, resulting in the greatest amount of emotional commitment.

This is another reason why curriculum design should begin lessons with a learning activity that enables the learners to discover why the topic is important and, thereby, make it meaningful to them.

Engaging learners on both emotional and intellectual levels generates greater commitment to new learning, increasing the probability that the learners will remember and apply it once they leave the classroom.

May your learning be sweet.