Monday, June 9, 2014

Questions, Questions, Questions?

Questions, Questions, Questions?

Rachel Burnham writes: A common misconception I notice amongst many people new to designing & delivering training is to see training as primarily made up of presentations or talks. Many new to Learning & Development also feel that it would be easier to deliver a presentation rather than involve learners in activities.  

Learning is always more effective when learners are actively involved throughout the process whether in identifying the need, choosing learning methods, engaging with the material or evaluating the value of the learning.  And involving learners in a face to face session from early on is a very effective strategy for taking the pressure off yourself if you are new to delivery or feeling nervous at the thought of all eyes on you!

This blog focuses on the value of asking questions as a simple way to get learners involved in training sessions.  

Questions are a very flexible set of tools.  Making even better use of questions is often an easy way of improving the effectiveness of group training sessions or workshops.  Questionning is also key to many other learning methods from coaching to action learning sets. 
Last week I did a very simple exercise as part of a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme I was facilitating, I asked the group to note down all the different reasons that you might ask questions to participants as a trainer.   And between us, we very quickly came up with over 20 reasons for asking questions – ranging from the simplistic – ‘to find out a participant’s name’ through ‘to deepen & challenge participants’ learning’ and to ‘encourage use of the learning in the workplace’.

I think that these reasons for asking questions can be grouped  into three broad areas:

  • Asking questions to develop rapport with learners – finding out information to enable you to get to know the participants better and tailor the learning even more closely to their needs.  Questions about job role & responsibilities, previous experience (good & more challenging), hopes & fears for the training can all help with this.

  •   Asking questions to involve participants & manage the group – questions which raise curiosity, get participants thinking & sharing from their own experience and get the group discussing & looking at the topic from different angles all play a part.  You can use questions to draw in quieter group members, to draw out & value the experience of individuals and to keep the focus of the learning.

  •  Asking questions to assess and evaluate the learning – there are so many ways to use questions to informally assess learning both during and towards the end of a programme.   Questions can be used to encourage recall & recap learning, to review learning objectives, to identify unexpected learning, to aid planning the use of learning and to encourage self-reflection.  We can seek out feedback on what worked in the training and what we can further improve.

Of course, the questions don’t have to be all one way.  Questions from learners will add further relevancy and immediacy to the session.  Participants who ask questions are worth their weight in gold because they enable you to engage with what is on their mind and with their way of seeing the world.

Invite participants at the start of the session to jot down the questions they would like to be able to answer in relation to the topic – this is another way of getting learners involved in setting the objectives for the session.  Encourage learners to reflect on what questions they have throughout the session & give sufficient time to this – perhaps encouraging paired work to identify these.  Get participants to generate their own questions for inclusion in a knowledge check quiz.

There are times when it is good to hold back from asking questions eg if participants are involved in a group activity and by asking ‘How are you getting on?’ you will break the conversation flow – but overall more questions and more effective questions will lead to more effective learning.  But do give time for responses and do listen to those responses.

If you are new to design & delivery, one tip to encourage you to make more use of questions is to prepare some questions and include them in you session plan or notes. You may not use these exact questions when it comes to facilitating the session, but you are more likely to make good use of questions if you have begun thinking about this in advance.  Where there are specific factual answers to those questions, make sure you include these in your notes – particularly if these are to be used by other trainers as well as yourself.

So, I leave you with some questions (of course) to ponder:

  • How do you make use of questions in sessions you design or deliver?  
  • Are there any gaps in how you are using questions at present? 
  • What value do questions bring to your sessions – for you & for participants?  How can you build further on that?

Rachel Burnham
9 June 2014

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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