Facilitating the Shift from Passive Listening to Active Learning

On the one end of “The Learner Participation Continuum” is lecture which is a one way communication and requires very little participation.  At the other end, we have experiential learning and now immersive learning environments with the introduction of 3D graphics, virtual simulations and augmented reality.

In the middle of the range are effective “lectures” and alternate methods such as:

  • Demonstrations
  • Case Study
  • Guided Teaching
  • Group Inquiry
  • Read and Discuss
  • Information Search.

Shift one step to right to begin the move to active learningNow before you insist that the SME as Facilitator move to the far right and conduct only immersive sessions, a word of caution is in order. It’s really about starting with the learners’ expectations and the current organizational culture and then moving one step to the right. If they are used to lectures from SMEs, then work on delivering effective lectures before experimenting with alternate training methods. The overnight shift may be too big of a change for the attendees to adjust to despite their desire for no more boring lectures. Small incremental steps is the key.

How is this done? Upfront in the design of the course materials. The course designers have spent time and budget to prepare a leaders guide that captures their vision for delivering the course.  SMEs as Facilitators (Classroom SMEs) need to study the leader’s guide and pay attention to the icons and notes provided there. These cues indicate the differentiation from lecture, to an activity whether that be self, small group, or large group. While it may be tempting to skip exercises to make up for lost time, it is better for learner participation to skip lecture and modify an activity if possible.

During the knowledge transfer session/ discussion with the course designer and/or instructor, Classroom SMEs make notes of how the instructor transitions from one slide to the next and how s/he provided instruction for the activity. This is a good time for Classroom SMEs to ask how to modify content or an activity if certain conditions should occur. Especially important for SMEs to ask is what content is critical and what content can be skipped if time runs short. It is always a good idea for the Classroom SME to mark-up his/her copy of the materials. And then again after the first delivery to really make it their own leader’s guide. -VB

Speaking of personalizing their leaders’ guide, SMEs may want to experiment with different ways to “open a session” to get experience with a variety of techniques and observe which ones yield better results.

The Worst Classroom Training Nightmare?

Well maybe not the worst, but it’s the kind of stuff that makes a SME wake up in the middle of the night before delivering their first classroom session. Or cause a seasoned trainer to panic because she left the training rosters back at the other facility and cannot turn around to go get them! This is certainly not the way to begin a classroom session. Especially when the assignment is given last minute or with barely 24 hours notice to prepare and get mentally ready.


Yup, I’ve got it covered Boss.

And yet, there is an unspoken expectation about the SME’s ability to perform “like a full time trainer” because s/he is a subject matter expert and can train people. With all of the focus on the content, the perfectly worded slide deck, carefully designed activities, ample supply of handouts and possible workbooks, there isn’t any energy left to remember to do one thing more; except show up early for the session.   So SMEs are kind of lulled into a false belief that they’ve got everything covered. And then it hits them that they forgot (….). Any full time trainer can fill in that line with an example and true tales from their classroom experiences.


So what’s a classroom trainer/facilitator to do?

It’s called a Materials Checklist Job Aid and I don’t leave home without mine, anymore. The list contains items needed to run a classroom session. Don’t assume that these items are stashed in conference rooms just waiting for your use. Ever write with one of those dried out magic markers? Seriously, I carry two sets of flipchart markers: mine and for learners. Plan on using flipcharts? There may be only one sheet left in the room and it could be written on by the time you arrive. The checklist contains other items also needed for activities and a spare box of pens because I’ve experienced sessions where employees come to class without pens.

Using pent up energy wisely

I now customize the checklist for each workshop I deliver. I include notes about which flipcharts need to be titled before the session begins and those for after lunch. And sometimes, I’ll list key reminders like “Know Your Opening” and “Nail Your Ending” as suggested from SME as Classroom Facilitators workshop so I am modeling what I teach as well. Having this list handy in my leaders guide, allows me to focus my energy on greeting the learners as they arrive and not running rampantly around the room in a panic trying to recover from a forgotten prop.


If you aren’t yet using a classroom materials checklist, you need to get this one today. – VB  requetYourCopyNowArrow