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.

Moving from Presenter Controlled Training to Learner Focused Facilitation

The more trainer/instructor driven the course is, the less participation is required from the learner. For example, the instructor makes all the decisions about the course objectives and content, develops the course, delivers the course and conducts the assessment.

As you move along the Learner Participation Continuum, the
learner is required to participate more and the trainer does less “talking”. The learner acquires knowledge and skills through activities that s/he experiences with the assistance of a “facilitator”.  The facilitator is focused on helping the learners meet their needs and interests. It is through these first hand experiences and facilitated dialogue with other learners that thoughtful analysis and interpretation can become the focus of the instruction. The end result is that learners take full responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences.

Moving to a more Learner Controlled approach shifts the focus of the design from “deliver this content” to facilitate learning transfer for performance back on the job; which is after all the end goal for a training event. The new program includes opportunities for group participation, utilization of participants’ expertise and real life problem solving.

Learners are prompted to openly discuss issues and problems within the “learning lab”. Trainers become empathetic listeners as they create a climate of trust and safety. They become a Facilitator.

Of course, this shift also requires that site leadership and local management not only support the facilitated learning lab concept, but follow through on issues and concerns that surface. Failure to do so undermines not only the facilitator’s credibility but the entire training program. Wow, won’t this take longer to design, you ask?  Yes, in the sense that the design is now from the learner’s point of view. This means that the designer will need to research examples, collect data, and develop a story from an incident, a deviation or significant CAPA, etc.

The reward is that the Classroom SME stops talking and gives employees more engaging learning sessions. So learners become more accountable for participating and guess what – the SME’s session is no longer a boring podium speech. — VB

Silberman, M. (1990). Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips.  Lexington Books, New York.

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.