Tip #264: Helping SMEs Learn How to Select Appropriate Activities
When we began this discussion about encouraging SMEs to use participatory learning activities, we said that we had to meet five challenges: to help them: (1) recognize the value of participatory learning activities; (2) become open to the idea of actually using participatory activities; (3) see that participatory activities are not necessarily difficult to design; (4) learn how to select appropriate activities; and (5) become comfortable with facilitating participatory activities.
Last week’s Tip focused on the third challenge: to help SMEs see that participatory activities are not necessarily difficult to design. This week’s Tip will address the fourth challenge:
How can we help SMEs learn how to select appropriate activities?
We need to first explain that the decision regarding which learning activity to use depends upon three key factors, in the following order:
1. the need to select an activity that can effectively achieve the desired learning level;
2. the need to fit the learning into the specific time available, given the fact that different activities require different amounts of time; and
3. the need to use a variety of participatory activities to meet the needs of different learning styles as well as keep the learners engaged.
Factor #1: Select an activity that can effectively achieve the desired learning level.
To assist the SMES with the first factor, we can provide them with some suggestions regarding the range of learning activities that can be effectively used to accomplish specific learning levels.
Activities that can enable learners to achieve or indicate Knowledge include: lecturette, questionnaire, reference material, on-site visit, panel, game, self-assessment, focus question, case study, role play, audiovisual aids such as PowerPoint slides or videos, and e-learning.
Activities that can enable learners to check their Comprehension include: focus question, questionnaire, quiz, case study, group discussion, on-site visit, brainstorming, game, writing assignment, role play, e-learning, and pop ups.
Activities that provide opportunities for learner Application include: hands on exercise, case study, problem solving, on-site visit, role play, writing assignment, simulation, personal action plan, e-learning and games.
Activities that provide for learner Analysis, Evaluation, and Creation include increasingly more complex versions of the learning activities already identified for Application.
Factor #2: Fit the learning into the specific time available.
To assist the SMEs with the second factor, we need to discuss the amount of time that needs to be allocated to different types of activities.
We can begin by explaining that there are at least four stages to a facilitated participatory learning activity: (1) explain and set up the activity; (2) provide an opportunity for the participants to engage in the activity; (3) debrief the activity; and (4) relate the results of the activity to principles, concepts or techniques that underlie the content of the learning program. Each stage involves a varying amount of time.
As a first example, let’s make the following assumptions: (1) a simple focus question will be useful to check for the learners’ current knowledge about the topic and (b) there are 25 participants. Based on this situation, it is highly likely that all four stages will take approximately 30-45 minutes:
In the first stage, the facilitator will need to:
(1) identify the focus question (on a PowerPoint slide as well as in the participant manual);
(2) ‘set up the activity by:
writing a title that relates to the question at the top of two flip charts;
explaining that the participants will be brainstorming their answers to the question;
modeling the brainstorming activity by asking for one possible answer to the question and writing large to post it on the flip chart;
dividing the participants into two smaller groups;
assigning each group to a flip chart;
asking for a volunteer from each smaller group to write the group’s responses on their flip chart;
explaining the rules of brainstorming: that there is no power of the pen, so the scribe should write whatever the group participants say; the scribe should write big, so it can be easily seen; and spelling does not count;
having the small groups gather around their flip charts; and
telling the participants how much time they will have (we’ll say 10 minutes).
Although there are a lot of sub-steps to this first stage, it will probably take only 5-10 minutes to set it up entirely.
During the second stage, the small groups brainstorm and their scribes post their answers on the flip charts.
This second stage will probably take 8-12 minutes, less time if the groups appear to run out of ideas and maybe a little more time if the groups appear to be on a roll, coming up with lots of ideas.
In the third stage, the facilitator will ask the scribes to report out. Depending upon the length of the lists, the facilitator might ask one scribe to report out entirely or report just a portion of the list, and then ask the other scribe to do the same.
This third stage could take approximately 10 minutes, and more if some of the list items require explanation or discussion.
In the fourth stage, the facilitator will refer the participants to reference materials in their participant manual and discuss the principles, concepts or techniques found on those pages. This fourth stage could take approximately 10-15 minutes.
As a second example, let’s make the following assumptions: (a) a case study will be useful to check for comprehension; (b) there are 25 participants; and (c) the content is sufficiently complex to warrant three different case study scenarios. Based on this situation, it is highly likely that all four stages will require 40-60 minutes:
In the first stage, the facilitator will need to:
(1) explain that there are three case studies and describe their focus;
(2) set up the activity by either:
assigning a case study to each table group;
allowing each table group to select a case study; and
having the participants select a case study of interest and join with others who have a similar interest; and
(3) identify the case study review process, including the questions to be answered, the amount of time for table group discussion, and whether or not the entire table group should reach unanimous agreement or just be prepared to explain the rationale behind opposing answers.
This first stage could take 5-10 minutes.
In the second stage, the participants will read their assigned or selected case study and discuss answers to the questions (let’s say there are four questions). This second stage will probably take approximately 10 -15 minutes, depending upon the complexity of the cases.
In the third stage, the small groups will need to report out their answers to the case study questions. If there are five table groups (with five participants each), that will mean that at least two table groups will have reviewed the same case study. To give each table an opportunity to debrief, the facilitator might begin with the first case study, ask which table groups discussed it, and then alternate drawing the answers to the questions from each table- checking to see if the other table had a similar or different answer and then letting the other table explain their answer.
The facilitator should plan that the debriefing of each case study will take 5-8 minutes. So, with three case studies to debrief, this third stage could take 15-24 minutes.
In the fourth stage, the facilitator would refer the participants to reference materials in their participant manual and discuss the principles, concepts or techniques found on those pages. This fourth stage could take approximately 10-15 minutes.
Factor #3: Use a variety of participatory learning activities to meet the needs of different learning styles.
To assist SMEs with the third factor, we need to introduce the idea of different learning styles.
We might do this by asking the SMEs how they prefer to learn.
Very often, SMEs will say hands on exercises, demonstrations, or reading. A few might say lecture. If we are working with several SMEs, it will become apparent that they have different preferences. We can build on this by explaining that individuals do have different learning styles. To keep the discussion as simple as possible, we can use the basic model of Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic learning styles. We can then relate the SMEs’ preferences to specific learning styles.
If we are working with one SME alone, we can also identify our own personal learning preferences to the list. This will still provide an adequate indication that different learners have different learning preferences.
We now need to ensure that this third factor does not lead the SMEs to believe that they will have to design three different learning activities for each content item. We can do this by showing them that most learning activities can easily be arranged or enhanced to meet the needs of all three learning styles at the same time.
As long as the learners get an opportunity to talk- and therefore listen when others talk, the Auditory learners will be satisfied. If the learners stand up to gather around a flip chart while a scribe writes on it, both the Visual and the Kinesthetic learners will be satisfied.
After we have satisfactorily explained the three factors involved in selecting a participatory learning activity, we will need to give the SMEs an opportunity to identify and discuss possible learning activities that they can use. This is the point where we can emphasize the importance of selecting a variety of activities to keep all participants engaged.
Next week, we will discuss how to meet the fifth and last challenge: helping SMEs become comfortable with facilitating participatory activities.
This week, we complete our discussion regarding how to teach subject matter experts (SMEs) to incorporate participatory learning activities into their technical curriculum and to become comfortable facilitating this interaction.