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Tip #733:  Ask: “So What?”

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Tip #733:  Ask: “So What?”

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Mark Van Doren

We know that experiential learning activities contribute to better learning and retention. We design learning programs that incorporate these activities in a purposeful manner. We don’t insert a game just for the sake of a game. Every learning activity must achieve a specified level of learning, whether it be knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation or creation.

So, there is a reason why we select certain activities to achieve certain levels of learning for key content. But do we make the learning process as rich as it could be? I don’t think so. I’m embarrassed to say that I know now that I haven’t.

Let’s take a case study that we want participants to analyze. Perhaps it models ineffective delegation techniques and we want the participants to: (1) recognize the techniques and (2) propose more effective alternatives. There are questions that follow the case study prompting the participants to discuss what the delegating manager did well and did not do well.

I have used this approach to introduce three key components of responsible delegation: Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability. After debriefing the small groups’ answers to the case study questions, I have immediately shown them what I call this RAA theory of delegation.

I thought my process for learning discovery was pretty clever. Apparently, I was wrong. An article by Melissa Smith and Maria Chilcote, Managing Partners of The Training Clinic, suggests a step that I have overlooked. They point out the importance of having the learners “identify and discuss broader concepts and principles discovered during the learning experience. It is the ‘so, what?’ step.” Not me, the learners:

“If you reveal and explain the concepts and principles to the learners they will still be ‘owned’ by you rather than ‘discovered’ by them. This is the ‘Inferential Leap’ necessary for the learners to move from the experience to learning- the point where they move from the specifics of the activity to the concept the activity was designed to ‘infer.’

What a brilliant insight! Reflection is an important component of the learning cycle.

 “If this step is omitted, the learning will be incomplete. Participants may later say that they enjoyed an activity, the lecture, or the discussion and may understand the specific points of the learner experience, but be unable to report what they learned from it in broader terms.’

According to Smith and Chilcote, our job as facilitators is to “guide the discussion so that it focuses on the learning points and moves away from the specific activity. In a discussion of a case study activity, for example, it is important that the discussion move to the concept taught by the case study rather than stay with the details of the ‘story.’”

To summarize, we need to give participants an opportunity not only to experience a learning activity, but also to discover for themselves the underlying concepts demonstrated or implied by the activity. Regarding the delegation case study, I need to step back and have the participants discuss what they learned about delegation in general. Through judicious questioning, I can help them articulate that delegation is more than assigning responsibility to an employee. If the employee is to be held accountable for performance, s/he must be given sufficient decision-making authority to act. Then I can summarize with my nifty RAA definitions.

The final activity after this reflective discussion is to have the participants plan how they will use what they’ve learned. In the case of delegation, I have the participants create a delegation plan to implement upon their return to their work place.

Smith and Chilcote offer a five-step adult-learning process that beautifully outlines how to use an experiential learning activity to its greatest advantage, which I’ve paraphrased below:

  1. Set up and explain the learning activity.
  2. Have participants participate in the learning activity.
  3. Have the participants debrief what happened during the activity.
  4. Have participants identify concepts from their reactions to the activity.
  5. Have participants plan how they will use what they learned.

In the future, I won’t forget step #4. I will give the participants time to reflect on and identify the concepts underlying an activity, rather than informing them.

For more information, see An Adult Learning Process for Discovery Learning at

May your learning be sweet.



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