Tip #364: How to Facilitate Learning Activities

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” Herber J. Grant

In response to last week’s Tip on How to Close a Training Session on a High Note, Tom Jackson, Training Team Lead, Division of Strategic National Stockpile, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered this great closing activity.

I thought I’d share a closing activity that one of my old employees showed me and I’ve used quite effectively. I am always amazed at how much energy it creates for my wrap up. It may not work too well with large audiences, but for 10 – 50 folks, it seems to do just fine.

Here’s a wrap up activity that I think is pretty cool…I write the alphabet on a few flip chart sheets (takes 3 – 4) and at the end of the class, the participants have to give me something that they learned using the letters of the alphabet…for example…A – we learned about antibiotics, B – we learned about biological agents, etc.

For some of the more difficult letters, you can lightly pencil in a suggestion (they won’t be able to see it, but it helps things go quickly). I do however change the alphabet a little and place “X” as the last letter and I tell them that one’s for me…At the end we come to “X” and I write “eXpectations” and I point to the flip chart sheet that listed their expectations we opened the course with. I read the expectations and ask them if we covered them…when we get to the last “yes”, I finish with, “Together we met all of our expectations. We did a good job, so let’s give ourselves a round of applause.”

You’d be surprised how much energy people get from that little activity and it is a great finish. Then you hand out certificates at the back of the room as people leave. Shake their hand and thank them for coming.”

What a wonderfully creative and easy way to end a program with an energetic recap of the key learning. Thanks, Tom!

Today’s Tip focuses on how to facilitate learning activities.

Facilitating learning activities involves more than simply giving the learners directions for an assignment. In order for the learning experience to be effective, the learners need to: (1) see a completed worked example, (2) practice completing partially worked examples, and then (3) work either independently or in small groups to complete a third example.

If a trainer attempts to facilitate a learning activity by handing it off to the learners without modeling what they are expected to do, one of two results will occur. The more likely result is that the learners will interpret the assignment with varying degrees of accuracy and end up working through the activity incorrectly. The less likely result is that the learners will miraculously intuit what the trainer wants and perform the activity correctly.

In the former case, the learners will be frustrated, the training time will be wasted, and the trainer will have to correct the situation by providing the demonstration of the desired process that should have been given at the very beginning. In the latter case, the learners will not endear themselves to the other learners who floundered in the activity.

Cognitive load research has shown that effective learning occurs more easily when there is a clear progression. The first step in learning begins with the review of a completed worked example. This gives the learners a model of the expected process or outcome.

The next step in learning has the learners practice completing partially worked examples. In one practice example, the first part of the problem might already be completed so that they need to complete the last part of the problem. In another practice example, the last part of the problem might already be completed so that they need to complete the first part of the problem. Once they have mastered how to complete each part of the problem, they are ready for the last step.

In the third step in learning, the learners work independent of trainer guidance or input to actively complete an entire problem on their own. At this point, they have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to successfully apply what they have learned.

A key adult learning principle is that the trainer should become increasingly less involved in the learning process (fading) so that the learner will perform the learned skill or process with increasing independence. This three-step learning process produces this desired adult learning outcome.

May your learning be sweet.



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