Tip #263: Helping SMEs See That Participatory Activities Are Easy to Design

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 second challenge: to help SMEs become open to the idea of actually using participatory activities. This week’s Tip will address the third challenge.How can we help SMEs to see that participatory activities are not necessarily difficult to design? Let’s say that we have met the second challenge and our SMEs are now open to the idea of actually using participatory activities themselves. Remember that we have defined participatory learning activities as simply opportunities for participants to say or do something with what they have learned during the class.

There are a number of participatory activities that are simple to design.

First, a questionnaire. All the SME has to do is identify the key points in the lecture and convert them into questions that can be answered with either agree or disagree. If participants can already answer some of the questions correctly, this will help the SME avoid teaching what the learners already know- and provide additional time to focus in on the content that they do not know.

The questionnaire can be handled as a small group activity, where the group participants discuss the answers and identify the ones they think are best. All of the participants do not have to all agree with the chosen answer, they just have to be able to explain the rationale for their choices.
The SME can facilitate a discussion of the answers, drawing from volunteers from the different tables.

If there is a difference of opinion regarding the correct answer, the SME can provide the answer then. Otherwise, the participants take the lead in answering the questions and explaining their rationale. If they are correct, all the SME has to do is agree with their answers.

If there isn’t enough time for small groups to discuss the questions, the SME can ask each question and have the participants indicate whether they agree or disagree by putting their thumbs up or down. If the participants disagree on the answer, the SME can facilitate a discussion by drawing on someone to explain why they voted agree and someone else to explain why they voted disagree. The SME can then validate the correct answer. And if no one has the correct answer, the SME can provide it.

Second, a focus question. In order to focus the participants on a key concept, the SME can pose a question: What are the characteristics of a good computer software design? for a computer design class, or “How do customers like to be treated?” in a customer service class. Both questions presume that the participants already have answers to the question, based on their personal experience either working with computer software or giving or receiving customer service.

This is a good opening activity to get participants involved. The SME can split the group into two, write the same question on the top of two different flipcharts, ask for volunteers to write down their group’s responses, and have the two groups stand next to their respective flip charts and brainstorm their answers. The SME should give the groups a specific period of time to complete the activity; possibly 8 minutes- although the SME may find that they need more or less minutes, depending on the speed in which they come up with answers.

When the brainstorming activity is done, the SME can ask the writers to report out their respective group’s ideas.

Third, a case study. If the focus of the class is on developing specific skills to apply in job situations, a case study is an ideal activity to check the participant’s learning. Case studies are not difficult to write. All the SME has to do is think of either typical job situations where the skills would apply- or problem situations that could have been resolved better if the skills had been applied. A good case study identifies who, what, when, and where. It is followed by specific questions that require the participants to use the skills they have learned.

For example, if the class is about employee benefits, the cases can involve different employee scenarios where the participants will have to decide which benefits would be appropriate for the employee- and explain their rationale. If the class is about troubleshooting a maintenance issue, the cases can involve different situations where the participants need to decide what type of maintenance would be appropriate- and explain their rationale.

Fourth, a directed large group discussion. A good way to get participants involved is to ask them a question. For example, in a refresher class that involves participants who have had a similar class often in the past, the SME can pose the question: What problems have you experienced in the field?” or “What effective strategies have you found to implement this policy?” The SME can then either write down their responses on the flip chart or have a participant volunteer write them down as the participants respond.

This information can then be a starting point for a directed group discussion- meaning that the SME acts as a facilitator to lead a large group discussion of possible remedies to the problems that were identified in the first example or possibly the pros and cons of the implementation strategies identified in the second example.

Fifth, one participatory way to identify what participants either already know or have learned in the class is to use a pop up activity. The SME asks a question: What are six situations where this policy would apply?” “or “What are eight key concepts to remember about this topic?” Participants who have a response “pop up” to stand up next to their chair. When the SME calls on them, the participants each provide one situation or one key concept.

These are just five different ways to incorporate participatory activities that are very simple to design. All the SMEs really have to do is think about what they can have the participants do, either individually, in pairs, in small groups, or in a large group, to say or do something with what they have learned in the class.

Next week, we will discuss how to meet the fourth challenge: helping SMEs learn how to select appropriate activities.

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