Tip #361: How to Prime Learners to Actively Participate

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.”< Henry Ford

There is nothing sadder than a trainer who wants to engage an audience and can’t get anyone to participate. So how do you prime learners to actively participate?

There are three techniques that can subtly release learners’ inhibitions about participating from the very beginning of the training program.

The first technique is to simply begin with common ground questions. For example: “How many of you like to conduct training?” “How many of you think that your participants enjoy your training?” “How many of you are deluded?”

As you ask each question, model raising your hand. Then ask enough questions so that everyone has raised their hands. If it comes naturally to you, it helps to ask a question that will make them laugh. Both the physical movement (raising their hands) and laughter will relax them. Since the purpose of common ground questions is to create a sense of community, that will also make them feel more comfortable.

The second technique is to use a pair share that enables seasoned participants to share their knowledge and experience with less seasoned participants, who also have an opportunity to ask pressing questions. Have those participants who consider themselves more experienced in the training content think about what they wish someone had told them when they were first starting out. They should then stand and move to one side of the room.

Have the participants who consider themselves newer to the training content think about something that they have always wanted to ask a more seasoned person. Then they stand and move to the opposite side of the room.

When you give the signal, the participants move to the center of the room and create small groups that contain both seasoned and unseasoned participants. The seasoned participants can talk about what they wished they had known when they first started out and the less seasoned participants can ask their questions and get responses from the seasoned participants.

Next, have these new small groups sit together so that they can continue to interact and learn from each other. This gives the seasoned participants a role as a co-facilitator in their groups, and it gives the less seasoned participants a resident “expert” who can help them along when necessary.

The third technique is to have the participants select and then mark up two or three learning objectives in their materials that are of greatest interest or significance to them. Then have the participants take stickers and put them next to their selected learning objectives where they are written on flip charts placed around the room.

These associated activities (selecting key learning objectives, marking them on the page, and then placing stickers on the flip charts) give the participants a sense of ownership in the training program. They now have at least two reasons to participate.

When all three of these techniques occur in sequence at the beginning of the workshop, the learners will be primed to participate because they will have been participating all along!

May your learning be sweet!


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