“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein
It is interesting how often the number two recurs in participatory training design, facilitation and evaluation.
In the design phase:
- There are two basic types of lesson plan formats: (1) the outline format and (2) the table format.
Although they are laid out differently, they have the same components: program title, learning goals, learning objectives, total length of the program, learning activities to achieve each learning objective (organized in learning modules that ultimately comprise the agenda), the duration of each module, handout materials, audiovisual aids and equipment needed, and a means to evaluate if learning has successfully occurred.
- There should be two learning goals: (1) what the learners are expected to learn and (2) why they would be motivated to learn it.
The first goal outlines in general terms what content needs to be covered in the training, and is typically based on the results of a learning needs assessment
The second goal relates to the need to obtain learner buy-in.
This helps in marketing the training to the target audience and ensures that the benefits of the training are addressed in the training itself.
- Learning objectives explain in specific, observable and measurable terms what the learners will do to: (1) learn specific skills and (2) demonstrate that they have learned them.
Implicit in this definition is the need for the learners to practice what they have learned while they are still in the classroom.
Experience has shown that, if the participants do not have an opportunity to practice in the classroom (which is a safe and supportive environment), they are highly unlikely to apply it outside the classroom.
There are many reasons for this, including: a lack of opportunity to practice, a fear of making mistakes, and a general lack of confidence in their own competence.
In the facilitation phase:
- In order to set participants up for success when they are about to engage in any participatory learning activity, the facilitator should always: (1) provide clear instructions and then (2) work with the participants to model what they will be expected to do.
A major mistake made by new facilitators is to simply assign an activity and assume that the participants know what they are supposed to accomplish.
To avoid confusion and continual requests for clarification, the facilitator should make sure that the instructions are clearly articulated as well as written down.
The facilitator should also engage the participants in a brief demonstration so they know exactly what to do.
- When learners engage in any participatory learning activity, it is important that they have sufficient time to: (1) complete the activity and (2) debrief their results and their process after the activity is completed.
It is a fallacy that all participatory learning activities take a huge amount of time. However, it is true that small groups typically need at least 8 minutes to work through a simple activity (for example, a questionnaire, a brainstorming activity, or a case study analysis).
Then they will need at least 2-3 minutes to report their results. These report outs will be followed either by an additional large group discussion and/or a summary statement by the facilitator.
If there are four small groups, this simple activity may require at least 30 minutes.
Under no circumstances should a learning activity be assigned but never debriefed. If there is insufficient time to have every small group provide every answer, the facilitator can use a round robin, drawing different answers from different groups.
In the evaluation phase:
- A useful way to determine the degree to which learning has occurred is to give the participants: (1) a pre-test prior to the training session and (2) the same content in a post-test at the very end of the training session.
The format of these tests is typically multiple choice. It is advisable to send out the pre-test two weeks prior to the training, so that the participants have time to complete and return it. A review of the test results will give the facilitator a sense of the current knowledge base of the incoming class.
Time for the post-test should be scheduled near the end of the training. There should be enough time for the facilitator to grade the completed tests and report each participant’s degree of growth to the entire group. It helps to reward those who have made a significant degree of growth.
- There are two considerations for assessing whether or not a training session was effective: (1) were the specific, observable and measurable learning objectives achieved and (2) does it appear that the participants will apply what they have learned once they leave the classroom.
The value of participatory learning activities is that they naturally provide an observable and measurable opportunity to assess if the intended learning is occurring.
Having the participants write down and then report out at the end of the session either their key take away from the training, or what they plan to do with what they have learned can give the facilitator a sense of the impact of the training on the participants.
One way to increase the probability that the participants will apply what they’ve learned is to have them create an action plan and then discuss it with their supervisor. This way, there will be a firm expectation that they will use their new knowledge or skills on the job.
May your learning be sweet.