Twenty questions for every learning program, give or take a few

As learning facilitators we know that questions matter. They spark reflection, spur divergent and convergent thinking and help learners and stakeholders process and apply learning.

Often, the type of question that we ask is fueled by the type of reflection or measurement we are after. Reaction? Learning? Behavior? Results? What do we really want and need to measure?

We can guide and facilitate the conversation about the impact of a learning program by putting some attention on the types of questions we ask in the room, and the type of questions Leaders ask themselves and their team as a follow-up.

We can scaffold our questions throughout each Kirkpatrick level, in a variation of this sequencing:

  1. What did you notice? What stands out? What’s confusing?
  2. What did you learn?
  3. What will you do differently as a result of what you learned today? (How will you apply what you learned to something concrete, actionable, measurable, and specific)?

Many times, we stop at question-type 3. We stop before we get to “results”. Sometimes it is because our learners lack context or understanding of the business case or the results that matter most. Sometimes this is because it’s quantifiable, and trying to qualify it in an open-ended question seems difficult.

This doesn’t have to be the case – especially if we kick off our learning programs by stating up front the results we are after, and continually linking our learning back to these desired outcomes.

  1. How will applying what you learned today positively affect our team, our performance, and our business?

But, let’s not stop there. Ask empathy and motivation driven questions like, “What will be the impact if we don’t apply what we learned?”, or “what could get in the way?”

We’ve got questions. They do have answers.

How Adults Learn

“If you’re looking for someone to give you the answer, you’re in the wrong place”.

I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday.  Fall 2012 was turning towards Winter as I walked down Broadway crunching leaves with my boots on my way to the 1 train.  My evening class of “How Adults Learn” had just finished and I called to debrief (okay, to complain) with my friend and mentor Cheryl.

In between breaths spent exclaiming how much I loved being in New York City, I was having a hard time with the way my Grad School classes were being taught (note, I didn’t frame it as having a hard time with my role as learner — although that self-knowledge came later). This was my first semester, and so not how I expected it to be (unmet expectations, cue disappointment).

I had a lot of questions I wanted answered by experts in the field, I wanted to feel I was getting my moneys worth.  I wanted content, slides, frameworks, solid answers, lots and lots of sage in front of stage moments.  I was curious and thirsty, yet impatient. I wanted to be taught with a capital “T” and to sit back and take it all in.

In a class called “How Adults Learn”, this struggle seemed quite ironic.

The ever-wise Cheryl gave me a virtual hand slap: “if you’re looking for someone to give you the answers, you came to Grad School for the wrong reason”.

I continued to reflect on what Cheryl said on the subway ride home, the next morning, in the next class session and throughout the rest of my two years in Grad School. I think about what she said most days, when I spend my days creating and delivering curriculum to curious, thirsty, impatient adult learners in corporate settings.

By the time I reached my final semester in Grad School the uncomfortable-ness of not knowing the one right answer hadn’t lessened, but my confidence and ability to figure it out had increased. I learned that experience was my best teacher, and that the best teachers were educators instead of lecturers.

As we grow up and continue through school many of us are institutionalized to believe that learning should be a certain way. At many points in our life we want to be told what to do. Anything that strays from that expectation feels uncomfortable and unnatural.

There is power in feeling uncomfortable, yet safe. Know that in some situations or subjects you might not get an answer, or the one you were expecting. Know that when it comes to teaching and learning, your educators are as curious, and sometimes more impatient than you. But … they know you have the answer, and you can count on them to help you unlock it.

What facilitators can learn from Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show debut

Last night as I watched Jimmy Fallon make his debut as new host of The Tonight show, I was struck by the ease, comfort, and safety that Fallon exhibited as he welcomed a presumably new audience to his show.

It was akin to the skill a great facilitator utilizes when beginning a new learning experience with his or her participants.

Though these two roles are inherently different, and stylistic differences are what help make both jobs a real art form, there are fundamental choices Fallon made that educators, speakers, presenters, and facilitators can absolutely learn from:

Fallon helped create psychologically safety and established a dialogue with his audience in these 2 ways:

  • He made his thinking visible – Strong facilitators know how to engage adult learners by showing them the learning path and extravert-ing their thinking. Fallon told us the basic structure of his show, how long his monologue would be, and even where he’d stand when he delivered the opening set of jokes. Though it seemed like a small gesture, it worked to set a new routine and let the audience know what they could expect each night, and how they would get there.
  • Auto-biographical disclosure – This is perhaps the most impressive technique Fallon utilized, and the most direct application to what we do as facilitators. Fallon spent several minutes at the top of his show, introducing himself, his background, his band and his announcer to bring people into the experience, add authenticity and personalization, and put new viewers at ease. As Dr. Stephen Brookfield theorizes, the more an educator or facilitator can use appropriate autobiographical disclosure, the quicker you can bring adults into ‘the learning’. For example, in a class on adult learning a facilitator can use autobiographical disclosure to briefly talk about his or her experience as a learner and how its framed his or her approach. By telling the story of his own history of watching and admiring The Tonight Show, Fallon also exhibited experiential credibility, by letting the audience know that the experiences (and perhaps new-ness) he dealt with are similar if not the same.

Journalists, bloggers and critics are praising Fallon for these specific, ‘smart’ choices — but they don’t need to be reserved for talk show hosts. Think about the last time you felt “safe” in a new learning environment. Chances are your facilitator exhibited some, if not all of these same techniques.

Teaching is learning twice

To build and maintain a learning organization is to create and offer an atmosphere that encourages peer-to-peer teaching opportunities.

Formal or informal, virtual or stand-up in nature, providing opportunities for learning and development builds connection, can increase engagement, and develop empathy across teams.

Teaching is learning twice.

To understand a concept, is to explain it to someone else — and to not just explain it in your language, but to clearly and concisely teach for understanding and not just data dumping.

Take this article from Psychology Today as it applies to classroom learning:

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

The questions posed by those we teach urge us to think through and explain material in different ways, and encourage deeper, evolved understanding.

How can you create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning? Consider starting small – with your internal communication platforms.

Do more with the people you have. And help those people grow in knowledge and confidence at the same time.

Part 2: How to make learning relevant and personal in the emerging workplace

Last week I wrote of some ideas to help make your professional development offerings more relevant and personal. Key, is to allow learners to choose the content that resonates most with them and their leadership style. After all, we’ll retain more if we’re actually interested in what we’re learning.

Now there’s an innovative tool that leverages this concept, written about here in the latest blog from HBR.

The solution? An app… wouldya believe it?!!

Short, personalized, interactive, social and innovative. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Read about the entire project here: and then think about how you and your company can create social and personalized learning solutions that create jolts, interesting discussions, increased accountability and  peer-to-peer learning.

Closing the gap between knowing and doing

Mind the gap. Respected and internationally known training and educational provider, Crucial Conversations says:

“When it matters the most, we often do our worst”.

When we face interpersonal communication challenges (or any challenge, really), The gap between knowing what to do, and actually putting that knowledge into action is often profound.

How many of us have experienced this before – where the knowing exceeds the doing? We’ve been taught the right way to communicate (read a book or been through a training session) that promises to bring our game to the next level… but we just can’t execute.

In stressful and important situations science research tells us our adrenaline gland fires, our cognitive processes weaken. Forget about it, brain?! You’re not making any of it easier.

In addition, we’re often not doing our brain any favors when the time gap between learning what to do and actually being able to put it into practice is sometimes arbitrary.

I believe just recognizing this gap exists can be the first step to closing it. Additional steps:

  1. A desire to close the gap – we have to go beyond knowing it’s there, we have to want to close it.
  2. The ability to practice “doing”, to flex our communication muscles to build habit and to practice while we learn through role plays, self-reflection and self-assessment.
  3. The confidence and leanings gained from that practice.

We can teach the “knowing” all we want, but I’d argue training needs to provide more applicable and relevant opportunities for doing to help us all close the gap.

Crucial Skills » Putting Skills into Action.

Three fundamentals of adult learning

One can surmise adults are busier, more stressed, and saturated with more information than ever before.

So, when tasked with creating adult learning initiatives, here are 3 fundamental concepts to keep in mind:

1. Make it matter to them – if you want people to change their behavior, they have to understand what’s in it for them. Make the learning relevant, specific, and directly applicable.

2. Build time for self-learning and self-reflection – Adults don’t like to be told to change their behavior – it is a threat to their status (and one of David Rock’s social triggers). If you want people to change, build interactive learning experiences that lead adults to discover for themselves that change is important, and how they can achieve it personally.

3. I do, we do, you do – If adults have to teach others, they are more likely to do it themselves. Create active (not passive) learning environments and help the learning stick by giving participants responsibility for communicating the learnings to others. Provide adult learners with opportunities to be in charge of their own learnings to build accountability, self-reflection and the new insights and connections that follow.

Making the case for experiential learning

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” –  Confucius

How many times have you uttered the phrase, “I just have to experience it for myself”? If you’re like me then books, articles, videos and lectures are helpful but I often cannot fully grasp a concept or develop deep knowledge until I’ve  reflected on specific experiences. This is especially true when it comes to soft-skills training:  including communication skills, presentation skills, conflict resolution and leadership training. I learn best by doing, and reflecting on how the experience felt. What worked? What didn’t work? What can I tweak and practice?

My name is Lindsey and I am an experiential learning junkie.

Experiential learning capitalizes on the participants’ experiences for acquisition of knowledge. It engages the learner at a more personal level, by allowing them to make meaning and learn directly from experience through reflection.

Experiential Learning theory tells us knowledge is constructed through transformative reflection on our own experience. Instead of hearing or reading about others’ experiences, we are making discoveries and are simultaneously reflecting on our own experience in the moment.

Enter Applied Improvisation.

Here, we also engage the learner at a much more personal level and require of them self-initiative and self-evaluation to drive their own learning. We also sprinkle in humor, visual cues, a touch of fun, and principles that can be applied across many of our most common business scenarios and environments.  Learners set goals, experiment, observe, review and action plan – learning new skills, new attitudes, and constructing meaning in a way that’s unique and also incorporates the cognitive, emotional and physical aspects of learning.

Improvisers know experiential learning is a proven method that allows us to interact, practice skills and reflect on what we’ve learned in the moment. Instead of reading a book or listening to a presentation, try using your training time to rehearse, practice, reflect and learn while being fully engaged. Your practice will pay off when you step on stage – whether it’s an important meeting, a sales pitch, or a job interview.