Really practical tips for facilitating learning

One of the things we’ve been doing here at Stellar Learning is training Change Agents to deliver a face to face  programme to their colleagues to help them support a massive digital change programme.  The Change Agents have a technical role and very little, if any, training experience but so far so good and they are all loving the ‘brain friendly’ approach.  It’s made us reflect on some of the basics that we don’t always talk about, perhaps because they seem obvious when you’ve been training for a while.  So, for this group we created a list of very practical ideas and it seemed a good idea to share them.
It’s a list we’ve picked up from our own experiences and from other great trainers along the way and most of it’s based on face to face learning but the same ideas can usually be applied to digital and online learning too – especially the first one.  The list is not exhaustive, and you may already use many of the tips, but perhaps it’s useful to remind ourselves of some core ideas occasionally.  What would you add to this list that’s important for you and your learners?

  1. Never do for the learner what they can do for themselves (Helen Ashton is a great trainer who reminds me of this regularly)
  2. Ask lots of questions – participants learn more from answering a good question than you telling them something.
  3. When you ask a question it’s the first time your audience have heard it –  you’ve already had time to think about it. Rather than expect an immediate response give them time to think about the answer.  Count to 17 while you wait for them (you will rarely get past 13 before someone answers) because it gives you something to do rather than answer for them.
  4. Or ask the question and ask them to discuss in pairs first and then share with the group.  People can test their responses with another person before having to expose themselves in public so they feel more confident.
  5. Encourage people to guess even if they may not know an answer. Guessing improves our ability to remember, even when we guess it wrong, so long as we get the correct answer shortly afterwards. Explain this to your audience if they seem reluctant to guess.
  6.  Encourage questions from the audience – it shows they’re engaged – and always respond positively.
  7.  If you don’t immediately know the answer to a question it’s fine – you’re not the fount of all knowledge.  Reply with something like ‘That’s a great question and I need to think about it’ – people value you taking the time to think rather than giving a glib response.
  8. Or throw the question back out to the group ‘What does everyone else think might be a useful answer to this question?’ You’ll increase engagement, get a wider variety of views, plus test the audience’s current levels of knowledge.
  9. If you really don’t know the answer be confident to admit it and offer to find out. Make sure you get back to them.
  10. If someone in the audience knows more than the others (or you) encourage them to teach, coach and explain to their colleagues – all the knowledge doesn’t have to come from you.  Invite them to comment or capture ideas for you  on a flipchart or One Note etc. Give them a purpose to stop them getting bored and potentially becoming a challenge.
  11. Group work really helps when you’ve got different levels of experience or knowledge. You can either put your ‘experts’ into one group so they can go into more depth or spread them around so they teach the less experienced groups. Vary groups so they don’t get bored of each other or get into ‘group think’.
  12. If you forget to say something or do something out of order it doesn’t matter because your audience don’t know what you planned to say/ do. If it’s important, just come back to it; without apologising.
  13. If you notice people getting tired or restless change the activity; find a reason to move to another part of the room, switch places or even call a 5 minute break. People learn better when they are physically active; ask people stand around a poster or a flipchart to discuss something rather than just sitting.  I guarantee you’ll get better conversations, questions and learning.
  14. Take control of your space/ room. If you don’t like the layout move it (or ask for it to be moved). Always check the room layout from the audience’s point of view; before they arrive
  15. sit in their chairs and see what they will see, what they can hear, how they will feel.
  16. If you sense someone is not getting it, is unhappy or restive use your coaching skills (COLAS) to ask them about what’s happening.  Choose a break or when they are not in front of everyone else. If they have something genuinely more pressing to do give them permission to leave; often they refocus and stay but if they do leave they won’t distract everyone else.
  17. If someone is hogging the ‘air space’ and talking too much use your body language to signal to them; avoid catching their eye, move away from them and angle yourself towards other people. If someone’s been talking for a long time and you need them to stop, use downward moving hand gestures to ‘placate’ them; they’ll soon dry up.
  18. If someone speaks quietly we tend to move towards them to hear better. Counterintuitively, if you move away they will usually speak louder which will be useful for the rest of the group too and you won’t have to repeat what they said.
  19. If the whole group is quiet don’t assume they aren’t getting it because they may just be more reflective. Give them opportunities to speak in pairs or small groups and feedback.
  20. If the ‘system’ fails or the internet doesn’t work stay calm. Give people a comfort break for 5 minutes to see if you can resolve it and if not resort to plan B. Always have a plan B – usually the version without technology. Don’t spend a lot of time apologising; simply move on.
  21. You don’t always
    need to stand at the front of the room; try moving to different areas and shake up expectations.  It keeps your audience alert.

Last of all – remember to take a big breath before you start, put your shoulders back, smile and enjoy the experience, because if you don’t your learners won’t either.