The number one skill for a great learning facilitator (video transcript)
It’s a bold call but today I want to talk to you about the number 1 skill for the professional corporate trainer and learning facilitator.
My name is Simon Thiessen; I’m the CEO of the Real Learning Experience.
Now hopefully your mind is racing asking yourself what is the number one skill of a great corporate trainer. Is it listening? Is it building rapport? Is it contextualising learning? Is it connecting and really relating to the participants in the room?
All of those things are certainly in my grand final, but in my view they’re not the number one skill!
So what is the number 1 training skill??
My belief is that without doubt, the most critical skill for a great learning facilitator is the ability to ask excellent questions. People say to me ’can it really be that simple?’ and my answer is “absolutely yes”.
Asking excellent questions is one of the best active learning strategies for adult learning as it forces participants to become active in the learning process. Rather than sitting passively, listening to information, they have to engage actively in their own learning.
Quality training strategies that increase stick-ability
When you tell people something, it’s a cheap throw away: they can take it or they can leave it. When you ask people something, they have to work for it. They value it more.
When you tell someone something, it rattles around in their brain and some of it may stick, possibly. When you ask them a question, it is sticking as they are working through the process. So asking questions increases the stick-ability of learning considerably.
So what sorts of questions do you need to ask?
Well, I don’t buy into the concept that you should be asking only open questions - those big, open-ended questions that get people to think, talk and engage in some way.
In my view, any question is good if it asks a person to stop, think, process, even confront themselves about what they’re currently doing and what they’re currently thinking.
So in my view, I don’t care whether it’s an open question or a closed question, what I care about is what it asks the participant to do in the learning process.
A point of choice that reveals training skills
I am going to give you a couple of examples and in the first one I’m going to talk about the use of open questions.
When a participant in your course raises a workplace issue they’re having, you’ve got a choice about how you respond to that.
You can either give them the answer or you can facilitate the collective knowledge of all the people within the room: the difference is between making a statement and asking a question.
The statement approach
The statement approach is simply “Thanks for asking the question, Mr or Mrs Participant. This is how I suggest, based upon my expertise and my knowledge, which is why I’m here after all; this is how I suggest you deal with that circumstance that you’ve just raised.” It’s quick, it’s efficient, but it’s highly ineffective.
The question approach
The question approach is very different: “Thanks for asking the question, Mr or Mrs Participant. How did you handle it when it happened? How did that work out? What do you think you might do differently next time? Who else in the room has encountered the circumstance, the situation, the issue, the problem that this person raised? What did you try? What worked? What didn’t work? What does the group think would be an effective approach next time?”
And critically: Let’s arrive at some conclusions. Make a few notes about the sorts of strategies that you’ve decided to adopt as a result of this discussion.
The question approach is not quick; it’s not as time-efficient, but it is highly effective in creating learning outcomes.
It's a 'no-brainer' really
If your goal is to create learning and change behavior in a positive way, then the question approach is the only real option.
Of course, as the facilitator, you may conclude the discussion by recapping some key points and even emphasising any points that the group may not have covered for themselves.
Rather than being the font of all knowledge, what you’re really doing is making sure you fill in the gaps that you haven’t facilitated the group to cover themselves.
Why wouldn't Yoda be a great facilitator?
In my view, the difference in these approaches is at the heart of being a great learning facilitator.
Are you there to provide information? They may as well read a book or research on the internet. OR are you there to facilitate learning?
Are you there as some sort of overall expert, some training room Yoda who knows everything and will share that knowledge or are you there as the hub of the group, pulling learning from wherever it exists within that room?
Closed questions as a quality training strategy
I want to give you a simple second example to show you how a closed question can be equally as effective. This is a lot shorter, but no less important in the learning process.
When someone tells you, perhaps in that previous discussion, that a certain behavior, a certain approach is really critical to their success, it’s completely valid for you as the facilitator to ask a closed question like “Do you do that enough?”
That one question may get them to stop and it may cause them to reflect on the way they’re currently operating, on their current approach and make some decisions about what they’ll do differently in the future.
Turning passive listeners into active participants
Regardless of whether you are asking open or closed questions - and of course as a quality facilitator you need to be able to master both - questions will help participants challenge themselves. It will cause them to reflect and it will cause them to be active participants, not passive listeners.
All the best in your corporate training career!
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