Thursday, February 10, 2011

Enquiring Minds

My friend asked me to edit a training document she was creating for a workshop at her job.  Her boss was facilitating this workshop, and they both wanted to make sure the information was clearly represented.  As I looked at the content and flow of the workshop, which shared new directions and strategies the company was going to be using, I wondered "What's wrong with the current direction?"  I checked with my friend about the participants and their level of buy in to this idea that change was needed.  She was uncertain that they even understood why the strategies were changing, even though it had been discussed many times.  While I can't comment on the seeming gap between what the participants might think, and what the presenters want them to think, I had to offer her the thought that the workshop content was answering questions the people may not be asking yet.

In high school, I learnt this really great study technique.  The teachers at my school had a wonderful habit of dictating copious notes for us to write, I'm sure so that we can read later.  We would write verbatim everything we were told, and often not even engaging the content in any way.  I remember my friend beside me nodding off in biology class (it was a hot afternoon, after lunch) and I could see in her notebook that she was still writing, all be it, not as clearly as when she was more alert.  Needless to say, when the time came to study for tests, many of us read the notes and related texts as if encountering the material for the first time.  Then came my brilliant study technique:  As I read the notes, I asked, "What question is this information answering?"   I would than write my question at the back of my notebook and continue reading.  My second pass through the material was usually to go through my questions.  It seemed as if formulating the question was like creating a filing spot in my brain.  I remembered most of what I had read!

I noticed that when I pursue the answers to questions I create of own, I learn and retain what I learn.  I can use it again at a later point, and I can connect it to other things that I have learned, creating new, more complex learnings for myself.

I think training materials that aren't answering my questions are almost a total waste of my time.  Where in my personal filing system would I put the information, if I haven't created space for it with a question?  That would cause my mind to look like my desk! (although there is a filing system there that others aren't aware of...) As a learner, curiosity is my responsibility, so formulating questions and searching for answers is on me.  Nonetheless, as a trainer, a learning facilitator, how do I think about creating materials that are useful and applicable to the learner?  There are many strategies, and learners are from all walks of life, with their own experience bases that prompt them to ask their specific questions.  With this diversity of questions and experiences present in any clustering of people, how do I increase the chances that my workshop/training session will be stored in their personal filing system?

My simple answer is still Don't answer questions people aren't asking.    I'm going to think about this more and tell you what I think next week.  My lab is my homeschool (kids), a few workshops and online sessions that I'm either creating or helping to write over the next few weeks (adults),  and you loyal Belief Makers readers!

So tell me what you think?  Have you done any online courses, attended any workshops, or been in any classes and didn't connect with the material?  Assuming that you are engaging that learning experience because you want to, what could the facilitators/teachers/writers of the material have done differently that would have been more useful to you and helped you to connect more?  What could you have done for yourself to help you to connect to the content more?  My enquiring mind wants to know....

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