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Top Ten Tips for Engaging Learners

Posted October 8th, 2007

Even the most mundane subjects can be made much more interesting if participants are given plenty of opportunity to do things with the subject material, to think things out for themselves and to talk to each other. Participants also need to know where a session is supposed to take them. They need to know about the intended outcomes, and (more importantly) what these mean for them and what they will be able to show when they’ve achieved the outcomes. Here are ten tips to make training more engaging:

1. Establish participants’ ownership of the agenda. Ask them what they really want from the session or what they feel they really need from the session. Write their expectations on a flipchart. Ownership is achieved best when it’s the participants own words.

2. Express the intended learning objectives. Work out carefully some completions of ‘By the end of this session, you will be better able to…’, and talk them through why it will be useful to them to achieve these learning outcomes. After all, it’s the reason for the training!

3. Acknowledge their experience. Don’t tell them anything you can ask them first. Usually, there will be people there who already know the answers to most questions. Give the group as a whole ownership of their answers to questions, rather than you being the source of all wisdom.

4. Keep them busy. Get them learning by doing, rather than listening to you explaining the theory. If it’s an area that can only be described through talking, create a discussion, or even better, get them to stand up and review ideas on flipcharts around them room.

5. Give participants a variety of different things to do in successive tasks. For example, use different activities such as written, brainstorming, prioritising, sorting, discussing, arranging, playing, acting, case studies, games and so on.

6. Plan short tasks, not long ones. It is usually better to break a task into four fifteen minute stages than to run it as a one hour episode. Where tasks need to be longer, ensure you involve everyone and alternate the lead.

7. Be a time lord. Managing our own time is important enough, but when training it’s really important to manage other people’s time well too. Boredom quickly sets in when participants have too much time for a task, so as soon as some have finished, start debriefing.

8. Celebrate their successes. Cultivate the art of asking participants the right questions, so that they come up with the answers. When they have worked out how to do something, they remember it far longer than if you tell them how to do it.

9. Make it fine to learn by getting things wrong. Point out that for many things, learning is deeper when people get things wrong; they find out in an unthreatening environment why they were wrong, and how to make them better.

10. Don’t lecture. When you need to give your participants some information, do so in a handout, and then get them to do something with the information rather than just write it down or read it themselves.

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