The key to good facilitation in general is practice, practice, and more practice.
When you turn your attention to facilitating specific kinds of learning activities, this advice is true as well, but, in addition, you must also plan, plan, and plan.
Nothing affects the potential success or failure of a learning activity more than how well you plan the activity by thinking through each aspect of the activity ahead of time so that the facilitation will go smoothly.
Types of Learning Activities
Three main categories of learning activities are discussed here:
- content/knowledge/comprehension activities,
- structured exercises, and
- skill practice.
Within each category are multiple and varied methods for facilitation.
These types of activities are intended to disseminate information, increase awareness, and assist participants in understanding concepts. The foundation of all skills is knowledge, and learners must know before they can do. These activities apply to learners who don’t have any or very little background in the content of the lesson or course.
Content/knowledge/comprehension activities are characterized by relative passivity on the part of the participants (they are usually listening, reading, or observing without interacting); greater focus on the facilitator (who must deliver the content because participants don’t know it); and (usually) individual rather than group work.
Examples of content/knowledge/comprehension learning activities include
- reading books or handouts
- videos/DVDs/films, slides, overhead transparencies
- PowerPoint presentations
- note taking
- self-assessments such as quizzes and checklists.
Structured exercises constitute the discovery bridge between knowledge and skills. In structured exercises, the learners work together to understand and use content at a deeper level than simply comprehension: They learn variations of the content, how to use and apply it, and how to make it their own. Learners are more active and involved than they are with content/knowledge/comprehension activities. The focus is on the learners, and the facilitator’s role is that of organizer, monitor, and guide.
Structured exercises are used with learners who have some knowledge of the desired content and are ready for more depth and concept application.
Sometimes the supporting knowledge has been acquired earlier in the same course. In other instances, the learners have the content and experience when they walk in. In this case, the first type of exercise used is often a structured exercise.
The learner groups are given questions to answer or a problem to solve, and, in the process, the new content is discovered.
Here are some examples of structured exercises listed in order of increasing learner involvement:
- Solo work: Learners are given an assignment to work on by themselves (such as a questionnaire to complete or a problem to analyze) and then discuss with others.
- Guided discussion or question-and-answer session: The facilitator asks the group planned questions designed to get them to wrestle with content at a deeper level. As they answer the questions, the facilitator summarizes their content, adds his or her own content, plays devil’s advocate to drive for deeper content or application, and guides the discussion to the next question.
- Small group discussion: Small learner groups are given a topic to discuss or questions to answer; the learners work together and then present their results to the larger group.
- Group inquiry: The learners are provided with content, and they work together to identify questions they have about the content.
- Information search: The learners are given reference materials and must search them for answers to questions presented by the facilitator. In a blended learning experience (a combination of face-to-face learning and e-learning), the search may involve using the Internet to conduct searches or to download information.
- Small group assignment or problem solving: Small groups of learners are given a problem to solve, a situation to analyze, a list of principles or guidelines to develop in response to a problem, or some similar type of exercise.
- Peer teaching: Small groups of learners study the material and then teach it to the other participants or groups within the class. Choosing the teaching methodology is part of the activity and is left up to the groups.
- Games: A popular game (Jeopardy, Bingo, Concentration) can be adapted to assist learners in remembering, comprehending, and applying content that has been presented.
- Debriefing session: The facilitator leads a large group guided discussion after a structured exercise or skill practice is complete; it is designed to close the gaps in the learning, summarize the main points, and help the learners apply the content to the job.
Once the learners have mastered knowledge to the depth that they need, the next part of the learning is skill practice. Skill practice is exactly what it says it is—the actual practice of the skill. If the skill is driving a car, then the skill practice is actually driving a car (or a simulator). If the skill is conducting a job interview or making a sales presentation, then the skill practice is conducting a mock interview or sales presentation. If the skill is analyzing a situation and making recommendations, then the skill practice is analyzing a case situation and making recommendations.
In other words, skill practice is the actual performance of the skill, adjusted when necessary for the learning environment. A detailed feedback instrument accompanies the skill practice.
Transfer activities are specifically intended to support the learners’ ability to transfer their learning back to the job and apply it there. Transfer activities can be any one of the types described previously, but they are specifically targeted toward successful on-the-job application. Examples of transfer activities include:
- Action planning: This activity consists of solo work on a plan of action to apply skills. The action planning can be done at the end of the course or used intermittently throughout the course so learners apply as they move through the content. Action plans can also be developed in partnership with the learners’ managers.
- Performance contracting: The learner and his or her manager can prepare an advanced planning document to help prepare for the program and ensure that the course content transfers to the job. The performance contract focuses on how the course content will be used on the job, required resources and support, and identification of barriers and enablers to transfer and how to address them. It also serves as a pre-course organizer.
- Application discussion: The emphasis during this guided discussion is on opportunities for application back on the job.
- Barriers and strategies: During this structured activity, learners identify barriers to application back on the job and then strategize to overcome the barriers.
- Enablers and strategies: This structured activity helps learners identify forces in the organization that support the use of the new knowledge and skills on the job and strategize to strengthen those forces.
- Structured note taking: Using “applying the concepts” format, participants make a quick note of the topic or comment and how it can be applied to the job. This document is later referred to during action planning and follow-up.
- Manager presentation: Managers are invited to be on a panel that hears participants’ presentations and makes comments on their job relevance.
- Case studies: Based on actual organizational situations and data, learners solve the case and then discuss the relevancy of the solution to the organization.
- Team projects: Learners are given an actual corporate or business unit problem or opportunity. They then develop strategies to address the problem or opportunity and present it to a senior management panel for discussion.
- Letters home: Learners write letters to their managers presenting what they learned in a particular area and how they want to use that knowledge or skill on the job. They indicate that upon their return they want a meeting to discuss the implementation of the actions. Then, the letters are mailed.
The most important thing to remember about transfer activities is that they are always focused on helping learners apply what they have learned back in their own
Reference: Facilitation Basics,Donald V. Mccain and Deborah Tobey, 2014