The biggest problem I see with trainers and educators? Simple. They talk too much! They feel a need to lecture — to impart their knowledge on trainees. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) aren’t much better in this regard. They often think that their “expertise” means they must have all the answers to students’ questions.
But just having a lot of knowledge on a particular subject doesn’t ensure that you can activate learning. Great learning happens through questions — in the asking, not the telling.
Questions are the key to driving learning success. Sharon Bowman, owner of Bowperson Publishing and Training, once said at an ASTD conference I attended, that the ideal instructor is “the guide from the side, not the sage on the stage.” Sages tell. Guides ask. Our role as educators is to develop the art of asking questions at the right time to help pupils bring materials into focus, to assess students’ comprehension during the program, and to evaluate its effectiveness at the end.
Here are three places in the learning process instructors should be asking great questions:
Before Creating Training Materials
Before training, you want to focus your training materials to make sure they have an impact. A great way to do that is to solicit information from your end users — the company employees — and really pay attention to what they say their pain points, their challenges, and their opportunities are. Your questions should be pointed and information-gathering. For instance, instead of asking, “What education do you need?” ask something more along the lines of, “What’s the greatest frustration you face on the job?” Use these responses to determine how you want to focus your training materials.
During the Training Itself
Learning is an interactive event, whether it’s e-learning, self-directed learning, or traditional classroom learning. By asking questions during programs, instructors can respond to how learners are grasping (or not grasping) training materials. This gives instructors the ability to constantly redirect their materials, stay on topics that aren’t being understood, or revise their approach to make sure the learner is “getting it.” Asking questions like, “How can you use what you’ve learned here to make a difference with customers?” during training is a great way to measure how well a concept is being understood. Or, describe a typical work situation, then ask how an employee can use their new knowledge to add value for the customer.
After Training Events Are Finished
In order to gauge how effectively a training program has been comprehended, send out an evaluation form a week after the training. Don’t use numerical evaluations where people rank things from 1-10. What meaningful information do you get from a ranking of a three versus a four? The learner didn’t get a chance to say something valuable and you didn’t get the opportunity to learn a free lesson. Instead, craft specific, powerful questions that force the learner to share their real thoughts and real experiences with the learning after having the time to try them out in the workplace. For example, “Please share two ways you have been able to use the information presented in the program. How are you better and more effective in your job because of this material? And if you are not better or more effective, what one thing did you need but not get from this training?”
Ask and you shall receive. Ask great questions before to know how to focus. Ask great questions during to assess learning progress (to continue as planned or to activate plan B or plan C). Ask great questions at the end to evaluate the effectiveness of the training once back in the workplace (to know what worked and what didn’t). Sometimes as instructors we have to stop be sages and become better guides. We have to stop telling and get better at asking.
Jay Forte is a nationally ranked thought leader and President of Humanetrics. Jay guides organizations — their leaders and managers — in how to attract, hire and retain today’s best talent. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition and The Greatness Zone – Know Yourself, Find Your Fit, Transform The World. Jay is a member of SHRM, ASTD, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. Follow him on Twitter.