As we all race forward in the evolution of remote learning, one of the common questions raised is, “Are participants really learning from these virtual sessions?”
Even though we use assessments, tests, evaluations, or feedback, it’s difficult to know whether our learners are engaged in learning. In fact, in many cases, it’s a challenge for virtual facilitators to really get the feel of where their learners are in the learning journey.
Given this situation, let me share my own experience around this. It will get us closer to a confirmation that remote session participants are learning. My experience centers on an experiment I’ve conducted for a couple of years. The experiment yielded a process that involves adding an element in remote training. I call this element “quick mentoring sessions.”
Quick Mentoring Sessions
What is it and how does it work?
Let’s say you have a series of remote sessions, perhaps three or four, that are separated by a couple of days. During those non-session days is where you can add “quick mentoring sessions” or “quick coaching conversations.”
To start with, invite everyone in the session to attend a quick mentoring session. These are offered as optional to the participants and last from 30-45 minutes on average. Participants can choose to attend or not based on their personal needs and level of curiosity.
These optional quick mentoring sessions are easier to manage logistically since most often, only those who have questions show up. If you have a group that has around 20 participants, you will get somewhere around five-six participants, and occasionally up to half the group.
I always start the sessions by reminding the participants this is an optional session, and it is designed for informal conversations. The purpose is for them to ask their questions, share their insights, and talk about things with which they are wrestling.
Here are some approaches to ensure these additional sessions benefit both the learner and the trainer, leading to an understanding of how well participants are grasping the material from the course.
Approach #1: Create a Conversation
||Remind learners about the purpose of the quick mentoring session: start conversations by asking questions, sharing insights, and talking about things with which they are wrestling.|
||Ask open-ended questions such as, “How well are you connecting the dots?” or “Are you still missing some important pieces?” These questions allow the learners to dig deeper into their mind vs. asking them if they know the right answer.|
||Common responses include, “I am missing this piece. Could you tell me more about that?” or “Can you explain this area further?” or “I would love to see an example of this or that.” or “I would love to be able to get a reference for this.“|
Approach #2: Ask a Group Question
||Ask the participants a question that includes an interesting insight. This stimulates their thinking and creates an opportunity for participants to share their thoughts and ideas.|
||When asking the group for their thoughts and ideas, there are three things that happen:|
||The participants who offer a thought or idea begin to apply it in their mind, interpreting how they’re going to apply the idea within their personal context|
||The shared thoughts and ideas helps the other participants figure out how to use what was offered to fill in the gaps in their own mind.|
||What happens is they are learning from each other more than they are learning from you if you were to skip the conversation, and simply provide them a direct answer.|
||As a rule, I don’t take the first answer and offer and then offer my solution. I always go back to the participants and ask, “How would you approach that?” or “What have you experienced?” or “Do you have the same issue?” and “Why is this same issue happening in your own area?” This last question indicates you’re getting more than one definition of the problem from different participants.|
From the discussions with the participants, you begin to discover whether they are:
||Comprehending the concepts from the training|
||Finding and sharing an example of the concepts from their experience|
||Integrating the training within the context of their own personal experience, i.e., connecting the dots|
At a deeper level, when participants share more than one example of the concepts from their experience, it acts as a double confirmation they are learning and they’re using the material from the training.
From the perspective of a designer or trainer, you can view the conversations in terms of how well you’ve organized your session. This leads to identifying areas that you might need to improve.
This is important because you can quickly correct yourself, add a reference, or instantly send them an email or a guide or explanation. If needed, you can also explain the process to them to help them connect the dots, rendering the material immediately useful for the participants.
When you go the extra mile of listening to your learners and keenly observing what is going on in their mind, you get the opportunity to really learn how your participants are learning and applying your lessons.
So, be willing to open the opportunity to hear them out by having these intimate and purposeful conversations. It will bring you closer to knowing if your learners are actually learning in your remote training sessions!
Ray Jimenez, PhD
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”