It's gospel that adults want to be actively involved in their own learning. The problem is identifying activities that actively engage learners. This column describe a method I've used with audiences ranging in size up to 350, a method that has people active within a minute of the session's start, and that both sets the stage for other active learning activities (e.g., programmed lecture, as I explained in my first column in MM's July/August issue) and makes learners responsible for the summary at the end of the session.
Smile--It's Not a Test After I've distributed the handout for the session, I invite the participants to think about what will have to happen during the session so that they'll leave feeling that attending was a good use of their time. I often say, "I know what I want to present, but I'm not certain what you are looking for," and then I ask audience members to write some goals for the session in the space provided on the handout. It is important to smile after asking for the goals, so the learners will know they're not being tested.
After 30 seconds or so, I ask for volunteers to share their goals. Still smiling, I wait for the brave soul who will read what she wrote. I then write her objective, verbatim, on a flip chart (overhead transparencies work well, too). It is important to write the objective word for word, reading the words aloud as they're written. This validates what the audience member has said. If her ideas are paraphrased, you've suggested that she didn't quite get it right--a suggestion that chills others who are thinking about offering their objectives.
Once the first brave person has volunteered and her objective has been validated by being written for all to see, others willtheir ideas. Write them down until there are a handful of them--enough so that everyone has a sense of what the audience is looking for.
This is the point at which I tear off the flip chart sheet and hang it on the wall for viewing. I also announce that we'll return to the objectives 10 to 15 minutes before the session's end to see how well each has been addressed. I ask for an audience member to keep track of the time, and then I begin my part of the lecture.
Safe Participation Notice what has happened: Shortly after calling the session to order, learners are active in a variety of ways. They've reflected on why they're attending the session, and they've written their thoughts on their handouts. And those who have volunteered their goals have seen their efforts validated, while everyone present has had a chance to think about whether their objectives are consistent with those on the flip chart.
But most important, audience members have seen that participating results in acceptance of their ideas, and this encourages participation throughout the session. They've seen that raising their hands begins a process that is predictable and safe.
When the timekeeper calls time, I wrap up my talk and return to the list of objectives on the wall. I read the first objective aloud and ask, "Where is the brave soul who offered this objective?" When the person identifies herself, I ask, "What did you learn relative to this objective?" She will think for a moment and respond with her take on the objective. I may engage her in a brief clarifying or amplifying discussion, and then ask if anyone cares to add more.
That done, I move on to the second objective, and so on until the list is covered. This allows audience members to wrap up the session, leaving me with only three responsibilities: Filling in important points that may have been missed, making suggestions for those wishing to pursue issues further, and thanking the audience for being so helpful.
People occasionally pose objectives that are not covered by the session I've planned, and when this happens, I suggest readings or experts in the area so no one goes away empty-handed.