Rotarians attend training to learn the responsibilities of a new role they've assumed, to learn more about a particular topic, and for fellowship. To ensure that Rotarians get the most from training, it's important to consider the characteristics of adult learners. The following topics will help trainers conduct successful training for their peers.
Characteristics of adult learners. Understanding the characteristics of adult learners will help you develop training that's appropriate and effective. Adult learners are:
Ways to maximize learning.
- Realistic. They're motivated to learn information that's immediately applicable to their situation and needs.
- Practical. They learn through hands-on practice.
- Experienced. They have insight and a sense of what will work.
- Unique. They come from a variety of backgrounds.
- Busy. They have competing interests like family and work, so they need to understand the personal benefits of training.
Consider the following ways to increase knowledge retention:
- Capture attention. Adults focus on information when it interests them.
- Repeat information. Consistent repetition increases the likelihood of long-term retention.
- Relate to real life. Show learners how they can apply their learning in everyday life.
- Feature a mix of activities. Allow participants to practice what they've learned and to work together. Interactive activities can reinforce key concepts.
- Move. Encourage participants to stand up and move around. This will increase their energy and brain activity.
Best practices for presentations. As a training leader, your competence, credibility, and enthusiasm influence your participants' ability to retain knowledge and follow through on what they've learned. Creating a safe, inviting training environment helps participants focus on learning.
Consider the following best practices:
- Greet participants at the door. Smile and make eye contact.
- Set guidelines before the session begins, such as taking turns speaking and limiting the use of mobile phones.
- Tell participants they may opt out of any activity.
- Summarize key points before moving on to a new subject.
- Know the material. Try not to read directly from your notes.
- Place a small clock nearby for reference. Avoid repeatedly checking your watch.
Common pitfalls. Make sure to avoid the following:
- Fillers. Excessively saying um, uh, and and can distract participants and reduce your authority.
- Excessive movements. Using gestures for emphasis can be effective, but making too many can distract participants. Avoid leaning against a wall or podium and fidgeting with your glasses, jewelry, hair, or pen.
- Sloppy editing. Misspelled words on slides or handouts can reduce your credibility.
- Speaking too quickly. A fast speaker may frustrate participants who are taking notes or whose primary language isn't the same as the speaker's.
- Turning away from participants. When turning to refer to a visual, remain open to participants.
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In facilitated discussions, participants respond to questions that draw on their knowledge and experience. The training leader should remain flexible and open to discussion, using questions to guide the direction and pace.
Role of the facilitator. Facilitators are neutral individuals who determine, guide, and monitor the structure of discussions. A good facilitator:
- Ensures everyone participates and all opinions are respected.
- Keeps the group focused and on schedule.
- Acknowledges diverse views.
- Neutralizes negative behavior within the group.
- Projects a positive image.
- Explores critical issues through questioning.
Asking questions. Asking open questions, which have no definite answer, encourages discussion. Closed questions have definite answers and can be used to clarify a point or check for understanding.
The following techniques can help you direct the discussion:
- Make questions visible to the group by writing them on a flip chart or slide.
- Pose a question raised by a participant to the rest of the group. (For example, "That's a good question. How have some of you handled this issue?")
- Suggest the person posing the question give his or her answer first. Then open the question to the group for additional comments.
Occasionally, you might want to answer questions yourself (for example, to save time or to prevent misinformation).
Managing the discussion. The following questions and statements can help focus the discussion, increase participation, and manage the pace:
- To encourage sharing of personal experiences, ask, "Can anyone recall a time this strategy worked?"
- To raise a new point, ask, "Based on your experience, what aspects of the problem need further discussion?" or say, "Before we continue, let's consider another aspect of the topic."
- To use conflict constructively, say, "Since we can't resolve this difference now, let's move on to the next point" or "Perhaps further discussion would be useful."
- To keep the discussion on topic, say, "Let's save this for the end" or "We'll cover this issue later. Let's move on."
- To suggest closing the discussion, ask, "May I ask for two or three final comments before we close?" or "Since we're scheduled to finish in about five minutes, may I ask if anyone has a final comment?"
RI leaders' guides suggest additional questions to get participants involved in the discussion.
Dealing with difficult participants. Involving disruptive participants in the discussion can often resolve their behavior (which usually isn't intentional). Strive to maintain participants' self-esteem and a respectful environment. Consider the following solutions to coping with difficult behaviors.
- Monopolizing the discussion. Tell enthusiastic participants that their comments are valuable, but you would like to hear from the rest of the group too.
- Silence. Some participants may be shy. If you notice they are taking notes and maintaining eye contact, you might leave them alone or switch to a small group activity to make them feel more comfortable.
- Bringing up irrelevant issues. If participants misunderstand the topic or aren't paying close attention, say, "I'm not clear how that fits into our discussion. Can you elaborate?"
- Challenging your knowledge. Sometimes participants are experts on the subject and want that to be acknowledged. Ask them to comment on the topic or to help with the session.
Nonverbal communication. Nonverbal messages are essential to the learning process and vary depending on culture. Consider the following:
- Voice qualities and characteristics. Tone, inflection, pace, and volume affect the meaning of the words you use. If you're excited, nervous, or unengaged, your voice can convey this.
- Facial expressions. Your face may express disagreement, confusion, interest, or concern.
- Gestures. Lively, animated gestures can capture participants' attention, make the material more interesting, and facilitate learning. Nodding reinforces what participants are saying and indicates that you're listening.
- Silence. At the beginning of a session, silence can communicate it's time to start. Being silent after asking a question lets participants think about their response.
- Eye contact. Eye contact can regulate the flow of communication and control who speaks. It also affects how you're perceived by participants. The use of eye contact varies from culture to culture.
- Movement and use of space. Moving closer can indicate interest; moving away can signal that you want to hear another comment. Cultural norms dictate comfortable social distance. Be aware of signals of discomfort caused by invading participants' space.
Time management techniques. Since Rotarians attend training meetings during their personal time, it's important to manage their time well. Consider the following training challenges and solutions:
- Participants are late. Begin promptly at the time indicated on the agenda with a discussion or activity that isn't crucial to the session's objective.
- Participants are confused about an activity. Provide participants with clear instructions. If the instructions are complex, put them in writing and distribute in advance.
- Writing text on a flip chart and distributing handouts wastes time. Prepare flip charts and handouts in advance. Distribute handouts during registration or at the beginning of the session. Ask a volunteer to record key points on the flip chart.
- After a breakout activity, subgroups report one by one to the main group. Supply groups with flip-chart paper and markers to display their main points. Or, ask each group to only present one point that hasn't been presented yet.
- Participants are fatigued. Energize the group by doing a small-group activity or taking a quick break.
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Interactive activities can refocus participants' attention, maintain interest, and allow participants to express their ideas and apply what they've learned. Consider the following activities:
- Getting to know you. Ask participants to share something about themselves related to the session topic. This creates a comfortable learning environment and promotes participation, especially if participants do not know each other.
- Pair and share. Ask participants to consider a question, discuss with a partner, and if time allows, share their ideas with the group. Pairing ensures everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas.
- Voting. List session topics on a flip chart and tell participants to place a mark next to the ones that interest them most. This quickly assesses participants' needs and concerns.
- Small groups. Divide participants into groups of three to five to discuss a topic. Participants can be grouped randomly or by common interest, such as a hobby. This increases dialogue and incorporates movement into the session.
- Role play. Ask participants to act out assigned roles to demonstrate an idea or situation. This strategy works best with small groups in which participants feel less inhibited.
- Closing activity. At the end of the session, ask participants to name one new thing they learned and an action they will take because of it. This helps them reﬂect on what they've learned and plan how they will implement it.
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