Traditionally, trainers ask questions and learners answer them.
When you think about it, the ability to ask deep, penetrating, and provocative questions is an essential component of all types of communication skills. So we need to train our participants to ask questions as much as we train them to answer questions.
In our approach to training, we blend questioning and answering. We require and reward participants to ask questions. We train them to ask different types of questions. We show our admiration for participants’ questions by immediately incorporating them in a variety of learning activities. Here are some examples:
- To help participants in their question-asking task, we supply them with templates for different types of questions. For example, we give them a checklist for constructing valid multiple-choice questions. We give them examples of multiple-choice items that emphasize the use of plausible alternatives. We also give them examples of questions that are based on authentic scenarios. At the end of a training session, we ask teams of participants to come up with a couple of scenario-based multiple-choice questions. These teams exchange the questions they created and critique them by using the checklist. We find that this activity strengthens the participants’ mastery of the training topic. It also provides us with a pool of valid test items for the assessment of future students.
- Here’s another technique that we frequently use: At the beginning of a training session, we ask participants to come up with a set of questions based on their limited knowledge and unlimited curiosity. We use these questions as a rapid needs analysis for structuring presentations by subject-matter experts.
- Here’s one more technique for using participant-generated questions: At the end of a training session, we ask participants to come up with left-over questions for subject-matter experts. We use these questions (and answers from experts) to create online FAQs and to incorporate them in various follow-up activities.
- Here’s the final example: During a training session, we frequently ask participants to generate different types of review and application questions. We incorporate them in a variety of quiz games and activities.
Of course, all our training involves preparing participants to answer a variety of questions related to the recall and application of the principles and procedures related to the training topic.
In addition, we help participants improve their answers in several different ways:
We encourage participants to improve the quality of their responses. We give them a checklist of quality standards that require the answers to be accurate, complete, unique, up-to-date, succinct, credible, clear, and memorable. We encourage participants to review their own responses (and the responses of each other) and revise them.
We ask participants to give answers in a variety of formats: orally, in writing, and in a graphic mode. We force participants to give their answers in a variety of lengths, from a single word to a lengthy essay. We also challenge participants to slant their answers to appeal to different audiences (Examples: How would you explain the Grand Unified Theory to a six year old? How would you explain human performance technology to your grandparents?)
Whenever appropriate, we encourage the participants to provide more than one acceptable answer.
A Question for You
How else could we use participants’ questions and answers to make our training more interesting and effective?