Making sure that participants learn

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16. Making sure that participants learn something

Asking and answering questions

There are lots of reasons to ask questions. Evaluation is only one of the reasons. Ask questions to:

  • Get people involved and interested
  • Stimulate discussion
  • Channel thinking (use questions as a discovery process, allow participants to facilitate and guide the training)

There are several kinds of questions.

  • Open and Closed Questions

Closed Questions

A closed question is typically only answered by yes or no, true or false. A closed question can also be answered by a very limited response, such as “Who was the first President of the United States?” Answer: George Washington.

Instructors may use closed questions to:

  • Test knowledge
  • Receive quick answers
  • Maintain control of the class
  • Take a break
  • Force a choice between a correct and incorrect response.

Open Questions

An open question tends to start with what, why, how, or describe.

An open question asks the respondents to think and reflect. It typically requires a longer answer. There is typically not one correct answer to an open question.

An example of an open question is “What do you think about the video we just watched?”

A facilitator may use open questions to:

  • Generate discussion
  • Find out how the class is feeling
  • Get people to open up
  • Get the class to think about what they’ve learned.

Questions to Different Audiences

An instructor can direct a question to different audiences.

  • Direct a question to one person (maybe to tap into that person’s expertise)
  • Direct a question to the whole group (good for starting discussions)
  • Ask a rhetorical question (not intended to be answered but to stimulate thinking)

Recall and Apply Questions

There are two kinds of evaluation questions that an instructor can ask:

  • A recall question: Learners repeat back what they have learned.
  • An apply question: Learners have to think about what they have learned and apply it to a new situation.
  • “What if” questions are apply questions. Apply questions will tell you the most about what a learner has learned.

How to ask a question

Indicators of good questions:

  • Brief
  • Clear and easy to understand
  • Asked with a friendly tone
  • Allow people time to think about the answer

There are also some guidelines for how to ask questions to a group and how to ask questions to an individual.

To a group, you:

  • Ask the question
  • Wait, to give people time to think
  • Call on someone

To an individual, you:

  • Call on the person (to make sure they are listening)
  • Ask the question
  • Wait to give the person time to think

How to answer a question

Questions asked by the participants can tell trainers where learners are having difficulties. Don’t feel obligated to answer them yourself. Turn the question into a relay question and ask someone else to answer it.

In the classroom, be sure to repeat the question before answering it. Paraphrase any lengthy questions. This helps ensure that you understand the question (if you are wrong, the questioner will tell you) and that everyone in the room has heard it.

Acknowledge any questions that you cannot answer. Be sure to get back to the group as soon as possible.

Some learners may ask questions about everything. Their questions may appear to be habitual or an indication that the learner is not understanding a lot of the material. If their many questions are slowing down the entire group, you will note some frustration on the part of other participants.

When that is the case:

  • Encourage others to participate more by recognizing their questions first.
  • As a last resort, take the individual aside and ask if he or she could hold the questions until the breaks or after the session is over, at which time the trainer would quickly go through any questions the individual may have.