5 Questions to Foster Learner Engagement
How do you want to travel?
Lately I’ve been thinking about individual accountability for engaging in learning, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the course as the instructor does. This means focusing on the process (how learners decide to engage – or not) as well as the content (syllabus or curriculum).
Courses and workshops represent particular journeys for all participants – teacher included. In general, learning facilitators establish and negotiate the content, pacing, climate and structure throughout the course. And yet, learners themselves decide what and how they will learn. Learning can happen in the absence of teaching, and teaching can happen in the absence of learning. The magic happens when the two come together.
Most workshops and courses typically start off with a conversation about:
- Learning outcomes
- Course overview or outline
- Participants’ learning goals
- Learning assessments.
However, it’s equally important for learners to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how they will learn and participate, what might hold them back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that can feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused beginning to workshops and courses, because a conversation about process sets the stage for reciprocity and co-engagement in the learning journey.
It comes down to a conversation about how we (both the instructor and the group) collectively intend to make the journey together. From a facilitation perspective, this means starting out by asking questions like:
- Are you (learner) coming to this class as a spectator or as a participant?
- What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
- What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
- If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
- How will you translate and adapt ideas, knowledge and skills in order to apply them in practice?
It’s not essential that we ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions we could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles and on the nature of the voyage they will take with you and with one-another.
And the next time I attend a workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”