Time to apply

As somebody who creates and delivers a lot of training sessions, I’m used to putting together workshops and activities.

I have a process which I work through which usually involves providing some background context to the activity, lots of questions to ask participants, and then the key theories or principles that underpin the workshop. Throughout the session I will regularly ask questions to try and determine how well participants are internalising and making sense of the information I’m providing.

But how is it possible to determine whether participants will really be able to apply their new knowledge to their own work once the workshop is over? For example, let’s say I’m giving a workshop on creative thinking to a group of car mechanics. I may be an expert in creative thinking, but I have very little understanding of the day-to-day activities and processes that my participants undertake. What happens if they ask me how they can reimagine one of their complex assembly procedures?

The answer is that I can’t. But in many ways it’s also important that I don’t, because if I were to provide an answer they wouldn’t feel as if they ‘owned’ it. As a facilitator, it is always tempting to try and provide answers, especially when participants ask you to do so. But it’s much more valuable to give them the time and space to arrive at an answer themselves as this will create the realisation that they have the ability to apply creative thinking to solve problems in their own specific context.

A common issue with many professions is that problems and situations are often complex, what Schon (1983) referred to as ‘the swampy lowlands of professional practice’. A workshop facilitator cannot and should not attempt to provide answers, but should instead strive to create the belief in participants that they themselves have the ability to address and resolve these problems. As Schon observes, learners need time to ‘reflect in action’ as well as ‘reflect on action’.

In future I think it might be a good idea to manage participants’ expectations by making this abundantly clear at the start of the session. And also build in more time for them to reflect on how they might apply their new knowledge to their own specific practice.

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