What are some ways you can use questions to improve your technology trainings? What kinds of questions will lead your learners where you want them to go?
See what I did there? Rather than talking about how useful questions are in technology trainings for nonprofits straight away, I started off by asking questions. You might have noticed that this triggers a different response in your brain than being handed a lot of information about why and how to use questions.
Questions ask your brain to mine your experience and expertise to come up with answers. You become aware of what your thoughts and understandings are about the topic. You are then able to build on this as you incorporate new information. You connect any new knowledge to that which you already know.
Building on Existing Knowledge
When we ask people to tackle new technologies or situations, it is important to build on the knowledge they already posses. By augmenting the existing knowledge and skills of our learners, rather than asking them to memorize a list of practices, they are much more likely to successfully absorb the information.
Think of the original question I posed. If your brain came up with one or two answers about how to use questions to improve technology trainings, that unearthed what you think about it and maybe some ideas you have about it. Probably at least one of the ideas you had is right on target. If you came up with a blank, it at least activated your brain to orient around the question posed and opened you up to hearing possible answers. It also likely activated a desire to know the answer, a crucial part of learning.
I have consciously been incorporating this practice of inquiry more into my classes and training sessions. Rather than staring out with “This is why and this is how”, I start out by asking the students what they think of the why and the how. Using inquiry helps orient the learners minds to the subject, draws out what their current knowledge level is and often surfaces new ideas or twists on old ideas. I learn something every time I ask!
The Right Questions
Crafting the right questions is key. Ask a question that is too general, i.e., “What do you know about how our database works?” and you don’t get the focus you need, likely resulting in a too-broad range of answers. Too specific, i.e., “Which three reports include donation date?” and you limit the creativity of potential answers. It is akin to the difference between multiple choice and open-ended questions; the latter creates space for a wider range of answers. While you sometimes need your learners to have either very general or very specific knowledge, I find aiming for questions somewhere in the middle is the most productive tactic when starting a new topic of conversation.
There are so many webinars, training sessions, workshops, etc. on all variety of nonprofit technology topics that simply dump content, sometimes in massive quantities that can’t all possibly be absorbed. I have been guilty of doing this myself but am actively working to change my approach. Questions help me do that. For your next training, consider using questions before you dive into content. Also try reducing the amount of content to make time for inquiry, discussion and reflection, all of which help retention more than relentless content delivery. What do you have to lose?
Interested in more? Here are several resources about using inquiry in training delivery, including the Appreciative Inquiry method used by some nonprofits.
Inquiry Based Learning Approaches – from 4H, includes case studies and resources
By Bijan B Gillani, professor of Educational Technology at California State University.
Appreciative Inquiry – “a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be…”
Interview with Hannah Strange, who received her master’s in Positive Organizational Development from Case Western Reserve University, focusing specifically on Appreciative Inquiry.
Jedi training masters Beth Kanter, Andrea Berry, Cindy Leonard and I will showcase a variety of techniques to help you improve your training delivery skills at our #14NTC session “Learn, You Will: Interactive Tech Training Tips from Jedi Masters". It will be one of the most interactive sessions of the conference - mark your calendar for Friday April 15th at 10:30am!
About the Author:John Kenyon is an internationally recognized expert in nonprofit technology. He is an educator and strategist who’s worked exclusively with nonprofits for over 25 years providing advice, teaching seminars and writing articles. John helps nonprofits make good decisions about technology because he knows it can help their organizations operate more effectively and efficiently. He authored the chapter “Effective Online Communications” in the book Managing Technology to Meet your Mission (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2009). John is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and Sonoma State University. Recent keynotes include the Alliance for Children & Families’ Executive Leadership Institute and the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Nonprofit Management Institute. He has been a featured speaker across the US, England, Australia and online.