|Designing Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)|
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Good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh
In order for people to apply what they have learned when they return to their jobs, they must do two things:
· Be committed to the concepts and skills presented to them by the trainer, and
· Retain enough of the information presented to perform effectively.
Involvement is the key to both commitment and retention, and one of the most effective methods available to the trainer to encourage participant involvement in learning, is group discussion.
Discussion is the interaction of two or more people on a topic of mutual interest. Discussions come in at least three varieties, depending on the role played by the trainer. In the guided discussion, the trainer takes an active and direct part in the discussion. In the structured discussion, the trainer allows participants to manage the discussion, following trainer-established rules and procedures. In the free discussion, the trainer sets the process in motion by introducing a topic and leaves questions of how to proceed up to the participants themselves.
The guided discussion is a trainer-centred activity. It requires a trainer that is a subject-matter expert in the topic under discussion, is familiar with question-and-answer method, and knows the direction the discussion is to take. To a large extent, guided discussion is a two-way activity - the trainer interacts with various training participants, one at a time, while other participants observe. Through a series of questions that build logically upon one another, the trainer attempts to lead the participant toward a predetermined decision. For this reason, guided discussion is not a suitable technique for making decisions. Rather, it is designed to encourage participants to think about, relate to and internalize new ideas.
The structured discussion might be described as a trainer-designed, participant-centred activity that can be used to engage participants at a training programme in group problem-solving. A structured discussion does not require the trainer to have subject matter expertise. Normally, the trainer divides the group into several small groups of about equal size and assigns the same or different tasks to each group. After tasks are assigned, a period of time is allowed for the small groups to discuss the task. Instructions may be given to the small groups about appointing a leader, a reporter and a timekeeper. At the end of the discussion phase, small groups are asked to come back together and to report their findings, sometimes written on flip-chart paper and taped to a wall of the training room.
A free discussion could be called a trainer-facilitated, participant-centred activity in which participants take the responsibility for what happens. Free discussions are used to share information, test out new ways of thinking and build group unity and consensus. The discussion is initiated by the trainer who introduces the topic and then steps aside to allow the group to function in any way it wishes. As a facilitator, the trainer rarely intervenes in the task of the group but focuses instead on the process used by the group to carry out the task. The trainer must have good listening and observational skills and be able to interpret what is taking place in the group, so that participants can learn from it.
Each of the three discussion methods can stimulate some degree of participant involvement in the learning process. Guided discussions are of value principally in stimulating logical thinking. However, much subject-matter expertise is required of the trainer who plans to lead a guided discussion. Participant-centred techniques, on the other hand, help participants become more self-reliant as a team and less dependent on the trainer. The role of the trainer in discussions of this kind shifts to coach and interpreter. Through mutual exploration, struggle and discovery, participants gain insights that are truly their own and the self-confidence that comes from having attained these insights.