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close this bookTrainer's Guide for Training of Elected Officials (HABITAT)
close this folderPart III - Workshop learning components
View the documentOverview
View the documentReading
View the documentPresentations
View the documentDiscussions
View the documentStructured exercises
View the documentCase study
View the documentRole playing
View the documentSimulations
View the documentInstruments


One of the most effective methods available to you to get your participants more deeply involved in their own learning is through group discussion. Discussion is any interaction between two or more people on a topic of mutual interest. The types of discussion used in the Elected Leadership series are of two kinds depending on the role played by the trainer. In trainer-guided discussions, you take an active and direct part in guiding and directing the discussion. In what is sometimes called a structured discussion, you will be letting participants manage their own discussions following your guidelines.

In the trainer-guided discussion, the objective is to encourage participants to think about, relate to, and internalize new ideas related to a particular topic. These discussions are based on a predetermined set of questions which you prepare ahead of time to lead participants, one question at a time, toward a desired learning outcome. While usually planned as a way of processing case-study data, role-playing experiences, or other exercises, such discussions may occur spontaneously during a presentation or near the close of a workshop. How productive these discussions will be depends, to a great extent, on how experienced you are with the question-and-answer method and your knowledge of the subject under discussion.

In the so-called structured discussion, the objective is to engage participants in idea generation or problem solving relative to an assigned topic and to demonstrate the value of teamwork - interdependence. You need little subject-matter expertise to initiate a structured discussion. Normally, you will divide the participant group into several small groups of about equal size and assign 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. You might want to give instructions 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 flipchart paper which can be taped to a wall of the training room.

Sometimes, the focus of small group discussions is on the process of working together as well as the product of the group effort. There is much learning value in exploring relationships (patterns of interaction) among participants as they work together to solve a problem, decide on a course of action, or carry out some other task. You might decide to select one or two participants to be observers. They would be asked to monitor the process of interaction among participants as they work together on tasks, with the knowledge and consent of other group members, of course, and to feed back their observations and conclusions to the group when it has finished work on its assigned task.

In summary, the discussion method can stimulate participant involvement in the learning process. Trainer-guided discussions are of value principally in stimulating logical thinking. However, subject-matter expertise is required if you plan to lead such a discussion. Structured discussions, on the other hand, help participants become selfreliant, to develop team thinking and approaches, and to be less dependent on the trainer. Your role in discussions of this kind shifts to coach and interpreter. Through mutual exploration, struggle, and discovery, participants in small groups gain insight and the satisfaction that comes from having attained these insights.