Session Planning

One of the Working Person’s Store employee level training goals is to include very job specific content in each training session. This is often material of a technical nature that must be known by the employee in order to serve the Working Person’s Store customer well.

The best content and the most professionally designed materials however are not enough to accomplish our training goals!  Working Person’s Store trainers therefore must do more than organize and present the subject matter well. You might ask then, what else is needed?

The answer: Place the learner at the center of the learning process.

This means the learner must be just as active and involved in the session as is the presenter.

Placing The Learner At The Center Of The Learning Process

When planning any training session, the Working Person’s Store Training Specialist must find specific ways to allow participants to discover for themselves the truth, usefulness, necessity, etc. of the material being presented.

Just as you would guide others walking along a trail, your learners must do their own walking; they must be active, not passive to benefit from the exercise and to reach the intended destination. Remember, the Training Specialist has spent a lot of time studying, investigating, and thinking through the importance of the subject to be taught.  That is one of the reasons they themselves feel the session is vital.  The learner must be guided through the exact, same process.

It is a fact!  A good presentation by itself does not necessarily make for good learning.

For example, if a subject is outside of a learner’s frame of reference effective learning is often greatly hindered.  Or, if too much material is presented at once, learners get a form of “mental indigestion.”  They need to process information in small bites, interact with it and integrate it with what they already know.

On the other hand, when people listen to a good presenter – even one who doesn’t speak well but uses quality audiovisual aids – they do “absorb” something.  Yet it is unreasonable to expect people to recall even major points from too long a lecture, let alone apply it correctly. As someone said, “If telling were teaching, we would all be so smart we couldn’t stand it.

The point is that learner-centered instruction recognizes that people need to be actively involved in the learning process.  They learn best when allowed the opportunity to discover new information and to participate in experiences that reveal the content they are learning – in short, to interact with the subject matter.  Typically, this happens in a 50 to 75 minute session that includes the opportunity for participants to talk about the subject with others, discuss its implications for them, and to make a personal application. 

Session Planning Model

Learning follows a natural flow.

Whether learning to play a new board game, fix a leaky faucet, budget a million-dollar project, lead people, grow tomatoes, or rear children- they always follow a pattern, a sequence of learning phases.  What’s more, whether the learning occurs in ten seconds or takes ten years, the order in which they go through the stages is always the same.  Maybe you aren’t convinced yet that there is such a universal pattern, but just suppose for a moment it’s true. Wouldn’t you want your session to go with the flow, rather than against it?

You would want your session to be structured in such a logical order so as to provide for the learner’s need to be involved in a complete learning process.

The model or plan around which you build your session would provide for all the phases of the learning cycle that people actually go through when approaching a learning task.  By keeping that session plan model before you, you would actually be making learning easier for others- all the while clarifying your role as guide, stimulator and facilitator.

The actual session has several parts.  Each part provides the learner the opportunity to be involved in learning, while you, the leader guide the session.  The model also helps you in your planning.  In short, the session planning model becomes your best planning tool to aid your preparation as well as be a constant reminder to always keep the learner at the center of the learning arena –not yours.  That subtle difference can pay big dividends for your learners.

This kind of a session plan—one that goes with the flow of learning instead of against it—looks like this.  Please note the logical order of these four simple elements: 

Entry > Intro > Discovery > Conclusion

Now, what do these words actually mean, and how do you use them in developing your session?

Entry

Entry means that the learner must be comfortable with other learners, with you their guide, and even with the room.  Remember, every learner enters the learning arena with agendas and needs.  Before learners can approach the subject matter without interference from physical, emotional or social barriers, their comfort with you, with other learners, and with the environment must be assured.

Intro

Intro means that the learner has the opportunity to relate the subject matter to some knowledge or experience he or she already has.  The learner has to be introduced to the subject and become familiar with it.

Discovery

Discovery is the process of acquiring knowledge, information or experience.  The learner is guided to and through new facts, information, attitudes or skills

Conclusion

Conclusion requires that learners have the opportunity to integrate the knowledge or experience and apply it to their life or job.

When properly utilized, the above elements outline the session for the trainer and reinforce their role as a guide who walks alongside learners in the search for knowledge and truth.  The session plan itself, then, puts learners actively at the center of the process

Preparation for teaching becomes easier as one becomes a learner-centered teacher.

The following pages explain how this teaching framework can help you plan your session.  Each phase of the session plan describes a particular aspect of the session you may be teaching.  Remember, the aim is to help you think in terms of how the learner can be involved actively in each part of the session.

Each phase will represent one aspect of the learner’s relationship to the session, the trainer, and the information.  As you plan your next teaching opportunity, let the session plan remind you that learners need to be actively involved in the process of entering the learning arena, becoming familiar with the subject, discovering new truth and making application.

Entry > Intro> Discover > Conclusion

Explanation: Entry

Every learner needs to enter the learning arena.  The “arena” is both the physical environment and the social setting- including other participants- in which the session is held.  Entry is a brief activity where the learner is introduced to the other participants, the trainer, and the environment.  This portion of a typical training session ought not to last more than 3 to 5 minutes.

The tone of Entry should be upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic – yet sensitive to the learners’ needs.  The content or focus of Entry should related to the subject but be fairly light and provide for group bonding dynamics.  Avoid activities that ask potentially insulting or embarrassing questions (e.g., “How did our father treat you as a child?”) or that are silly or unrelated to the session content.

In a typical day long session in which all participants remain together in the same room for every session, Entry usually occurs first thing in the morning, at the start of the first session. Since an Entry activity for sessions later in the day will have already occurred: no further entry is necessary.  A brief “re-entry” to the environment may be helpful however, after lunch.

Because you may not need to lead the group in an Entry activity, the session plan can give you the option of including or omitting it.  Be sure however to find out in advance what your learners will have already experienced during their day, so you can plan accordingly.

Some Entry activities include:

  • A group introduction time in which each participant shares his or her name and perhaps a few other facts (related to the subject) about their background, reason for attending, what they expect to learn from the session, etc.  Use a transparency or worksheet to guide everyone through the activity and to make instructions clear.
  • Finding out people’s middle names, vacation preferences, happy childhood memories, hobbies, etc. – done within the context of the session topic – can be enjoyable and instructional.  Sharing these orally or even by drawing a simple picture can help each learner feel included.

At the end of a successful entry activity, learners should feel comfortable with each other, the physical environment, and the session leader.  They should be ready – and willing—to approach the subject matter.

Consequences Of Low Or No Entry: Learner emotions of fear, anxiety, shyness or anger and/or distractions of physical discomforts interfere with subsequent participation in learning activities.  When learners have a choice, they may leave physically, and in the future they will tend to avoid similar situations.  Because Entry places learner at ease (especially with each other), a weak Entry may lead to additional ”adjustment” time being consumed later in the session.

Entry > INTRO > Discovery > Conclusion

In Intro, the learner is introduced to the subject and the subject to the learner.  During this 5 to 10 minute activity, the leader leads learners to actively work through any parallel frames of reference from their own experience.  The activity should be closely identified with the central thesis of the subject to be taught.  Remember: you are helping your learners identify with your subject from their life experiences, not yours.

Intro helps learners “own” the agenda for the session so they will concentrate on the subject at hand and apply their efforts to learning more.  You, as leader, are inviting participants to get on board,  and you want to assure them that the session will take them where they need and want to go.  The tone of Intro is light and short, but seriously pointed to the session subject.

Some Intro activities include:

  • Having learners relate the subject to their own, personal frame of reference. For example, if you are teaching about managing or coaching others, have learners identify characteristics of the best (or worse) boss they worked for or persons who coached them.  If the subject is accounting methods, have learners list methods they use to keep track of things in their personal lives, homes, hobbies, etc.

Some techniques to establish parallel frames of reference include: using paired or small group activities that require everyone to share an idea with at least one other person; limiting the topic to a particular sphere, such as, “in your work life, “ or “when you were between the ages of 10 and 25,” or “in the last six months,” or “the best….you have experienced.”

Use simple worksheets that allow learners to jot down key words or to complete sentences that you begin for them, or to fill in a small (2×2 or 3) matrix which gives specific criteria related to the session subject.  Give learners the added opportunity to share their answers with a neighbor, or perhaps (selectively) with the whole group.

  • Having participants jot down any questions or concerns about the proposed subject.  Have participants share these orally or list, display and refer to these throughout the session so that learners link what is being said to their own ideas and concerns.
  • Having learners identify consequences of failing to understand and apply the subject properly or adequately.  Involve learners actively by having them think through what they already know or have experienced, write it down, and then share a relevant insight, fact or question with one other person, with a small group or the entire class.
  • Showing learners a brief video segment that helps them quickly identify with the subject and having them link the subject (by writing on a worksheet, discussing in pairs, etc.) to their own situation – personal, family, recreational, vocational, etc.  (Note: using a video in this way is quite different from using a video for the Discovery portion of the session. See below.)

RESULT: After a successful Intro, most learners are ready for the Discovery and will be comfortable with the subject at hand.  They will begin to understand the importance and relevance of the subject matter to their work or life situation.  Most important, because you have taken time to gently move learners into the subject matter arena, they will have a better attitude toward the subject matter, you, and the group process.

CONSEQUENCES OF POOR OR NO INTRO:  If you fail to introduce the learner properly to the subject, your learners may be confused or lost during the Discovery stage of learning – and rarely will they let you know it!  If they aren’t able to get on track, either by asking a question or figuring out for themselves where they are, they may remain silently frustrated, or they may become anxious or even defensive –fearing they might embarrass themselves if required to participate.

Entry > Intro > DISCOVERY > Conclusion

EXPLANATION: Discover is the heart of your session.

It is during this time that the majority of information will be presented to learners, through lecture, discussion, question and answer, audiovisuals and other forms of interaction.

This portion of the session could be as long as 45 minutes – or longer if the session runs more than an hour.  If more time is needed for Discovery, then Entry or Intro can be scaled back, but it is essential to see this portion of the session as Discovery: when the learner is involved with the leader as guide in discovering what they have mutually agreed to explore.

If lecture is used, it ought to be used as one of several “core activities” for Discovery and should not go beyond 12 to 15 minutes at any one time without learners being involved actively: by asking questions, sharing their reaction with a neighbor, or another response activity.  More than one lecture period may be needed.  In any case, you should always provide pre-printed note-taking guides for learners: prepare a structured outline and key words (not a full text summary of each concept you’ll cover), on which learners can actively follow along with you and reinforce (by writing down) your major points.  Use locator references (Roman numerals, page numbers, etc.) so participants can easily follow along – and so you can change the order of your presentation, if need be, once the page is printed.

Some Discovery activities include:

  • Discussion, lecture, or audiovisual media presentation.
  • Small group inquiry (e.g., “breakout” groups) with specific questions to answer or situations to work through.  Make sure you allow adequate time for discussion and feedback to the total group.
  • Case development and analysis or case study
  • Experiential forms of learning, such as a role play, game or simulation
  • Creative combinations of the above and other group techniques.

Result: A successful Discovery leaves learners satisfied (but not “stuffed”) yet still realizing that there is more (namely, application) to come.  Learners should have a feeling of accomplishment or mastery, of knowing something they didn’t know at the start of Discovery – plus the confidence that they know they know it.  They will know what landmarks (e.g., major topics, concepts or issues) to look for and what pitfalls to avoid.

Consequences Of No Or Poor Discovery:  When Discovery is poorly executed, learners feel dissatisfied, disappointed or hungry and wanting more.  If they were not involved actively in the Discovery process, they will not feel ready to assume ownership – which is a necessary conclusion to any learning endeavor.  Without active learner involvement in Discovery, the trainer has merely delivered the subject content much like a package whose contents may have been explained – but which the recipient has not yet opened for him or herself.

Entry > Intro > Discovery > CONCLUSION

Explanation:  After Discovery, learners still may not know exactly what they will do or are expected to do with the information they have acquired. Many learners  are unwilling to ask the “So what now?” question.  In Conclusion, you provide the opportunity for them to answer that question.

Planning for Conclusion is essential to provide learners the needed opportunity to apply to their own life the truth they have learned.  Too often, a conclusion is merely a verbal “wrap up” or summary in which the trainer tells students once again what they have heard or were supposed to learn.

In contrast to that popular, last-chance “review”, a true Conclusion allows learners to build on knowledge they have gained and to find one, or possibly two, applications (bridges) they can make to their own life or work situation.  This portion of the session need not be more than 5 to 7 minutes, but should not be neglected or omitted due to lack of time in order to devote more time to Discovery.  If you find yourself at the end of your allotted time with inadequate time remaining for Conclusion, time has been misspent in the preceding minutes.

Some Conclusion activities include:

  • Having participants identify one or two “key,” “most interesting,” or “most relevant” concepts they learned.  Sharing these with the whole group can quickly review your session.
  • Completing a “Journal Entry” (written summary statement of important principles and/or implications), plan for action, or “memo to oneself.”
  • Choosing one aspect of the session and making direct application to one’s work, family or life.
  • Small group task force information – to provide a structure for follow through and implementation for work or personal application.
  • Identification of further learning needs and/or resources available for further learning. (Working Person’s Store Intranet, manuals, etc.)

RESULT: A successful Conclusion leaves learners owning the knowledge that was transmitted and help them to be committed to using and applying it.  In addition, learners will feel good about the learning process they were led through and will be willing to approach the subject again later.  An adequate Conclusion does just that: it brings to personal conclusion the subject matter and answers the all-important “so what” question.  When learners share these results with peers, it helps confirm their decision to act on new learning.  Although you can not force learners to take action steps, you can work to remove any barriers to deciding what to do and when and how to act.  When you as guide provide that opportunity, you are truly cooperating with the learning process!

Consequences Of No Or Poor Discovery:  Failure to allow learners to adequately consider follow-through and application weakens their ownership of the content.  It decreases the likelihood they will retain the knowledge or take responsibility for learning, and it makes successful transfer of learning back to their life or work situation doubtful.  Without proper Conclusion, learners may well avoid exposing themselves to the subject again – quite possible (and sadly) because the will fee they have “already learned” it.

Making Session Planning Easier

The above words, Entry, Intro, Discovery, and Conclusion – when properly used, outline the session for the trainer and reinforce their role as a guide who walks alongside learners in the search for knowledge and truth.  The session plan itself, then, puts learner actively at the center of the process.

This four step model for a session plan is one of those disciplines which at first may seem rigid or confining.  However, when applied creatively and flexibly (but consistently) over time, the approach yields rich dividends for learners and greater satisfaction for the trainer.  After applying the method repeatedly, you will become increasingly consciously of which of the four phases of the session your learners are in at any given point in the session.  Preparation for teaching will become easier as you become a learner-centered teacher.