Bring your party to life!


I was at a very well-organized party held in a remote location. The organizer who is a good friend did a great job of thinking about every small thing that guests might ask for. Dull and drab as the party was, someone had to do something to keep it going!

Two things brought life into the party: questions and games! And we designers,  curriculum strategists, or learning and development professionals forget about these two essential elements of a learning program, or a training intervention.

We engage in ‘engaging interactivities’ which are either mere drag and drop, or match the column, or multiple choice with nice round radio buttons, and worry about the user interface. Not to say all of us do this. Some of us who do not only think about drag and drop, or radio buttons think have started thinking about Blended-Learning!

So we think of video, we contemplate inclusion of pre and post test, we make a case of case-based learning. If we are more creative, and courageous, we think about including social-learning. Great stuff all, don’t get me wrong guys! However, for learners to creatively respond, to strongly engage, and definitely reflect, discussion questions are a great activity.  Beauty is that for your video content, you can have questions; for the case-based learning, ask questions, and ensure people engage in a conversation through answers and comments. Sadly, we do not significantly leverage discussion questions, and certainly not in effectively.

We all know not to ask closed questions all the time, but our open-ended questions are not interesting enough. The party I refer to came to life when somebody else asked the organizer how they had remembered to bring even the smallest of items. Can you imagine how interested the organizer will be in your/your questions? Immensely is the answer!

When you bring the learner to a classroom for training, or a student for learning, or create an elearning program, engage your learner with content, and activity both.

Here is a list of my pet peeves ( do you care?) around discussion questions as an activity as we designers often present it:

  1. Only teachers/ community managers ask discussion questions most of the time. Learners/Students do not get to pose a question for peer-peer discussion.
  2. Inevitably closed questions find a place in a ‘discussion question’ category, thus limiting any potential discussion. Closed questions are great for gathering facts/information , but not to foster inquiry or intellectual dialogue.
  3. Too many questions, little participation, and little or no moderation/ summarization.
  4. Too many learners responding to one question, and / or a few specific comments
  5. Many LMSs that afford discussion questions do not facilitate download. All learning / knowledge captured goes with expiration of access.
  6. Group-think, and need to confirm also prevent learners from questioning responses/ arguing /inquiring if there is no encouragement to present views fearlessly.

Okay, lets take a quick look at how to include Discussion Questions and make them work for the learners/students:

  • Make sure questions are as open-ended as possible
  • Encourage ( sometimes mandate) participants/students to share there views, and comment on another one or two people’s views. This will allow for reflection, and collective contemplation
  • Ensure there is a regular summary of the discussion, or a curation of the comments. This can be performed by the teacher/trainer, or better still by a nominated student
  • Have a community manager who is tasked with directing the conversations toward a productive direction/knowledge enhancing direction
  • Create smaller groups to facilitate deeper and meaningful peer-peer conversation

These practices, a great online system to handle it, and a watchful eye of the community manager, and your online discussion forums are super-charged learning objects.

As always, would like to hear comments/thoughts. Feel free to add them.

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