Learner Engagement: Ensuring Successful Practice

The pillars of learner engagement

We believe that the three pillars of solid instructional design are the:

  1. Adult Learning Principles – Blog 1 Blog 2
  2. Systematic Learning Process – Blog
  3. VIVE Formula

These three pillars maximize learning by boosting learner engagement. When all three pillars are in place, you can guarantee learning will take place.

Systematic Learning Process Review

Systematic Learning ProcessAs discussed in a previous blog, the Systematic Learning Process identifies three important phases that learners need to experience during the program to ensure learning takes place:

  • Presentation of the content
  • Application activities to provide practice
  • Feedback on the learners’ performance

How is this three-phase process mapped into a formal learning program? We recommend that only 30-40% of time should be spent on Presentation leaving 60-70% of time for Application and Feedback. In other words, more than half the time, learners should be practicing! It’s through hands-on and brains-on practice that learners actually begin to consolidate the new skills and knowledge into long-term memory.

When Application Goes Wrong

I’m sure at some point in your formal learning experiences you have been given in an Application activity that was just plain frustrating. Maybe you didn’t understand what you were supposed to do, or felt you hadn’t been fully prepared to succeed. Although it is a good idea to challenge learners, adults don’t like to feel foolish and will quickly disengage from the learning if they lose confidence in the program or don’t think they can succeed.

Ensuring Application Succeeds

If you want to avoid poorly executed Application activities, use the following five-step process and sample processing questions to ensure success!

1. Preparation/Design/Development

  • Given that you have a complete Model of Performance (task analysis) and a solid description of the target population, confirm the performance objectives, i.e., what the target population must know and do to be successful on the job. Improving job performance is the ultimate goal.
  • Confirm lesson objective(s) will move learners as close as possible to the performance objective(s).
  • Ensure Presentation and Application covers the required skills and knowledge, and the practice activities are compatible with the readiness and sophistication of the target population.
  • Develop all learner materials needed, e.g., quizzes, case studies, role plays, etc.
  • Develop all instructor/facilitator materials and instructions needed, e.g., slide presentation or other media, set-up instructions, monitoring instructions, answer keys, debriefing instructions, etc.

2. Introduction/Instructions

  • Before you start, ensure learners are ready for the planned activity. Minimally, test their understanding of the required skills and knowledge. Confirm the group is ready for the activity, e.g., have built sufficient trust to engage in a role-play.
  • Introduce the practice activity.
  • Give clear verbal and visual instructions, including possible roles, planned breaks and timing estimates.
  • Ensure learners have realistic expectations of what is about to happen.
  • Ask and invite questions to confirm learners understand what they are to do.
  • Ask them to engage fully in the activity and to evaluate later, i.e., suspend their judgment.

3. Conducting the Practice Activity

  • Begin the practice.
  • As an instructor/facilitator, you have both content and process tasks. Monitor the activity:
    • observe and listen to the learners to ensure the relevant teaching points are identified and applied;
    • if working in groups, ensure the groups are supportive and moving forward with the task.
  • Use processing questions to help individual learners or groups if they are getting bogged down.
  • Give time warnings, if needed.
  • End the activity and call everyone back.

4. Debriefing and Giving Feedback

  • Use your observations made during the practice to form the basis of the debrief.
  • Have learners report back on their results and/or experience.
  • Provide constructive feedback and help learners relate their experiences to their existing knowledge.

5. Summarizing

  • Summarize the practice activity.
  • Link your observations to the theory and concepts presented.
  • Help learners make connections from the practice activity to their job performance.
  • If activities appear to be unsuccessful in fostering the expected learning, you can still create opportunities for learning by asking for ‘lessons learned’.

Processing Questions

Use the following sample processing questions—at the appropriate time—to maximize the success of your Application practice activities.

During the Practice Activity

    1. What is going on?
    2. How do you feel about that?
    3. What do you need to know to….?
    4. Would you be willing to try to…?
    5. Can you be more specific?
    6. Could you offer a suggestion?
    7. What would you prefer?
    8. What are your concerns?
    9. What is your objection?
    10. Can you say that in another way?
    11. What is the worst/best thing that could happen?
    12. What else? And?
    13. Would you please say more about that?

Debriefing the Practice Activity

This involves sharing reactions and observations after the learners have completed the activity.

    1. Can someone summarize what happened in their activity?
    2. Who will volunteer to share reactions? Who else?
    3. What happened?
    4. How did you feel about that?
    5. Who else had the same experience?
    6. Who had a different experience?
    7. Were there any surprises?
    8. How many of you felt the same way?
    9. How many felt differently?
    10. What did you observe?
    11. What were you aware of?
    12. How did you account for that?
    13. What does that mean to you?
    14. How was that significant?
    15. How was that positive/negative?
    16. What struck you most about that?
    17. How do those fit together?
    18. How might that have been different?
    19. What does that suggest to you about yourself/the group?
    20. What does that suggest to you about _________ in general?
    21. What do you understand better now that the activity is over?
    22. What might we infer/conclude from that?
    23. What did you learn/relearn?
    24. Does that remind you of anything?
    25. How could you make it better?
    26. What changes would you make?
    27. What principles do you see operating?
    28. What does that help to explain?
    29. How does this relate to other experiences?
    30. What do you associate with that?
    31. If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
    32. What will be your take-away?

Summarizing the Practice Activity

a) Using learning by applying it to their real-world situations:

    1. How can you apply/transfer that?
    2. What would you like to do with that?
    3. How could you repeat this again?
    4. What could you do to hold on to that concept?
    5. What are the options?
    6. How could you make it better?
    7. What would be the consequences of doing/not doing that?
    8. What modifications can you make work for you?
    9. What might we conclude from that?


b) Processing the entire application as a “learning experience”:

  1. How was this experience for you?
  2. How might it have been more meaningful?
  3. What changes would you make?
  4. What would you do less of/more of?
  5. If you had to do this over again, what would you do differently?
  6. Any other suggestions?

Visit www.fka.com to find out more about our programs to help you design and deliver effective programs that keep your learners engaged and maximize their learning.

Geoff Nolan
Director of Marketing and Public Workshops