Learner-Centred Learning - Facilitating Self-paced Workshops

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For many years I have been delivering two predominantly self-paced workshops.  They are a one-day Time Management & Microsoft Outlook workshop, and a two-day Intermediate Microsoft Project workshop.  They have been very well received.

The main benefits I see in running these as 'self-paced' are that people can work at their own speed; and as the facilitator, I can assist people individually or in pairs if they get stuck or have a specific question. Working at your own speed means if you are quick you can get out early, or talk through the application of the learning with the facilitator or other quick learners.  When working by yourself, it is easier to 'do over' any activities that did not make sense or did not come out right, without asking other people to wait, putting extra pressure on the learner.

In both of these workshops I work hard to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the approach, and I try to find a balance between self-paced and facilitator-led time.  I tend to ask for everyone's attention at intervals to explain complex and/or important topics that they are working through.

Some other things I do include:

  • For the two-day program I set a target for the end of Day 1 early in the day, so that everyone is at least half-way through the content before they stop for the day.  Sometimes I have to be a bit flexible to accommodate different learners.  This is also something that can be done coming up to a long break like lunchtime.
  • Once people have started PC-based activities, only ask for their extended attention just before or just after a logical breaking point.  For example, I might go through 10 to 15 slides with the whole group just before lunchtime.
  • Let people have a long self-paced session when there are big tasks to do, so they have a sense of making progress.  Jumping frequently between self-paced and facilitator-led modes can be quite disconcerting.  
  • I try not to ask for the whole group's attention after they settle back into self-paced content after lunch.  This means I ask for their attention early in the day when they are more likely to be able to concentrate on what I am saying. Also, if people leave early as they finish, they do not miss out.
  • Rather than adding in extra tasks like filling out a progress checklist, I mainly keep an eye on the page numbers of all of the participants, so I can see how they are progressing relative to each other.
  • If someone is struggling, I give them more attention.  If relevant, I may also suggest that they skip some content.  For example, not many organisations use the financial tracking functions of MS Project, so many people can skip this content.  Similarly, if someone is struggling with using folders and contact groups in Microsoft Outlook, they are unlikely to be comfortable setting up rules.
  • Make sure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for people to participate in discussion as part of the facilitator-led portions of the workshop.
  • Put the list of topics or some other advance organiser onto the screen while people are working.

Gary Tennant of Teamwork Consulting in Melbourne has been a mentor to me in the discipline of instructional design.  He does self-paced, competency-based training in Dr Robert F Mager's Criterion Referenced Instruction.  In his sessions:
  • He makes sure that people are comfortable and ready by clearly explaining the approach.
  • He lets them know how they should be progressing and where they are relative to others in the class.
  • He ensures that they have adequately completed early content before introducing more advanced content.  
Another simple technique Gary uses is to have a flipchart next to his work area.  People who are ready to have one-on-one time with him, to ask a question or get assessed for a competency, can write their name up, resulting in a simple queue in order of readiness.  This not only assists people in progressing in an orderly way, it also puts them in charge of their learning, rather than making that Gary's sole responsibility.

If you are facilitating partially or fully self-paced training, think about how you can assist participants in being comfortable and give them ownership of their learning.