Assessing Learning Needs: 3 Questions to Ask before You Start Facilitating

How do you know what your learners are expecting to learn from you?  Are you simply assuming your intentions align with your learners’?  We all know what happens when you ass/u/me, right?

I’ve found that, even when I’ve sent out a course overview, learning objectives and a high level agenda in advance, my learners are often expecting to walk away with something different than what I intend to present.  And this can be a frustrating experience for my learners and for me.

Here are three questions I like to ask prior to beginning a training session:

  1. What are you expecting to get out of this session?
  2. How do you plan to use what you get from this session when you return home?
  3. How will you be held accountable for using what you take from this session?

The first question is to be sure facilitator and learners are in alignment.  If learners are expecting to take something away that you do not intend to cover, a clarification around the scope of your presentation is necessary at the beginning.  Items outside the scope of your presentation can be placed in the “parking lot” and if you have time to cover them (perhaps a brief conversation during a break or at lunch time), then more power to you.

The second and third questions are more for the learner.  As I’ve written before, in order for knowledge or skills to be transferred from the training room to the actual job, the learner will need some help – at least from the facilitator, and ideally from his or her supervisor.

My ideal scenario is to send these questions out to participants in an email or via online survey prior to the training session.  However, when I present at a conference and don’t know who my learners will be in advance, I sometimes have participants write the answers to these questions on post-it notes or on flipchart as they enter the room.

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