Teaching Six Sigma awareness and methodologies in the workplace is not that different from teaching any process improvement subject. The most important point is to let the audience members know up front that they do not need a master’s degree in statistical analysis. From there, just “keep it simple” and use common, everyday examples to which they can relate.

When preparing for a Six Sigma awareness program for adult learners, a teacher – maybe better referred to as a facilitator – should keep in mind the basic, tried-and-true tools and techniques that have been used in adult learning for years. The basics of educating adults break down into the following four categories:

  • Addressing needs of the adult learner
  • Playing many roles in leading the class
  • Making the difference – the presenter
  • Drawing out the audience with questions

Addressing Needs of the Adult Learner

Teaching adults requires different tactics than other learning environments. Adults need to know why – use concrete information versus abstract, tell real-world, meaningful, relevant stories. They need to feel valued and feel that no matter what role they play, president or administrative assistant, their experiences and knowledge add quality information to understanding multiple processes and that they add value to all learning experiences.

Adults also need to be involved. So ask questions; include exercises, activities and games.

Adults learn in different ways, so learning programs use different methods and approaches. When teaching adults, it is good to incorporate and build on their experiences. Use techniques like “sign posting” (tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them) or “systematic teaching” (what, why and how > example > exercise/practice > test for understanding > teach to need > establish relevance > transition to next topic).

Adults must take time out of their busy schedules for learning. So a facilitator must be prepared to set expectations on the true class objectives before, during and after the learning sessions. In addition, facilitators should have an understanding not just of the subject matter presented, but the presentation and communication skills needed to be effective and their roles in making those presentations.

Playing Many Roles in Leading the Class

A facilitator needs to function in many roles in the adult teaching process.

  • As a guide, a facilitator must know the steps of the process from beginning to end and must carefully guide the participants through each phase.
  • As a motivator, a facilitator must – from the rousing opening statement to the closing words of cheer – ignite a fire within the group and keep it well lit, establishing momentum and keeping the pace.
  • As a bridge builder, a facilitator must find and use similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus where others see differences.
  • As a clairvoyant, a facilitator must watch carefully for potential signs of strain, weariness, aggravation and disempowerment.
  • As a peacemaker, a facilitator must step in during the rare confrontation and re-establish order and direct the group toward a constructive resolution.
  • As a taskmaster, a facilitator must keep the session on track. This means cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout the session.
  • As a praiser, a facilitator must recognize effort, progress and results of the adult learners.
  • As an active listener, a facilitator must make a conscious effort to hear and understand the content, meaning and feeling related to what is said.

Making the Difference – The Presenter

The most important element of any presentation is the presenter. Some references for adult learning have indicated that after a normal business presentation, 50 percent of the information provided has been lost after one hour. After one day, if training has not been put into practice, the loss is 90 percent. So, how does a teacher keep the audience involved? Make certain that the topic is not only what the audience needs to know but also that the presenter can (with enthusiasm) deliver it.

Presenters should ask themselves these questions:

  • “Does the audience like and trust me?”
  • “Do I have good, vital information to communicate?”
  • “Can I connect with the audience?”

Great presenters all possess a presence, or the ability to connect with the audience, ask questions and wait for the right answers using effective communication tools. Presence is the combination of several internal elements including enthusiasm (bridled energy), poise, confidence, an authoritative aura, and non-verbal cueing such as smiles or gestures and a perceived image.

Connecting with the audience means using eye contact; body language; stance; gestures; voice modulation, volume and clarity; and humor; Also necessary is the ability to handle noise or diffuse hostility and conflict; and exhibit strength with questioning skills. According to author Albert Mehrabian in his book Silent Messages, there are three Vs to connecting with the audience – verbal, vocal and visual.

  • Verbal (what is said) includes the words chosen, their appropriateness and organization.
  • Vocal (how things are said) is the rate at which the presenter speaks, as well as volume, pitch and quality of their voice.
  • Visual (appearance) includes expressions, body language/gestures and dress.

All three are important factors in connecting with the audience.

In addition to the three Vs, when creating a learning environment a facilitator must consider external noise factors such traffic, air conditioning and side conversations.

With these communication tools, a facilitator must be prepared with the message. A facilitator fosters understanding through being clear and precise. To build an effective awareness session, these steps need to be followed:

  • Write the objectives of the presentation
  • Establish the main points
  • Develop supporting information
  • Write the introduction, then the conclusion
  • Review the presentation for completeness
  • Rehearse the presentation
  • Write expected questions and develop answers

Once a facilitator has built an effective presentation, they need to draw out the audience with their delivery. To accomplish this, the facilitator must exercise their questioning skills.

Drawing Out the Audience with Questions

Effective facilitation means that the leader of the presentation explores the topic with the audience, gets their involvement, tests for their understanding, stimulates group discussion and encourages inquiry. But how do they do all that? With questions!

Questioning is a true art. According to Richard Paul in his book Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, questioning follows a specific sequence:

  1. Seek clarification
  2. Probe assumptions
  3. Probe reason and evidence
  4. Probe implications and consequences
  5. Challenge viewpoints or perspectives
  6. Question the question

At the basic level of facilitating, teachers need to understand how to incorporate questions to satisfy the adult learner. As facilitators advance, they can delve deeper into the art of questioning to help students fully explore topics by developing their critical thinking ability.

Many people use open questions, closed questions, turn-around questions, or even questioning to the void (five whys or what else, what else, what else). Socratic questions also can stimulate inquiry and exploration. The following are examples of Socratic questions:

Questions of clarification: What do you mean by that? Can you be more specific? Can you give me an example?

Questions that probe assumptions: What assumptions are you making? Why would somebody say that?

Questions that probe reason and evidence: What are your reasons for saying that? Why does that matter? On what criteria do you base that argument?

Questions that probe implications and consequences: What might be the consequences of behaving like that? What conclusions are you assuming?

Questions about viewpoints or perspectives: How could you say that differently? Could you differentiate your ideas from someone else’s?

Questions about the question: How is that question going to help us? Can you think of any other questions that can bring out more information?

As facilitators develop their awareness training program, they should consider what questions they will ask and where in the delivery and exercises they need to actively question.

Conclusion: Learning About Adult Learning

Adult learners have special requirements for workplace learning sessions. And when delivering Six Sigma awareness training, a facilitator can use the same tools, techniques and best practices that have been used successfully again and again. Understanding the role as a facilitator, understanding the subject, and using effective communications techniques are the keys to delivering a successful training program.

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