The Secret to Becoming a Better Trainer

By Michelle Baker

Asking and answering questions is the gateway tohow to improve training skills learning. As learners, we ask questions to better comprehend a concept or to clarify details. As learning professionals, we answer questions to better enable the learner to take away the skills and knowledge we are facilitating.

It might be easy to stop there…after all, we’re the experts, right?  We provide insight, information and bestow skills upon learners, don’t we? Well, it’s not just about answering THEIR questions.  We need to effectively ask those learners our own questions to better understand their needs and facilitate true learning experiences.

Several years ago, I delivered sales training to customer service employees. The training content contained a questioning model to help those employees improve customer sales. Throughout my career, I’ve never forgotten that questioning model – not because I do a lot of sales (I don’t), or because it’s a unique, brilliant concept (it’s not). I’ve simply discovered that, when slightly modified, it translates nicely to training situations, meetings or even in simple conversations.

The model mimics an accordion – a la The Lawrence Welk Show – I remember watching that with my grandmother when I was a little girl (I suppose that dates me!).  Just as I recall the happy gentleman in the pastel leisure suit repeatedly opening and closing that accordion to make that lovely (?) Polka music play, we should ask our questions in a similar way: Start with an open-ended question, and then based on the learner’s response, follow-up with a closed-ended question.  Repeat the process, if necessary, until you have the information you need.

Here’s an example where the trainer does not use this method:

Learner: I don’t understand how to complete this function in the system.

Trainer: Have you logged in?

Learner: Yes.

Trainer: Have you entered the customer’s account number?

Learner: Yes.

Trainer: Have you clicked on “Claim Information”?

Learner: Yes.

Trainer: Have you…..

(You get the idea)

The trainer is not effectively using her time, nor is she truly facilitating the system process with the learner. She is dragging the information out of the learner, rather than leading a meaningful dialogue.

Let’s replay the same scenario using the accordion-style method:

Learner: I don’t understand how to complete this function in the system.

Trainer: What have you done so far? (open the accordion!)

Learner: Well, I logged in, then I entered the customer’s account number and clicked on “Claim Information.” Now what?

Trainer: Do you remember the next step in the process? (close the accordion!)

Learner: Yes…I need to look for the claim date….

Trainer: Exactly. So, looking at the screen, where do you think the claim date would be found? (open the accordion!)

(Again, you get the idea)

Naturally, this was a fictitious scenario. For a moment, though, think of the interactions you have with your learners – whether in a group setting, or one-on-one.  How could you more effectively facilitate a learning experience, by getting better at asking questions?  This question-asking process not only helps us get to the root of the learner’s need, but also helps us provide context – the “why” behind the task – connecting the dots for our learners.  This contributes to a richer learning experience.

Fellow trainers, the next time you are facilitating a session, regardless of the topic, give this model a try when answering questions. Open and close your imaginary accordion; it really is simple.  When you’ve tried it, leave a comment here and share your experience!

Michelle BakerMichelle Baker is a corporate learning & onboarding strategist.

Phase(Two)Learning. Blog |

Twitter | @MichelleLBaker

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