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There’s a lot to think about when planning a workshop, and along with making sure we’re as engaging as possible, we get caught up in how we’re delivering our message, that we don’t realize how it’s being received.

Outside of evaluating your workshop, there’s a great tool that’s been used by teachers, healthcare professionals, and social workers alike. It’s called the Teach Back method, and you’re going to start incorporating this into your workshops.

The Teach Back method (also known as the “show me method”, or “closing the loop” is a practice where the facilitator asks the workshop participants to explain a concept or skill based on the workshop topic, essentially taking on the role of facilitator. The Teach Back allows you to gauge your participants’ understanding of a topic or concept. The Teach Back also determines how effective you are at teaching or demonstrating a concept or skill within of your workshop. Merely standing in front of your participants and reciting information, even if you’re engaging them, doesn’t lead to a high increase of behavior change in the long run.

If your workshop participants are able to Teach Back, it means they most likely understand the material, especially since they’re tasked with teaching to their peers.

Along with retaining information, some of the benefits of the Teach Back method include:

  • Participants see themselves as experts, rather than relying solely on the expertise of the facilitator
  • Participants will most likely employ the behavior in real world situations
  • Participants are able to retain information when it’s recited in their own words

As the facilitator, you also benefit from the Teach Back method:

  • There’s less focus on you being the expert, and more focus on you being a resource
  • You can identify and correct any misunderstandings. If you observe that you have a few participants that also have the same misunderstanding, this gives you the opportunity to re-teach the concept
  • You can tie together your workshop topic and apply key concepts and skills to real world situations that are familiar to your participants
  • You can ask your participants to repeat what you’ve said in their own words

The Teach Back method is often used in healthcare settings as a way for healthcare professionals to confirm that their patients understood what instructions to take to promote health and wellness. A common example is when a doctor is instructing a patient on how to take a particular medication. Instead of expecting an “I understand” answer, the doctor can ask, “So, tell me what you’re going to do with this medication when you wake up tomorrow?” to have the patient repeat back, in her or his own words, how to properly take the medication and to clarify any misunderstandings.

Here’s how to use the Teach Back method for your next workshop:

  • Present a concept or skill clearly, keeping in mind the appropriate age and skill level of your participants
  • Decide which concept or skill you want the workshop participants to Teach Back
  • Decide if you want your participants to Teach Back to all participants, in small groups, or in pairs
  • Inform the participants that they are going to Teach Back what they’ve learned to each other and to you. If participants are expected to Teach Back to the entire group, give enough time for the participants to prepare how they will present the concept or skill during the Teach Back. If they’re working in groups or in pairs, make sure the participants to take turns being the teacher
  • Make sure the participants are presenting the information in their own words, and not just “parroting” what was said by you
  • Correct any misunderstandings that may arise during the Teach Back. Did many of the participants misunderstand something? Clarify the information and encourage the participants to Teach Back again

A Few Things to Consider

A common misconception about the Teach Back method involves a greater focus on how well your participants retained what they’ve learned.  While how much information your participants have retained is important, the Teach Back method is designed to help you become better at presenting your information to others. It confirms that you have explained your topic fully and in a manner that your participants can understand, taking into account skill level, education level, and age.

With that being said, be prepared for a few of your participants to Teach Back incorrectly. When this happens, address the misunderstanding. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t do a good job at explaining a concept or skill. Instead, look at this as an invitation to present the concept or skill in another way. Ask a few probing questions to see what led to the misunderstanding, provide more information or even invite another participant to assist with the Teach Back. The Teach Back involves active listening, not “parroting” what you said. When your participants can demonstrate a topic or concept in their own words, it increases their understanding, and the likelihood that what they’ve learned will stay with them after the workshop is over.

RAISE YOUR VOICE: Have you applied the Teach Back method into your workshops?  What were some of your successes? What lessons did you learn?

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