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The Introducing Reality of Group Discussions
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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The ideal training technique would enable the instructor to supervise all trainees in their work situations to help them see real life applications for what you are trying to teach them. This is not possible, of course, but the presentor can simulate this situation through certain techniques.

The case study and critical incident are among the most useful and effective techniques available to introducing trainees to changes in their on-the-job behavior. They give the employee an opportunity to internalize concepts and skills by applying them in situations similar to their own work environments. There is one crucial difference—in the classroom it is safe to experiment, applying these new skills in a less stressful and risk-laden atmosphere than on the job.

The case study: The case study approach is a group discussion and participation technique, usually involving a small number of people. The purpose of the case is to evaluate a situation to determine what can be learned from it. Trainees are given a detailed description of a situation (real or simulated) to provide a common base for analysis, discussion and problem solving. Useful generalizations drawn from one situation can often be applied to other cases, participants are better prepared for the unanticipated issues that may arise on the job. (After they have applied their learning in a test case) because this approach requires detailed analysis and exploration of numerous avenues of information, it may take several weeks to complete.

The critical incident technique: The critical incident technique focuses on the performance of an individual in the way that the case study focuses on the performance of an organization or groups. Because it deals with the details of a specific job in a specific work-related situation, it is both effective and useful with line level personnel.

A critical incident requires a brief scenario of a situation or incident that is at a realistic decision point. The situation may be as routine or unusual as necessary for the purpose of the instruction; however, it must present a problem which is actually relevant to trainees in their work. The situation then becomes a mechanism by which the trainees are allowed to imagine themselves in the situation; it elicits their responses in a safe environment. Their analysis takes place in small group discussion in which they must (1)determine what they know and need to know from the situation and then (2)seek more information from the presentor. The presentor serves as the resource person as each group seeks additional information. The presentor, however, cannot reveal any information about the situation’s outcome—only information that has lead up to the situation.

Once all the groups have exhausted their questions (or the time is up) reconvene the large group and have each smaller group present its findings, the issues involved, and the decision for action.


Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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