At a conference I attended last month, I observed two speakers demonstrating examples of adaptive learning from their training programs. About halfway through the session, a fellow participant raised her hand and challenged them directly about whether the examples they were showing reflected adaptive learning.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We think our session is flowing smoothly when suddenly one challenging participant contradicts what we’re saying. How should you respond?
In this real-life example, the presenter looked quite taken aback. Then she repeated exactly what she had already said, more emphatically and quite a bit faster. Her co-presenter jumped in to back her up and essentially repeated the same talking points. And then they simply moved on to their next point.
While they may have dodged the challenge, their ineffective response seemed to betray an air of defensiveness. You know what they could have done differently? They could have engaged the challenging participant by asking her to explain her definition of adaptive learning. Then they could have acknowledged her observation without defending themselves. And they might have invited her to stay after the presentation to explore their differing opinions more fully.
The dialogue might have sounded like this:
Challenging Participant: I’m not sure any of these examples actually demonstrate adaptive learning.
Presenter: Really? That’s an interesting observation. Would you share your definition of adaptive learning with us?
Challenging Participant: Adaptive learning allows learners to skip content that doesn’t meet their learning needs. You just showed an example where you forced the learner to view content that they wanted to skip.
Presenter: That’s a fair point. We believe that adaptive learning methods can give the learner greater control over what they learn and how they learn content. However, in this example, we also wanted to ensure that every learner reviewed the key content before proceeding. I’d be happy to explore this more with you after the session, if you’d like to stick around and chat.
A less defensive response to the challenging participant would have actually increased our knowledge as fellow participants. And the challenging participant would have felt included rather than having her challenge dismissed.
It’s not always easy to handle challenging comments and questions, but take a deep breath, and choose to engage in a conversation. Then you can gently steer back to your presentation.