Solution Focus as a Learning Design

(This blogpost first appeared on 28.03.2016)

Recently I had a conversation with a former coaching student of ours. He was so excited by what he had learned in solution focused brief coaching – appreciative and encouraging conversations which allow clients to come closer to their wishes faster and more easily than they ever thought possible.

In our chat he complained about the training sessions with 16 participants he gave in his job– what a pity he couldn’t just coach them, he said; 16 is too many and even when he just spends 3-4 minutes with one of them, the others are bored.

And then I said something (it surprised me, I’m usually not confident giving advice this way): let them work in pairs and ask those favourite questions of yours. I didn’t think it was a story worth mentioning in a blog post on Solution Focus as learning design, but then his enthusiastic reaction followed: YES, he said, exactly! This is what I have been doing during my whole education in Solution Focus and how great it was!

He helped me to discover how simple it was.

Solution Focus: an excellent set of assumptions and invitations (questions) to facilitate group learning

The largest frame I became aware of so far in my twenty years of playing around with SF and group learning is the fact that we experience a high level of uncertainty in our current knowledge.

The best we can do facing this fact and the imperative of life long learning is to educate passionate learners so they’ll be curious and confident enough to continue learning even after the formal education event is finished, and strengthen them (and us) in the sense of wanting to figure ”things” out better still.

And this has consequences on how we organise interaction in group learning.

Taking solution focus for learning settings

Using Solution Focus in learning groups means to me as a trainer acting in accordance with the assumptions that:

  • learners are experts in their own lives (also within a classroom setting)
  • there are always resources to build upon. My actions are influenced by these assumptions.

An observer would see me offering various choices like with whom and for how long they want to learn or what they want to focus on.

Observers would also see me use questions as invitations for learners to create their own appropriate version of what they should learn.

When I say ”invitations” (following a suggestion of Daniel Meier), I acknowledge learners’ freedom to answer the invitation in the way they think best – to use my offered frame just as they think best for their learning.

An Example

handsAt the beginning of a training session I’m often curious and request ”feedback” on what participants already know about our topic.

So I say to them: Please use your hand as a feedback instrument and raise it to the top of your head if you’d say you know so much on [our topic] that you could offer this training yourself – and put your hand on your knee if you don’t know anything – but really nothing about it, not even read the announcement of the training… – so if this is a scale, please show with your hand, how much you already know.

Seeing the hands makes me even more curious, so I ask them to turn to their neighbour and to share 1-2 things from ”between their hand and knee”, that makes them want to learn more about the topic than what they already know, because it’s somehow promising for them.

Much of what I like about Solution Focus in group learning shows up in what I don’t do (but used to do). I use the time less often for listening to just one answer in the whole group (seldom my own answer either).

So if I give a frame for a conversation like the one mentioned above, I usually have no clue about their answers. I trust that they make sense to them. It makes learners much clearer about how they want to use our time and I invite them to interrupt if they see better things to do.

And more and more I welcome it when they do.


Kati Hankovszky



The credit for this learning of mine goes to my colleagues in the professional group Solutionsurfers, and especially Peter Szabó in there.

For more examples read: K. Hankovszky e.a.: Yet another radical paradigm shift: Some congruent ideas about SF Training in: InterAction – The Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, Volume 4, Number 1, May 2012, pp. 21-27(7) (Full text on request).