"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

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A Dialogue Approach Transforms Corporate Training: A Spectacular Example

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Global Learning Partners-certified practitioner Margaret Bean recently reflected on her years as a leader in the Learning and Development department of 7-Eleven. From her reflections, we extracted Six Tips that are helpful for all of us as we bring dialogue-based learning principles into new settings.

#1. Expand your company’s understanding of what training is.

When Margaret first arrived at 7-Eleven, training, telling, and job aids were often seen as interchangeable. While patiently and effectively designing job aids as her first assignments, she also gradually transformed the view of training from that narrow definition to a broader understanding of training as a dialogue-based, hands-on learning experience.

#2. Build communication between training designers (developers) and training facilitators (deliverers).

As is often the case in corporations, those who developed 7-Eleven training and those who delivered it were two different groups of people who rarely communicated with each other. As lead developer for operations training (which takes place in training stores all across the US and Canada), Margaret knew how critical it was for her to understand what the deliverers experienced in the field and the importance of having continual dialogue with them. This change in communication led to a robust collaboration over the years with a core group of volunteer trainers. All facilitators and their supervisors felt a new ownership, which led to consistency in training across the US and Canada, and better-trained store operators and field leaders – resulting in reduced cost and increased profitability. It also resulted in Margaret being awarded the 2014 Gold Award by the international Brandon Hall Group for Best Learning Team.

#3. Expand the design skills of everyone involved in training.

Margaret thoughtfully strengthened the design capacity of deliverers so that they 1) could offer valuable input into the design of what they were teaching (consultative voice), and 2) could more effectively adapt the training materials to unique contexts without losing the integrity of the original design. [At GLP, we’ve found that the principles to practice framework is a great way to talk with both developers and deliverers about their distinct but complementary roles.]

#4. See every training program as a living thing.

As Margaret so wisely says, “a training program is living and breathing, so it always needs to be iterated and updated.” Margaret and her team took a 2-year-old operations training program that had been on its deathbed and revitalized it. They updated it every quarter by gathering feedback and analyzing indicators of participants’ learning, their transfer of their learning into practice, and the impact of this transfer upon the company. Examples of this impact were:

  • 75% reduction in required reading in favor of hands-on practice
  • 20% decrease in participants’ time to complete training, leading to over 70% decrease in training costs
  • 7% increase in sales
  • 2.5% improvement in operators’ performance.

Rather than push to create “finished” products, Global Learning Partners encourages companies to continually gather learner feedback as well as data about the results of your training efforts. It is important to create processes to periodically update to newer versions so that your training responds to patterns of feedback and to the current context.

#5. Embrace the axiom: Less is More.

When Margaret took over the design of the operations training, the materials consisted of two huge binders that users struggled to read, and then set on shelves. Through a thoughtful and collaborative process, Margaret’s team trimmed down the materials by 75% in favor of hands-on practice and application. Both trainers and users were much more satisfied with the training, and, as we’ve seen, it was much more effective.

#6. Keep your eyes on results.

As a for-proft corporation, 7-Eleven understandably needs hard financial data to evaluate the effectiveness of their operations training efforts. Not suprising to Margaret (or others of us who specialize in a learning-centered approach), the results of this new approach were convincing: training was more efficient, and graduates showed increased performance and profitability!

These are just a few of the many tips and insights that Margaret had to share from her years bringing a dialogue-learning approach to this corporate setting.

What tips and insights would you share?

​*****

Margaret Bean (margspiel@gmail.com) was a Senior Instructional Designer for 7-Eleven, working in the company’s corporate office in Dallas, Texas, where she was responsible for the design and content of their operations training. In 2014 she won the Brandon Hall Best Learning Team gold award for building and developing a cross-functional team to collaborate and consult in developing, implementing and continuously improving this training program. She also used to design trainings for leadership, employees, and national conferences. 

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

Meg Logue (meglogue25@gmail.com) is a freelance designer and communications specialist. She has worked closely as an assistant and consultant to Valerie and GLP since 2017.

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The Importance of Asking WHY

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We ask the why question before determining the appropriate content and learning objectives.

– Jane Vella

In the online training world, there are interesting obstacles to designing for a learning-centered event. Some of these include, how to incorporate interactive dialogue, affirmations, feedback, and group work. These challenges seem to work themselves out to some extent, and can be managed, handled and even supported by building a good design. However, some training content is easier to navigate and deliver than others in an online format.

While designing for an online Early Childhood professional development course in positive interactions between caregiver and child, I was a little stumped in how to deliver content on interactions in an asynchronistic format - or self-paced learning setting. The challenge has always been how to incorporate Dialogue Education into this seemingly impersonal environment, but this posed further challenges for me. Though the instructional designer on my team assured me that we could make it work, I lacked complete confidence.

Historically, this course has been offered as a face-to-face learning event in which participants are interactive and use dialogue and group work to meet achievement-based objectives. I had facilitated this training before, but it was designed years ago by another team. Would it be possible to simply recreate the face-to-face training into a virtual setting? I started looking at the design and considered how it could be converted. In doing so I had simply skipped ahead in designing, only to find that the face-to-face design was not working and would not work in an online format. So, what was the point of this training? What was the underlying cause for this information? What was the content that I needed to use, and what could be left behind?

Having just returned from the Advanced Design and Evaluation retreat with GLP, I remembered a learning task around the need for evidenced-based rationale or reasoning in our designs to support accountability and transfer of “information.” One of the accountability principles that Kurt Levin speaks of is, "It takes more than just firsthand experience to generate valid knowledge." I could name the skills or knowledge needed to improve interactions between caregivers and children but was that valid enough? I couldn't really answer beyond my own firsthand understanding of this training. I began to wonder, where had the previous team taken their content from?

So, I went back to the beginning, and began by really slowing down my design process. Initial questions were:  Who was going to participate in this online learning course; who was going to establish or verify that the learning event had occurred, and who was recommending or requiring this learning event for the participants? In my discovery, I could name that this course is recommended for all early childhood educators and required for educators in certain early childhood programs participating in a Tiered Quality Rating System. Naturally, I asked why.

The Why? What is the rationale or reasoning for this recommendation or requirement? This question was a good place to really pause and consider the skill, knowledge or attitude shift that a learner would be making in this course. Was my assumption correct? Our state system sees positive interactions and experiences between caregivers/ educators and children as an indicator of quality early childcare. Our state views quality early childhood education as an important foundation for all children. Our state is constantly striving for quality improvements that support the families and children in our communities. Again, in this discovery, I could name a general reason, but still could not define “quality” or how this would be measured, observed or recognized; but because I could not name the evidence that defined quality, I was not done establishing a solid rationale.

I began to research the definition of "positive interactions.” I started by referring to a book the face-to-face course is built on and reviewed the research the authors started with themselves. This was the first time I had spent so much time with the content. It was fascinating. I ended up with 5 evidence-based sources for this training that began to highlight what the rationale and reason was in having “positive interactions" in early childhood settings - and the path became clearer: two articles, two assessment tools and a statistical data that looked at educator/ child interactions over the course of a day. This step took time, but it was well worth the stop.

Jane Vella speaks to this “Getting an honest answer to the Why Question controls your response to all the design questions that follow." (On Teaching and Learning, ​pp 33-34) This statement makes so much sense now. I feel like I was able to hone in on specific information that builds skills and knowledge, simply based on the research I uncovered by asking Why. This rationale was where I started my accountability to the learner through this design. What I was presenting was built on solid evidence; there is honesty in the design.

The research named the skills and provided the knowledge base for quality interactions with children, and the data supported the need for all educators to adapt this skill set into their practice. The intended change came into view, based on the research and the data. I was able to move quickly through the rest of the steps for this design, naming content that was applicable to a self-paced learner but that still would achieve the same outcomes as the face-to-face learner.

What has this left me with? When including this evidence-based research and data to establish Why, I had a sturdier foundation to build upon; a stronger footing to establish achievement-based outcomes and could show how verifiable tasks could meet the intended change. Both in the learning event, and in the transfer learning events to follow; each helping to support and sustain quality practices in early childcare. 

What has your journey been like when moving a face-to-face course to the virtual space, or from an online course to an in-person setting?

​*****

Jesica Radaelli-Nida (jes.nida@yahoo.com) is Program Specialist UNM Early Childhood Service Center.​

 

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Creating Trauma-Informed Spaces that Support Learning

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Safety is a profound way of showing respect for the learner.

- Jane Vella

Trauma-informed practices are all the rage across disciplines as we learn more about trauma and how it impacts so many of us. Even while traveling on an airline recently (hardly the bastion of trauma-informed approaches), the Captain came on the loudspeaker to tell passengers there was turbulence ahead. He then stated, "while it may be uncomfortable, it will not be unsafe.” Knowing what to expect and that there was nothing to fear not only helped put passengers at ease when the bumps inevitably came along, it prevented me from ending up with a cup of hot coffee in my lap. Had the Captain had some trauma training? Possibly. Either way, I appreciated the heads up!

On a beautiful Vermont morning at the beginning of my journey to becoming a Dialogue Education (DE) practitioner and teacher, I learned about the six core principles of dialogue: inclusion, respect, relevance, engagement, immediacy, and safety. Right away I connected to the concepts of safety and respect as these are core to my work as a facilitator in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence. Our learning events already aimed to be as trauma-informed as possible. We did this by preparing participants when content contains descriptions of violence, letting them know they can take a break at any time for any reason, and even providing ample healthy snacks and beverages. "Phew! So much to learn. At least I’ve got that one down," I thought.

Over time as I began to incorporate what I learned at various DE trainings into my practice I realized how aligned these principles and practices are with trauma-informed approaches. If you look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s, 6 key principles of a trauma-informed approach, the parallels are numerous. I discovered we could be doing much more in our training design to create trauma-informed spaces. 

Why do we need to go to such great lengths just to make people “feel good”? Aren’t we just soothing egos and catering to sensitivities? Hardly. Fear inhibits learning.

Below are four things I have learned to keep in mind to ensure enough safety is present to foster learning:

  1. Ensure everyone feels “safe enough.” We know from the research of James Zull and Barbara Fredrickson that positive emotions are far more effective in helping us learn. When the fear centers in the brain are triggered, we are not in the learning part of the brain. In DE, we talk about the difference between being “safe” and “safe enough.” Being trauma-informed in adult education isn’t about being so safe and comfortable that you don’t have authentic and meaningful dialogue. It’s about feeling safe enough to actually engage in challenging discourse in the first place
  2. Create a safe learning environment. When working with people who have experienced trauma (which is just about everyone, even though impacts and experiences will vary greatly) facilitators can think even more deeply about ways in which they can support learners to feel at ease. Creating learning environments in which you are engaging the 6 Core DE Principles in Action are just a few examples of how you might create a learning environment that is safe and respectful. Designing learning events using DE practices like transparency, which is also a principle of trauma-informed practice, helps to create trust and safety. It can be done in many ways including naming learning objectives and providing a training outline so that the learner knows just what they can expect. In addition, being transparent about what can’t change in your design in service of learning (perhaps the length of the day, or location) is equally important and respectful. Knowing what is expected and where boundaries lie helps a person who has experienced trauma to manage their own needs and responses effectively.
  3. Offer choice. One-way inclusion can be achieved is through providing choice to learners wherever it serves the learning. This can be as simple as providing three questions to consider and letting them decide which two they will answer or letting learners decide where to sit. For example, if you have ever worked with people who have experienced trauma such as victims of sexual assault or first responders, you may have learned many prefer to face the door. 
  4.  Make the beginning count. If meaningful dialogue and learning from that dialogue is our goal, then it is critical to ensure a positive and safe space from the beginning of your training to the end that respects the learner and their needs. The first minutes of your time with a group will set the tone to the end.

All we do as facilitators should be in service of the learning. If we can make shifts, big and small, that allow learners to feel safe enough to focus on grappling with content they need and to engage in dialogue, we will have achieved this. Much like the airline passengers, learners will know they might experience some discomfort as they learn and grow, but they won’t feel unsafe. Will they know you know a bit about trauma-informed approaches? Possibly. Either way, they’ll appreciate the heads up!

What do you do to help ensure safety in your learning events?

*****

Anne Smith (annepsmith@gmail.com) is an educator, facilitator and advocate working to uproot the causes of violence. Anne is currently the Director of Training and Leadership Development at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. In her practice she has experienced and shared the transformative impacts of applying the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to deepen learning outcomes. She continues to work hard to spread that potential for transformation!

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Changing Adult Learning… in Meetings!

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I took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course with Global Learning Partners (GLP) in October 2017. The most powerful take-away for me was to think about what the learners will be doing with the content rather than what I will be saying or presenting.

Perhaps it is my love of theater and dramatic arts, but I can easily spend hours practicing what I will say for an upcoming presentation. I make my PowerPoint slides colorful, fun, use a lot of pictures, and work hard to keep the energy up. I work as the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry program. In a nutshell, I teach people about invasive forest insects such as the emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle. I enjoy working with youth because I can make my workshops and presentations interactive. When it comes to adults, I feel like everyone is expected to sit in rows of uncomfortable chairs and listen to me “wa, wa, wa” at the front of the room. However, for me as a learner I can’t sit for long and my mind starts to turn to mush after about a half an hour of listening to someone talk.

Using the learning-centered 4A Model (Anchor-Add-Apply-Away) for developing a learning event has been incredibly helpful for transforming these adult workshops (I’ve stopped calling them presentations!) into intentional, dialogue-based, learning events. The results have been extremely positive.

Last month, I decided to take it one step further. We had a big meeting coming up with all our partners in Vermont that help support my work as Forest Pest Education Coordinator. Historically, this meeting has not been exciting. I literally read off the annual report I’d submitted for the grant that supports my position. We usually have one person who “leads” the meeting and there has been some discussion.

This time I suggested to my supervisor that I facilitate the meeting and incorporate some of what I learned during the GLP course I had taken. I took the topics that I was planning to “cover” and turned each one into a learning task or a “share out.” For example, I have hired a company to make a whiteboard animation video that covers the importance of not moving firewood – invasive insects can travel in firewood, so we ask that you buy it where you burn it.) I wanted to get input from the partners at the meeting before talking to the company about the video content. So, in pairs, I asked the group to “create a visual representation on chart paper of what you would like to see in a one-minute video on the importance of buying local firewood.” I was surprised at how well it worked! The pairs were talking, laughing, and drawing on their paper. The ideas they shared were incredibly useful for me and I’ve incorporated their thoughts into the first draft of the whiteboard video’s script.    

Everyone at the meeting had an agenda in front of them that listed each learning task and used learner-centered language. Here are some excerpts:

     From our coming together exercise:

Today is the darkest day of the year and a time for reflection. These short, cold days can stir up a lot of unease. Take a moment to consider what is sustaining you in your work right now and what is draining you.

     From a section on outreach at private campgrounds in Vermont:

Listen to a brief review on private campground outreach from 2017. Take a look at the map example from last summer’s work and the written Best Management Practices. What kind of outreach to private campgrounds will lead us to the change in behavior we are hoping for?

Having the language written right there on the agenda not only helps the learning experience at the meeting, but I also figured it would be a clever way of sharing a more engaging way of meeting and learning with my colleagues. Here they can see how it is done and the simple ways they might change some of the language and structure of their meetings and workshops. Sharing what I learned is really important to me. I have absolutely enjoyed applying the principles of a learning-centered approach to my work, but I’d love to see others try it too.

The next morning after the meeting, I received an email from one of the participants. She wrote, “Just wanted to say how refreshing yesterday’s meeting was. You managed to cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half, and engage a normally reticent group.” I was smiling from ear-to-ear! That was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to hear.

What do you do in your meetings to help engage everyone?

*****

Meredith Whitney (Meredith.Whitney@uvm.edu) is the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with UVM Extension. She lives in Moretown, Vermont where she enjoys going for long walks and dreams of having a goat farm.

PHOTO: At the end of the meeting, everyone got their photo taken with an interactive banner that was designed last year for forest pest outreach. Look at those happy Asian long-horned beetles!

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Technology Tools to Support Online Learning

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According to Clark (2012), there has been “more pedagogic change in the last 10 years than the last 1000 years and it is all driven by technology innovations.” The online learning space continues to grow in numbers, content, technological advancements and instructional considerations, and the trends in higher education alone predict continued growth.

Here is an overview of recent reports regarding online learning in higher education. According to Allen, Seaman, and Allen (2018) distance education enrollment is up over 5% at 5.6% from 2015 - 2016. That equals over 6.3 million students that are now taking at least one online course (Allen, Seaman & Allen, 2018), compared to 2002 when the enrollment number was under 10% at 9.6% (Allen and Seaman 2017). According to Allen and Seaman (2015), over 70% of higher education administrators have included online education in their learning institution’s strategic plan as compared to 2002 when 48% of administrators reported utilizing online education in their strategic plans (Allen & Seaman, 2017).

More and more research is being published about the use of new technologies or diversifying current technologies in online learning. Technology innovations after all, per Donald Clark (2012), are driving the pedagogical changes we are currently experiencing.

One such innovation I find helpful is Voice Thread. This tool allows for interactive collaboration on presentations and dialogue learning tasks such as reflections and group interactions. Additionally, Voxer is another tool that provides an option for live dialogue in the online classroom.

What types of technologies are you using in your educational practices that support a learning-centered approach in the online learning space, either 100% online, blended, or traditional classroom with new technologies?

*******

Jennifer Kirkland (jkirkland@madonna.edu) is the Director of Community Relations for a faith-based not-for-profit hospice organization. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at Madonna University, and a doctoral student pursing her degree in educational psychology and technology. Please feel free to contact Jennifer with any questions or feedback

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