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

Impact Studies

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[Note: this piece was originally published in 2003.  We love it, and have asked Jane to update it for 2015 with her new thinking.]

I love the change of seasons: from winter to spring, from spring to the hot days of summer, from summer to the crisp, blue-sky autumn. There is a renewal here that is deep and utterly natural. There are seasons in one’s life, as well. Each change: taking a new job, finding a life partner, going on a significant journey—brings that same seasonal renewal.

[Credit: "The Four Seasons" by YeraldReloaded]

In evaluating adult learning, we might look to seasonal change as an analogue. Initially, the excitement of folks after a five day course entitled Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (now, Foundations of DIalogue Education) is as palpable as the first day of spring, or summer, or fall. Learning has occurred and it is intoxicating! Transfer—the use of that learning in new situations—at work, at home, in the community—is more challenging. The tedious work of preparation, the tough work of research, the struggle to complete and use the Eight Steps of Design effectively becomes more and more taxing, like the dog days of August bearing out the heat of summer.

Transfer is a discipline. Without it, the joy of learning is a bubble bursting in the first blast of the wind of reality. Transfer is the opportunity for constructive use of the principles and practices, fitting them to your own context like a fine leather glove to your hand. Fitting them means changing them, and that is part of the joy and creativity of transfer.

Impact is a September day with blue skies and cool breezes…it is hoped for and celebrated when it arrives. Impact is the purpose of it all: the change in organizational systems, personal skill competency, group intimacy and collaboration that makes the whole learning and transfer effort worthwhile. Impact must be celebrated and documented. Tell it like it is! Show us not the money but the significant change for the better that the educational process has wrought.

I propose that impact indicators must be set forth with complete honesty; they must be gathered through comprehensive sampling and through collaborative responses with all participants in the sample. There must be a continuous review of these indicators to prove integration of new skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

We need ongoing Impact Studies that will demonstrate the effectiveness of Dialogue Education, using qualitative and quantitative indicators. As we celebrate and document impact, we will feel a renewal akin to the feeling we have as the seasons change. Mother Nature’s own praxis!

The 2015 Edition of this blog offers what I have learned recently: 

Indicators of learning are behaviors;  indicators  of transfer are behaviors; indicators of impact are new systems and behaviors that arise from the new consciousness caused by learning and transfer…. (I must confess I smile at my flowery language of 2003 ! And I sure was sure, wasn’t I?  The years answer our prayer for doubt!)

What innovative, creative ways have you used to document indicators of Learning, Transfer and Impact? 

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What to do When Questions are Not Safe

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Powerful questions spark great dialogue. Just a few well-chosen, highly-polished questions can stimulate amazing exploration of a relevant issue for a group.

But sometimes posing a question can also pose something else: a threat. In societies where a person with authority routinely uses questions to evaluate, interrogate or humiliate a subordinate, the use of even a polite, well-phrased question may come across as intimidating. The net of safety built up by a teacher’s smiles, sharing, and setting the stage can suddenly unravel when she sets a learning task to the class that ends in a question mark! I have experienced this in a variety of cultures: a seemingly innocuous request for the participants to share their experiences and opinions on a given topic suddenly brings a hush into the room and uncomfortable shifting of eyes and chairs.

So, I tried an experiment. Instead of asking the question as a question, I rephrased it as a gentle command, like this:

Example 1:

Change “What dreams do your village people have for their futures?” to “Tell me about the dreams your village people have for their futures.”

Example 2:

Change “Why are some families more successful in raising their children than others?” to: “Tell me about what families do who raise their children successfully.

That seemed a subtle change, but then I looked at my local co-teacher who was suddenly grinning widely. “Oh, that’s much easier for us,” she confirmed. The learners no longer felt they were being tested for a “right answer” and they were emboldened to give their own insights. Sometimes, it helps to add, “In your opinion, tell me…” Other such subtleties may add further safety. In any case, be sure to keep the topic open by not implying that there might be a given right answer that you’re looking for. Gently support the sense that all answers are welcome and that as a group good solutions will be found as you explore together.

In some cultures, questions carry significant social risk. As the classroom relationships deepen, it may eventually become possible to begin introducing discussion topics with an actual open question. But stay alert for the wide-eyed look of panic or a sudden glance away by several learners. You can gently return to, “Tell me…” until safety again reaches a level adequate to bear that scary question mark.

[Learners in action at one of Jennifer's sessions.]

Question for you:

What experiences have you had in your teaching where you gave extra effort to making questions safe?

*****

Jennifer Giezendanner is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner, and can be reached at jegiez@yahoo.com.  She presently works for OneBook, a Canadian development organization, as program manager and training consultant, focusing on projects in Asia. 

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Dialogue Education and Love:  The Power of Sacrifice

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Love has different faces. In Dialogue Education and Love Part I  (published December 22 2014) I reflected on 8 ways that Dialogue Education principles are really a practice of love. Below are three aspects of the costly nature of love that Dialogue Education invites us to embrace, for learning sake.

  1. Ego vs. learning. A skilled trainer chooses to invest in what people really need, even if this means sacrificing something of him/herself in the process. Indeed, what people really need sometimes demands that the trainer sacrifices his/her reputation, control of the process or desire to be honored, understood or valued. The ego needs to get out of the way!

Many trainers are familiar with this tension: choosing between the learner’s real (sometimes vital) learning or his/her own desire to be validated by the learners and other observers. This tension is not as easy as it seems and many times before, during and after the learning event, the trainer needs to be reminded of what really matters... and has to face the cost.

An example:

A short while ago I felt the cost: where I needed to lost my ego to let learning happen. My colleague and I facilitated a deeply reflective workshop focused on heart learning to approximately 180 students. The challenge was that we were forced to share a large open space with 2 other workshops, one teaching music and the other cinema. Although there was a great amount of pressure to teach a fun, noisy and high energy workshop (like those around us), we knew our students had registered for the workshop for different reasons. We stayed true to what we knew the group most wanted and needed, and resisted the urge to “entertain” the group or compete with the other groups. Observers looked on in wonder. Even our learners questioned if they were in the “right” workshop as we began our workshop. In the end, all were amazed at the important and personal learning that was invited and felt.  

This act of love felt indeed costly: sacrificing our ego for the good of the learners. And boy, was it worth it!

  1. Comfort or safe disequilibrium. To enhance real learning, a skilled trainer also sometimes chooses to sacrifice his and/or the learners’ comfort. Challenging yet safe learning tasks are designed to progressively and intentionally lead learners into a secured disequilibrium. Because the trainer wants learners to have a direct and personal interaction with the object of study, he/she gradually leads learners to and through the critical content to be learned.

But this is far from being easy. Daring to focus on what has the potential of producing real and lasting change is an act of courage and love. Love is found in the trainer’s perception that a learner is naturally resourceful, relational and creative - even when learners themselves do not believe they are! The trainer is determined to give back to learners the power to choose, decide, think and create, and this can be deeply disturbing or confusing for a learner who may have spent most of his life learning in someone else’s shadow.

The trainer’s message needs to be: I already know you can do this - this is yours, this is for you, take, test, dare and create, and see how good it is to be alive, to be you and to grow as a person. I will give you time to find the resources you already have.

An example:

I once met a young woman who participated in one of my workshops who told me how she experienced the method I was using (Dialogue Education principles and practices). She said that task after task she began to feel a tension, fear, and even anger. She felt she couldn’t move, couldn’t really talk or interact, as if she was chained by an invisible belief that she was condemned to fail. At some point, a learning task invited her to be and do exactly what she really needed (but had been avoiding). She couldn’t stand it - she wanted to leave, run, escape and hide. But a friend of hers, enthusiastic about the task, asked her, “How do you respond to this?” Tears began to fill her eyes, blood rushed to her face, and she blurted out an answer in anger, fear and disbelief. She admitted that at that moment she hated me and my colleague as trainers.

Surprisingly, no sooner had she shared her feelings, she could finally see her real potential and, hand-in-hand with her friend, she continued to share what she was really thinking, hoping and wanting in life. It was as if something had been given back to her. When all of this was done, she finally felt loved...and told us so.

This is why in Dialogue Education the trainer never does for the learner what he/she can do for him/herself. What is at stake is far too important: an individual’s potential transformation.

  1. Unjust vs. just reinforcement. There is a certain type of learning that is often cherished by trainers. The one that produces learners who just want to understand by listening and reading, and who are able to recognize intellectual brilliance. These learners know presenters appreciate their passive interest, and PowerPoints slides and handouts are offered as “gifts”.

A skilled trainer recognizes the diversity of learning styles and wants to speak to everyone using each one’s learning language, even if this means some challenging tasks so that all learners are honored. Love is here found in justice. Dialogue Education is built on the belief that 1) there is no inferior or superior learning styles, and 2) the combination of learning styles will enrich the whole learning process because it will provide a variety of lenses to observe the object of study and thus complete its understanding.

The trainer is typically confronted by a difficult tension: those who can understand everything but not really learn anything (because usually a personal application is missing), and those who cannot learn because they speak another learning language than the one used in the learning event. The trainer is like a mediator in an intercultural context. He/she tries to speak each person’s language, then connect the learning styles with each other and finally create a common new language that everybody will be able to use and understand.

This courageous choice to leave nobody behind while facing the frustrated or angry faces of those who speak fluently the common learning language of our times, is in fact an act of love for those who are often left behind.

This is also an act of love for the object of study because the trainer knows that this is far beyond the grasp of one learning style and does not want to reduce it as such. But mostly because this connection between individuals is a prerequisite to love. When people do not understand each other and are unable to see or imagine other people’s perceptions, love is not possible. But when people begin to understand each other and begin to speak the same language... love happens!

An example:

During the same workshop (mentioned above), I met two very different persons. One told me that she didn’t need what we were doing. She looked completely disengaged and unwilling to interact with the learning tasks or people in the room. At some point in the learning event, she was shocked to finding herself “lost in the process” (and her learning!) because she was someone who prided herself in always being in total control. She wanted information and knowledge but I was giving her the opportunity to test different postures and practical skills. She was aware that this event was going to be interactive and experiential, and didn’t think this would be a problem for her. In fact, she couldn’t reflect on herself alone, she needed others to learn and deepen her thinking. Her challenge was that the other people around the table didn’t look as “clever” as she thought she was, and in the end was shocked to realize how much she actually needed them. She felt loved, despite herself.

Another example:

The other person I met was an autistic woman. She was also shocked but not for the same reasons. She was included in the learning process from the beginning. She felt heard and she fully accepted. Despite looking, sounding, and acting different from everyone around her, people accepted her differences and added their own. I saw in her eyes a thirst for a freedom that she spent her whole life looking for. Dialogue Education principles and practices used in this learning event offered her this freedom. She felt loved...but even more, what she learned that day produced a deep awareness that she could learn, despite and because of who she was.

Dialogue Education and love are so intertwined because this way of working and being in the world focuses on what really matters. This is a method that says:  learning is not a matter of self-worth or domination but a matter of justice, freedom and responsibility. Dialogue Education gives back to people their own responsibility to make a difference in this world. This is love. Love for humankind; love for the oppressed and the vulnerable; love for hope and for the future. 

*****

Frederic Defoy fred.defoy@gmail.com is an ICF certified coach, a consultant and a trainer practicing In France. He graduated from Wheaton College, Illinois, USA. His passion is to contribute to people’s potential for living out their vocation. Recently Fred also became a CDEP with Global Learning Partners.

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Dialogue Education in Higher Education

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At a recent visit to have dinner with my mentor and friend Dr. Jane Vella I said, “Dialogue Education has come to academia.” In my experience, Adult Learning Theory which includes Dialogue Education, has become the premier pedagogy in Higher Education.  I asked, “Why else would UMass, Amherst recently build a new academic teaching building at the cost of one hundred and ten million dollars with mostly team-based learning classrooms?”  These are classrooms, housed with ten to fifteen round tables and nine chairs at each table, where students work cooperatively - learning the material by problem-solving and participating in other student-centered active learning projects.  At this point Karen Ridout, who came by Jane’s house to meet me, said, “Dan, would you be willing to write a blog about this?”  I said “Sure”, thinking I have never written a blog before and I don’t have a clue as to the format.   But, I am certainly willing to put my thoughts on paper.

I think the first thing I should do is introduce myself.  I am Dr. Dan Gerber, ED.D., MPH, currently the Academic Dean in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  I have been in Higher Education for the past twenty-six years, joining the ranks after spending the first twelve years of my professional life as an Adult Learning Theory education practitioner mostly overseas in developing countries. Like anyone reading this blog I was affected by Jane’s teachings and even followed her into the same ED.D. program she attended earlier in her career, at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts. My plan was to complete the ED.D. and continue being an Adult Learning Theory practitioner overseas.   But upon completing my doctorate, the University offered me a job as a teaching faculty and my career made a hard right turn.  For additional information about me click here.  (I believe it is important for the reader to know I did not follow the normal road to Higher Education of bachelors, masters, doctorate, post doctorate, faculty, but first was a practitioner who was fortunate enough to encounter Dr. Vella and Dialogue Education in Indonesia where I was Program Director for Save the Children. And, even today as a dean I still teach every semester.  Not because the university wants me to but because I need to teach!  It is as much as who I am as being a husband, father, son, or friend.)

Entering the Academy (which is what Higher Education people call it) in 1996 with an ED.D. in adult learning and as a disciple of Jane Vella, I could not design my courses the usual way. Even my fifty minute, four hundred and sixty student personal health course which is set up for lecturing had to be changed to the best of my ability so that it was based on Dialogue Education.  Using case studies with in-class reflection questions, personal growth reflection exercises, small group discussions, journaling homework, and even community service learning projects, I have always done my best to follow the principles and practices I learned with Jane in Indonesia.  In the 1990s, I was considered an innovative teacher with courses popular with students. That has changed in the last decade. Today if you Google, “How to teach college students,” you will be bombarded with websites of college professors explaining how only lecturing does not work and how good teachers use Adult Learning Theory to help students learn the material they are teaching.  Do all these learner-centered activities follow the guidelines of Adult Learning Theory or Dialogue Education strictly?  No, of course not, but I would make the argument that ninety percent follow the four principles of Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Educations to the best of their ability. These four principles are (as I learned them in 1987 from Jane):

  1. Respect - the learner must feel heard, and respected for himself/herself.
  2. Immediacy - learners must see how they can use their new knowledge, skills and attitudes immediately, in their context
  3. Experience - people learn best when what they are learning is related to their own life experience.
  4. Adults learn:
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 40% of what they hear and see
  • 80% of what they discover for themselves

For example, in 2004 my profession published a manual called, Demonstrating Excellence in Practiced-Based Teaching in Public Health (published by the Associate Schools of Public Health, which is based on Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education. I don’t care if the methodology is team-based learning, problem-based learning, community service learning, labs, small group facilitated discussion, in my experience they all, to some extent, fall under these four principles of Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education.  Especially important is principle number four: Adults learn - 80% of what they discover for themselves. Do these teachers know this?  Most likely not.  What they do know is the students are learning better than with the old method of only lecturing. Most might notice a higher level of energy in their classes.  Consequently, I see that we won! The old banking approach to education (strictly lecturing with tests every few weeks) is on its way out and Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is on its way in. As Dean, I celebrate this!

This leads me to three questions:

  1. If this is true than why is lecturing still the predominant way of teaching generally in Higher Education?
  2. Why should pedagogy in Higher Education change at all?
  3. How do we support this process of change? 

Lecturing is still the predominant way of teaching in Higher Education for several reasons:  This is how the current Higher Education faculty were themselves taught.  To become a university or college professor one does not need any training in teaching.  You are hired because you are considered an expert in your field of research or in your unique discipline.  And since lecturing is the way you learned, that is the way you teach it. Jane has said: “We teach the way we were taught.”

Lecturing is also easier to learn than doing more active ways of teaching. But it’s more than that.  In lecturing, the teacher has the most control over what happens in their classroom than any other ways of teaching.  Moving towards Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education the teacher gives up a good deal of control of what goes on in the classroom. To most teachers this is very scary! It takes a certain amount of security and confidence to trust a process of teaching that gives the control of learning over to the student. I might add at this point that one of Jane mantras that has stayed with me for the last three decades is, “You have to give up the control to have it be given back to you”.  In my experience I have found this saying absolutely true.

Another reason many people believe lecturing is the most effective way to cover a lot of content.  Whether this content ends up being retained or not is not is the issue we must consider.

This final reason was first brought to light by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.  Friere wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) that teachers control what information or knowledge is given out and how it is given out so they can maintain their authority as the person with power.  Since they have the knowledge and give it out (lecturing) they are the “expert” and maintain all the perks such expertise comes with: prestige, power, resources, respect. Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is perceived, many times unconsciously, to threaten the status quo.

What else? I would be certainly interested in what other reasons are keeping lecturing the predominant means of teaching?

Next, why is Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education having any head-way at all in Higher Education? The biggest reason is students can retain more knowledge through Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education, and even better, apply it to their life.  How do we know this?  Because our students have demonstrated this time and time again. The only research I have found that proves this is through the new field of neuroscience.  If anyone knows of other published research that shows that students learn and apply knowledge through Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education better than lecturing I would be interested in seeing it.  Meanwhile, in the field of neuroscience it has been proven that students will remember information they learned if the information is processed by Data + meaning + sensory + emotion (Endicott 2004).  This means that students are given an experience that includes:

  • Data - Presentation of data/information/knowledge
  • Meaning - Meaning is given to the data/information/knowledge
  • Sensory - Smell, touch or seeing enhances (props, video, tactile, physical interaction)
  • Emotion - Integrating all of the above plus adding an element that connects with the emotion (i.e. personal meaningful story)

This sounds like Dialogue Education!

Another change in education that forcing us to move away from lecturing to Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is online teaching.  I was recently at large conference of academic deans and everyone said today they would never allow a faculty to develop and teach a course online without first giving them training in active learning methodologies. Why?  Because in the early years of online teaching faculty did just post their lectures online, assign readings, give tests and the students gave them terrible evaluations!  The students did not feel that the professor’s teaching was worthwhile and they were right.  Of course the same deans said where their institutions will gladly pay for training for their faculty to learn to teach online, they still just expect the same faculty to walk into a classroom and be a successful teacher. I asked the deans, “How many faculty that learn to teach online change the way they teach in the classroom?”  The answer I received was unanimous, all of them!

Which leads me to the third reason Higher Education pedagogy is changing : student demand! When I asked one of my university’s administrators why we are building team-based classrooms he said because this is what the students want.  He added that administration cares what the students want today more than ever because the population in the United States for the dominant college age student (18 to 22) is drastically decreasing. Institutions of Higher Education are concerned about filling their classes and dormitories in the future. Hence, administrators today are very concerned about their institution’s reputation and universities that have adapted Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education as their main pedagogy have the best teaching reputations.

Another reason why Higher Education is changing is employer’s demands. All the research today shows employers want students that have skills along with knowledge. For instance, today’s graduates that know how to problem-solve and work as a team player have an advantage over graduates who don’t. Again Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education are better able to teach these skills than a strict lecturing format.

Finally my last question is how do we support speeding up the process of change? This is actually the question Jane, Paula Berardinelli, Karen Ridout and I struggled with during my visit. One answer I heard the group come up with is to continue demonstrating the success of Dialogue Education by supporting models wherever we can.  Global Learning Partners is doing this in several of their current projects.

I have one idea for Higher Education and I’m interested to hear if readers have others.  Many institutions of Higher Education are in a battle, or maybe an identity crisis is a better way of saying it, between being an institution of liberal education and being an institution that is training the future professional workforce. On one side are mainstream academics who teach the specific content of their discipline because they love and value this knowledge.  On the other side are parents and children who are taking out huge loans to get their children a college education in order to give their children entry into the professional workforce.  I am suggesting a compromise.  Teach content specific knowledge but use Dialogue Education as the pedagogy (i.e. community service learning courses, classroom experiences designed with Dialogue Education methods).  This idea might give both sides what they want.

In any case, thank you to Karen Ridout for asking me to write my ideas.  Thank you to those of you who are reading this. I would be very interested in your responses.  And most of all thank you, Jane, for being Jane!  

*****

Dr. Dan Gerber is the Academic Dean at the School of Public Health, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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How to Stop Dialogue and How to Make Dialogue Thrive

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We know from biology that fear incites the amygdala in the brain to pour adrenalin into the bloodstream, to give us the sudden energy that gets us out of a burning building. We know that while the amygdala is working, synapses in the brain are inhibited so we can focus on the danger at hand. No new dendrites grow in an adrenaline-soaked brain!

Thank you James E Zull and “The Art of Changing the Brain”.  So fear is a sure way to stop dialogue. “You stupid child!  You’re going to get it!’  Fear, scolding, laughing at a learner, shaming of any kind inhibits movement towards the frontal cortex and stops learning.  It is all biology, baby!   #1 Dialogue Killer: Fear 

My dear friend Paula and I sat by the fire one cold winter evening and considered what else inhibits those synapses, stopping learning, cutting off dialogue.

How about “BUT”? I offer an insight or a suggestion and someone in the group says BUT…dismissing my idea, giving 19 reasons why it would never work, kicking the amygdala into action.  Dialogue dies.  #2 Dialogue Killer: BUT…

How about what I irreverently call dialogue interruptus.  You are speaking and I speak right over your voice, interrupting any listening or possible responses to your contribution. #3 Dialogue Killer: Interrupting

How about “just”?  This is often a self-inflicted killer: When I offer my idea I say: ‘This is just an idea…”  “Hello, it is just me.” I have dismissed my own ideas and my own self!  # 4 Dialogue Killer: Just

How about “I”?  When Mary offers an idea, John immediately says: “I tried that once and it was a mess!”  Or “I did this and that” or “I can see how that would be difficult in MY situation…”  I, I, I.  Mary’s offering is dismissed by what Paula and I called the Greedy Grabbing Eye.  #5 Dialogue Killer: The Greedy Grabbing “I”

Dialogue is a gentle, loving, productive art and is both susceptible and vulnerable. It needs attention!  It needs a quiet amygdala (safety), throughout the room. It needs our preparatory work through the LNRA so we know as much as we can about the learners’ themes and contexts.  It needs some quiet time and always careful listening.

Dialogue thrives when I begin my response to your idea with AND, not BUT. 

Dialogue thrives when I let you complete your thought and never interrupt you. 

Dialogue thrives when I do not put myself or my ideas down.  Instead of “It is just me…”, “Hello, it is Jane!”

“This is what I think.” Instead of “’I’ just thought perhaps we could…”

Dialogue thrives when I avoid an immediate reference to my situation, beginning my response with YOU instead of I. “You must have felt frightened in that situation”, instead of, “I had a close call on the highway just last week…”

What other Dialogue Killers do you notice?  And what are the opposite behaviors that can make dialogue thrive?

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