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

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Digital Training – Inevitable yet Inferior? (Part I of V)

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One of my great passions in life is using adult education theory to create learning-centered training – working out how learners can best learn so they then go on to flourish. A significant addition to this in recent years is digital education, to which there are mixed reactions among facilitators and learners. For facilitators, there can be a sense of loss around diminished (or maybe even non-existent) face-to-face contact with learners, with loss of visual cues for assessing levels of engagement and comprehension. There may also be a feeling of reduced sense of community with digital learning. This sense of loss will be increased if the motivation for digital is extrinsic, maybe to try to cut costs or to make the training available to a wider reach of people. It could also be an attempt to make it appealing to ‘digital natives,’ those who have grown up not knowing anything other than being surrounded by technology. These factors can easily leave facilitators (and learners) feeling that digital is inevitable yet inferior.

Is this a fair conclusion?

Comparing classroom with digital like this can be like comparing apples with oranges, and concluding that oranges are inferior to apples because they lack certain apple-like qualities. Yet this is not a fair comparison since it overlooks unique intrinsic qualities of the orange. Equally, qualities of digital can be overlooked even though they have the potential to implement a learning approach that addresses longstanding issues in adult educational. Of course, unlike apples and oranges, classroom and digital is a spectrum, from fully classroom, through to classroom with a digital wraparound, to digital with residential components and finally on to fully digital. Strictly speaking, even a classroom course using PowerPoint presentations is partly digital education. The challenge is to see how a learning-centered approach can be implemented and even enhanced in each of these contexts.

But, should we be talking about digital education at all?

Recently I heard a debate on BBC Radio UK about this with the argument being that in classroom contexts we don’t talk of learners experiencing ‘pen learning.’ This is a valid point. Ultimately, it’s about learning and both digital and pen are ways in which to achieve this. However, since the digital component has a significant effect on how we answer our key design questions when developing training, I will continue to use the term in future posts in order to indicate its presence. It may be though that if a digital component becomes expected in future learning solutions then the ‘digital education’ term will indeed no longer be needed.

 

How do you primarily think of digital in the context of training – a sense of loss or a sense of gain?

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Peter Tate is self-employed as an adult education consultant for Brainy Training Solutions and recently finished designing Financial Management training for the WaterAid charity. Previously he worked as a training designer for Hope Consultants, a UK-based international development organisation, where he created Dialogue Education-type training from existing video monologue content, and then prepared it for digital format. This was alongside study for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University, learning how to implement a Dialogue Education approach in online environments.

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Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

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Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?

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Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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Participatory Decision-Making* :  Dot-mocracy

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Often when you are faced with a number of good ideas in a meeting, it is impossible or even undesirable to choose just one from a list of brainstormed options. Multi-voting is one way to poll the support that group members have for multiple options. To facilitate it, do the following:

  1. List the various choices on separate wall charts.
  2. Ask people to express their relative preferences by placing stickers or dots (hence “Dot-ocracy”) next to their preferred choices. Each person can choose to put all of their votes on one option or spread their votes over several options.
  3. Tally the number of dots that each option received to get a sense of the group’s combined preferences.

Multi-voting is good for taking a “quick read” of where the group is at, but take care to provide enough time for discussion in situations where understanding differences of opinion is important. Two further cautions:

  • Pay careful attention to how many votes each person gets. Generally, the number of votes per person can be calculated by dividing the number of choices by 3 (n/3).
  • Be careful not to assume that the “winning” option is automatically the group’s preference since the difference between two competing options may not be statistically significant. For example, if Option A received 39 votes, and Option B received 37, for all intents and purposes, it is a tie and the group would do well to acknowledge that choosing one over the other is really only meeting the preference of about half of the group.

 

Where/when may this tool be helpful?

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Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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Re-igniting a Passion for Teaching (and learning!)

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It’s been a year since I was introduced to the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. When I think about the four days I spent at the cozy Stowehof Inn in Vermont during the Foundations of Dialogue Education course, one memory in particular stands out to me. The topic was the teacher as a learner.

 

When Peter Perkins, our facilitator, made the statement “we as teachers deserve to be changed as a result of the learning events. There’s got to be something in it for us too.” I actually got tears in my eyes. That’s it! I remember thinking. That’s what I’ve been missing! You see, I’m a student at heart. You know the type… makes straight A’s, takes extra credit hours, and attends multiple conferences a year… a real school dork! But, my career had progressed to the point where I was spending hours a week training others. And by “training” I mean standing in front of the room spewing my infamous wisdom to those sitting in the seats. Sure, I was funny and likeable, and included “hands on activities” which people always seemed to enjoy, but let’s face it… I was talking and they were listening. And, we were both suffering as a result. It had gotten to the point where I could have delivered those trainings in my sleep. I was on autopilot and it didn’t matter who was in the seats on a given day, the training was pretty much the same. 

Since returning from Vermont, my colleagues and I have embarked on an amazing journey to bring Dialogue Education into our work. We’ve designed and facilitated a number of learning events using these principles and practices and I’ve been changed from each and everyone one of them. I’ve learned so much from the people who have joined me in the various learning events over the last 12 months and I’ve learned about myself too. Sure, it was scary to step off my high horse, take a seat alongside the learners, and open myself up to what they brought to share with me but I’ve found my passion for teaching again. More than anything I’ve learned to model inquiry and a desire to learn. Listen more, talk less, and remember that doubt doesn’t need to be resolved… these are the things I chant to myself during every event. As the facilitator, it’s not my role to convince everyone in the room of my point of view but rather to facilitate respectful dialogue around the expression of doubt so we can all learn from the experience. We are all giving up our time to be in that room and we all deserve to be changed as a result of the learning event. Yes, even the teacher.

What have you learned along the way that has inspired you?

 ***** 

Susie Kantz (skantz@unm.edu) lives and works in New Mexico where she designs and facilitates learning events for Early Childhood Educators.

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From Head to Heart

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I was working with a small group of women executives in a peer exchange leadership development program. They had moved through two tumultuous and revealing days together, and had generated some real insights about their unique leadership styles. A capstone activity of the program was to meet with emerging women leaders from one of their institutions to share their learning. 

I walked into the room and was disappointed to see a microphone, a podium and 50 women sitting in rows. 

My disappointment grew as each of the executives walked to the podium to deliver a technical, formal and impersonal speech. It was so different from the authentic and informal exchange they had been having. 

From the podium came descriptions, numbers, and advice. From the chairs came polite attention, fidgeting, and silence. 

My quiet disappointment turned to panic when I heard my own name come from that podium. One of the executives, perhaps reading the room (or perhaps irritated at me for including this exercise in the design) was introducing me and inviting me to take the podium. I had nothing planned and about 20 seconds to figure it out. 

A phrase from Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, came to me: “I have to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.”

Here is what I did:  I said, “You have just heard leadership examples -- women who met considerable obstacles, and figured out how to move beyond those, to make big changes. Think about a time in your own life, when you exercised that kind of leadership. You met with a considerable obstacle, and you figured out how to move beyond that, and make a big change.”

I had no plan, and there was not much time, so I suggested they write a note to themselves and to share the story with partner. I predicted — and I was right — that the polite attention would turn into engagement. I did not predict what came next. 

For the next 20 minutes, one woman after another stood to tell a powerful story of personal leadership, stories that their CEO could not have known. Stories that inspired tears and laughter. For that 20 minutes, the women in the “audience” were not talking about leadership, they were leading. The podium — that symbol of power that suggests there is but one leader in the room — remained empty. The learning space was being led from those chairs. 

We don’t often deal in heart issues in business settings but they are always operating and leaders, facilitators, presenters, teachers do well to figure out how to get people “out of their heads” and into their hearts.

Three ideas for helping groups to “get out of their heads” and into their hearts:

  1. Use stories. A story contains so much more than mere statistics, advice and descriptions. The most powerful moments of that leadership exchange centered around the stories they shared. Stories convey information and they evoke emotion.
  2. Find a way for people to be seen, and to see themselves in the story. Change rarely comes anonymously. Organizations create too many opportunities for anonymity.
  3. Look for, and study, moments of accomplishment, triumph, and perseverance. Problems are interesting. Positive stories are powerful. They illuminate the assets we have with which to change the world. 

 

What stories do you have about getting groups out of their heads and into their hearts?

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Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

 

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