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


Addressing the Uniqueness’s of Learners – Does Digital Really Help? (Part II of V)


I could sense around me that I was losing my learners. It was during an early experience of me training them to use software to help with language learning. But these learners had very different levels of experience of using software and while I was helping some who struggled to stay alongside, others already experienced were drifting into different worlds drawing them online. As a teaching staff, we eventually arrived at an approach to accommodate the full spectrum of learners and this worked well. Yet as trainers, we all face the issue of enabling all of our learners to learn, not just those in one part of the spectrum of abilities or experience within a class; and as well as this spectrum, other spectra will exist, such as the ability of non-‘mother tongue’ speakers in the language of instruction. How do we handle these and can digital really help?

Maybe the best known aspect of digital learning is that of the flipped classroom, using digital to deliver content out-of-class and so enabling learners to engage more fully with it in class. Having a digital aspect means that learners who are less experienced can take more time to learn in their own time, while those with more make do with less. It can also accommodate those with different ‘mother tongue’ languages, using subtitles for example. The VARK model sees learning as including Visual, Auditory, Read-write and Kinaesthetic approaches to learning and digital can also accommodate all of these; a read-write approach has dominated digital historically but these other approaches can be provided for too – video and podcast enable visual and auditory approaches, and e-learning authoring software can for kinaesthetic learning to some extent. Providing variety for learners however is not the sole criterion in connecting specific media with certain course content. But that is a topic for another time.

One other helpful aspect of digital for learners is so familiar that it can easily be overlooked – hypertext. We come across it as the (often underlined and in blue) computer text that links to other information by clicking on it. One challenge in classrooms when introducing a topic is deciding how much we can assume learners already know around a topic. It is likely that for some, they do not know as much as we thought and we leave it to them to catch up later, while others know more and so must listen patiently to hearing it again. Hypertext helps address this; if introductory content is written using hypertext, then learners in a flipped classroom can choose to read exactly what they need in order to better know the topic.

However hypertext also helps in accommodating how different learners learn. Linear learners prefer to learn in sequential steps, with each step following logically on from the former; classroom learning with its fixed space-time dimension easily enables this. Non-linear (or global) learners by contrast, tend not to ‘get it’ until they see the whole structure and how its parts work together. Classroom learning can accommodate this but hypertext helps. One creative example I have come across (and partly done myself) is where content was presented through a website based on the theme of a mansion. Learners clicked on different ‘rooms’ (each representing a page on the website) and experienced certain content within each ‘room’, thus enabling a more non-linear way of learning. Admittedly this is technically more advanced and only works with certain content, but even basic hypertext can help make learning a less linear experience.

As well as advantages, there are clearly also challenges with a flipped approach. One challenge is how content can still be presented interactively when taken out of a classroom context. One common way is through discussion forums, which I will consider in a later blog posting. Another is the online quiz, which helps learners know they have assimilated key knowledge, but only by interacting with a computer rather than with colleagues. Ways I have encountered to make it more interactive include following up quiz results with tutorial content or having learners create quizzes and answers for each other. Another challenge is how learning is structured. Four questions I focus on in designing learning are akin to: “Why do learners need to know this?” “What do they then need to know?” “How can they know it works?” and “What can it become for them?” In classroom contexts this works well but since the space-time dimension of learning is significantly disrupted by digital, creativity is needed in order to keep a similar structure of learning. Solutions will vary depending on the learning situation.


How can these digital aspects best enable better learning for your learners?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

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


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?


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


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?


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

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Participatory Decision-Making* :  Dot-mocracy


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?


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!)


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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