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

On Assessing Learning Needs & Resources: The Art of the Question

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In a recent Foundations of Dialogue Education course in Stowe, Vermont, 10 wonderful and wise learners examined three aspects of engaging and getting to know participants in learning events or meetings by Asking, Observing, and Studying.  This art of engaging learners prior to coming together suggests that first, whatever you do; do no harm!  Remembering that the intention is to create an opportunity to engage and respect each learner through inquiry of what they already know and bring to this event (Resource).  Whatever we ask can be done so to strengthen the apparent relevance of the topic and the work each person will apply it to.  It is so important to be specific and super intentional, avoiding asking extraneous questions such as those that ‘might be nice to know’ but not really necessary or engaging given the situation of these people. 

That architectural axiom of “Less is more” is top and center here.  Remember folks are busy and may engage at this point if it feels relevant and meaningful.  The questions you choose need to be limited and clearly related to the context of those responding, while done so in a way that gets them thinking about the event already and recognizing that what you ask may well be used in your preparations.  What you discover may suggest meaningful “generative themes” of the group with which to further engage participants in the content of the event.

Here are examples of questions I have used in two different contexts:

Context:  4-day Foundations of Dialogue Education Course

  1. Briefly describe your current role in planning, designing and facilitating learning events at your place of work.
  2. What have you seen work well AND what positive things resulted with learners when a learning experience was designed effectively?
  3. Share two (2) frustrations or challenges you often experience with learning events that you plan, run or even attend?
  4. What are 2 or 3 things that you believe to be effective and useful in designing and facilitating effective learning experiences for participants of your events?
  5. Review the draft achievable objectives for the workshop. Which (3) objectives would you say at this time you are MOST INTERESTED to achieve during this workshop?
  6. As you think about how this course will help further develop your own practice of designing and facilitating effective learning, what are 1 or 2 aspects of your current practice that you already know that you want to develop further or that you want to discover new ways to approach it?

Context:  A Statewide Summit on Housing Victims of Violence:

  1. What most engaged you to be part of this statewide Summit on housing victims of violence?
  2. In order for you to best contribute to this summit, what 2 or 3 things would you like to know about the domestic and sexual violence community and programs?
  3. In order for you to best contribute to the housing summit, what 2 or 3 things would you like to know about the Vermont housing community and programs?
  4. Based on your experience, what 2 or 3 key elements are necessary to achieve safe and stable housing for Vermont victims of domestic & sexual violence?
  5. Based on experience, what are 2 or 3 of the biggest challenges in housing victims of domestic and sexual violence?   How might challenges be unique to these victims?
  6. What 2 or 3 ways do you think housing and service agencies could work together more effectively in successfully and stably housing victims of domestic violence?

And now here's a question for you!

What are a few questions you have found useful to your context?

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