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

Posts tagged with "Adult Learning"

Quick Checklist of 5 Tips for Engaging Webinars

What do you do when you have 50 minutes to teach a topic and your only access to the learners is a chat box?  Before you press send on your slide deck, check out this quick checklist that might spark a little extra engagement for the participants of your next webinar.  If you want a more thorough look at a learning-centered approach for developing a webinar, check out this post from Dwayne Hodgson Certified Dialogue Education Teacher.

1.  There are engagement activities scheduled before, during and after the webinar.

A participant packet sent out ahead of time can include a pre-webinar reflection on the topic, space for writing during the webinar, and a post-webinar suggested activity such as planning to talk to a colleague about what was learned.

Tip: Remind participants at the beginning of the webinar to print the packet and write on it if they haven’t already.

2.  Your webinar agenda slide lists what the participants will do during the webinar.

It is sometimes easier (or a habit) to start with a list of the items you want to cover. Writing down what you want people to do after the webinar can help you decide what they will need to do during it.  It can also help you eliminate unnecessary content when you have a short time with busy people.

Example webinar goal: Participants will use a new resource guide during the month following the webinar.

Agenda:  During this hour, you will

  • Examine how the guide can help you in your daily work
  • Discover how each resource in the guide can aid your daily process
  • Take a first step in improving your daily process

3.  Engagement activities help learners connect with what they already know about the topic, introduce new content, and apply it to their situation. 

The Global Learning Partners 4-A model (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away) is a foolproof tool for learning that lasts.


  • Share in the chat box. What good practices do you already do that have the most impact on improving your daily process? (prior knowledge)
  • Answer the webinar poll on your screen: Which of the tools in the guide are you most interested in learning about. (new content)
  • Share in the Q&A Box.  What is a next step that would have the most impact for your work in improving your daily process? (action or next step)

4.  Your slide deck includes graphs and limited text in plain language.

The adage “Less is more” was never truer than for webinar slides.  A quick search of “death by PowerPoint” can yield some good ideas on getting your message across with the least amount of text or with graphics.  Just keep going through your slides and striking out unnecessary words. Speak conversationally to your audience using “you” (see examples in #3 above).

Tip:  More in-depth content can be shared in a separate document; your webinar platform may be able to have it right there ready to download.

5.  Your reflection questions or engagement questions use powerful or appreciative open questions for critical thinking and deeper connection.

Appreciative inquiry deliberately asks positive questions to ignite constructive dialogue and inspired action. Small tweaks can add an appreciative approach to your engagement questions.   You may need to leave a few extra seconds of quiet time for participants to think before moving forward.


Open question:  Share in the chat box:  What do you already do to improve your daily process?

Appreciative open question: Share in the chat box.  What good practices do you already have that make the most impact on improving your daily process?

You can learn more about a learning-centered approach in your online learning activities in Global Learning Partners courses and our extensive collection of blog posts from our international network of practitioners, teachers and other experts in similar fields.


Rachel Nicolosi is a member of the GLP core consulting team and recently completed several client projects which required webinars to spread good ideas within a state and across several states looking to adopt best practices and learn from each other.  She says that having a practitioner on the webinar who has had experience using the content being shared is one of the best options for getting participants what they need to know to help them take the next step in applying the content.

Active Learning Held in High Esteem at One of Nation's Top Medical Colleges

The University of Vermont College of Medicine set a goal to fully embrace “active learning” by the year 2019 – and they are succeeding!

When the College received a generous alumni gift, they wanted to make sure to invest it in the most impactful ways. Their research showed that, in order to become the best medical school in the nation, they would need to replace their traditional teacher-centered approach with an evidence-based learning-centered approach. They are now a model for engaged, active learning. You can see it in their curricula, their space, and their overall culture of teaching.

Visit this site to take a closer look at HOW the College of Medicine is undergoing a transformation. Here you’ll find 1) a description of active learning; 2) reasons WHY the school is committed to it; 3) WHAT methods are replacing lectures; and 4) a video on the learning environment. As one of the nation’s oldest medical schools, facilities were built for a much more “teacher-centered” approach – but this video illustrates how they repurposed space and used technology to be more student and learning-centered. This is awesome!

We also recommend taking a moment to enjoy this short NPR Interview  with Dr. William Jeffries, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  In the interview, Dr. Jeffries reflects on his own realization that lectures were not the best teaching approach. He offers a beautiful example of how to teach pharmacokinetics using this new approach, while acknowledging that the principles of active learning apply to all topics taught in the medical school.

“We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information but then also organize it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense. When you just tell somebody something, the chances of them remembering it diminishes over time. But, when you are required to use that information you are likely to remember it much better.” 

For more insights into the benefits of active learning on learners, teachers and community, contact Dr. Jeffries: (william.b.jeffries@med.uvm.edu). To discover more about what a learning-centered approach might look like in your organization, sign up for a Global Learning Partners course or some one-on-one coaching with a member of our core consulting team.


What does UVM’s experience say about how to elevate active learning in your setting?

* * * * *

Val Uccellani crafted this short blog. Val is a co-owner of GLP, Inc., a member of the Board, and a Senior Partner, as well as coordinator of GLP’s consulting services and certified practitioner network. Needless to say, she’s thrilled to discover places like UVM that are paving the way for a revolution in learning!

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.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #8

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 7 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Sequence and Reinforcement:  Supporting Their Learning

Chapter Seven is a poignant memory for me of an incredible experience with beautiful people. I was certainly the learner in this story from the back porch of a migrant workers’ shack in North Carolina.

Again, the principles of sequence and reinforcement were appropriately demonstrated in this situation. Many other Dialogue Education principles are also evident:  their respect for me, the engagement of the young man with the bloody toothache, and the kindly laughter that encouraged us all. The lessons they taught are operative in my life today! How can we create for our children events that bring them into intimate contact with the other?   

Some great lines from Chapter Seven:

  • “Prepare the field before planting seed.” p105
  • “If anyone were to visit our back porch language lab, they surely would have suspected that I, in my casual dress, was the migrant worker and the men were sophisticated language consultants from the Caribbean.” p109
  • “Some indicators of success in teaching are more moving than others.” p109
  • “’Reserve judgment, Jane, for the first ten years!’” p110



Describe a time when you realized you (the teacher) were learning more in the teaching/learning event than anyone else in the room!

Who is the other in your life now? Describe a time when you had occasion to meet the other.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #7

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 6 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Sound Relationships:  Using the Power of Friendship

Dr. Margie Ahnan and I go way back—to a Save the Children workshop in Indonesia in the early eighties! We played tennis, drank wine, and talked into the wee hours when she came to visit me in Raleigh. Margie wrote to me once from Jakarta where she was doing clinical work and teaching midwives and doctors about the power of dialogue in health care:  The tigers are loose in Jakarta! Margie is herself a tiger!

This chapter is profoundly rich. If I had one chapter to share with students of education, it would be Chapter Six where many teachers speak:  Margaret Wheatley, Robert Sigmon, Dana Zohar, Thomas Kuhn, Kurt Lewin, Donald Oliver, and Carl Jung.

This chapter offers concrete actions, principles in practice that worked eminently well in this one situation. The Design Challenge expands these principles by inviting the reader to imagine further actions in his or her own context.

 Some great lines from Chapter Six:

  • “The power relationship that often exists between a ‘professor’ and learners is a function of a system where power is often used to dominate. Our efforts through education to build a world of equity and mutual responsibility cannot be designed without attention to the power of sound relationships.” p86

  • “…mutual responsibility cannot be designed without attention to the power of sound relationships.” p86

  • “The first sound relationship is with oneself.” (as quoted from William Blake) p89



Remember a time when you, as teacher, developed a meaningful relationship with a student. Tell what you recall happened for that student because of your relationship. Name some other principles and practices you have used to show respect to learners and assure their learning.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #6

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 5 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Safety:  Creating a Safe Environment for Learning

Chapter Five presents a story that shows the importance of safety by describing what happened when it was not effectively used. I expect many readers have identified with elements in this sad story.

I like the summary of six learnings from the errors made in the program:  Adult learning and teaching is political, problem-posing, part of a whole, participative, person-centered and prepared.

I also like the recognition and description of the positive aspects of the program that featured the engagement and honesty of village participants in the dialogue.

Some great lines from Chapter Five:

  • “Adults have shown that they are not only willing but also ready and eager to learn when they feel safe in a learning environment.” p71
  • “We needed some quantum thinking about the whole!” p75
  • “We did not feel safe, as women in an experimental venture, and we projected that feeling onto the program.” p76
  • “The Swahili proverb tells it all: Kupotea njia ndiko kujua njia! ‘By losing the way one learns the way!” p77



As you read this chapter, what other ways of doing a learning needs and resources assessment in that Ethiopian drought situation could have been considered? That is, what else might I have done to get inclusive participation from the learners and the community?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #5

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 4 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Learning Needs and Resources Assessment: Taking the First Step in Dialogue

Chapter Four is an amazing true story. The heroine is Fatuma, rifle-bearing leader of the Afar nomadic people of northern Ethiopia!

Although this chapter teaches the usefulness of the practice of inclusive learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA), many other principles and practices are also evident:  relationships, respect, the use of visuals, engagement, safety, teamwork, critical incidents and hopefully the laughter of the reader at Fatuma’s strategic ploy to win “an outbreak of seriousness in the training room.”

I did go back to Ethiopia a year later, and was delighted to visit Fatuma and her people at their camp. They killed a goat, not a camel, and we had a great feast!

The reference to the Appendix which has a number of particular strategies for doing an effective LNRA in any situation was useful.

Some great lines from Chapter Four:

  • “Who needs what as defined by whom” (Hutchnison) is at the heart of the learning needs and resources assessment. p57
  • “’Don’t just do something, sit there.’” p59
  • “…the key [to adult learning] is the respectful relationship of learner to teacher.” p62
  • “The needs assessment, however, was not yet complete. What about the other definers?” p64
  • “The culture of the roadside is not the culture of the mountainside…” p66



As you read this chapter, what other ways of doing an learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) in that Ethiopian drought situation would you consider? That is, what else might I have done to get inclusive participation from the learners and the community?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #3

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 2 in the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Quantum Thinking and Dialogue Education

I love this chapter! I like the way I made a quietly conservative selection of six quantum thinking concepts, and promised to use these concepts in analyzing and interpreting the upcoming stories.

I just realized that by making such a selection, I was actually manifesting quantum thinking:  the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the whole is in every part.

Why these six? Again, I really do not know:  perhaps they seemed to me fundamental and somewhat accessible. Their inter-relatedness corroborates one of the concepts:  everything is connected.

Chapter Two is too heavy on theory and even the promise of application in the stories does not help. Whenever I get a chance to write a new edition of this book, I will offer more examples of each of these familiar but elusive concepts: 

Relatedness:  everything is connected. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Duality:  consider either/or thinking

Energy:  it takes energy to learn

Uncertainty:  pray for doubt

Participation:  we evoke the world we perceive.

This chapter is short:  six pages! I may indeed have muddied the waters by introducing quantum thinking. I hope not. Every day I see evidence of these and other quantum concepts in my quiet, retired life:  I am more than the sum of my old, aching parts! The whole picture of my health is seen in a few drops of blood! My energy is renewed by engagement and exercise! My whole life is in this moment! Quantum thinking!

Some great lines from Chapter Two:

  • “…a constructionist perspective invites learners to develop the theory and practices they are learning in the light of their context.” p31
  • “…prepare men and women for the work of the world, not merely for work in the world.” p33
  • “notice how energy rises when learners are aware of their responsibility to decide.” p35



Which of these six quantum thinking concepts has been most useful to you in your design and/or teaching?


Tuesdays with Jane: Week #2

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 1 in the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)


Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning

Mmmmmm, I love this chapter! I like the way it integrates quantum thinking as it describes not only each of the twelve basic principles and practices but also how it anticipates for the reader the upcoming story.

Why these twelve principles? That is a question I have often been asked. I really do not know:  Twelve tribes of Israel? Twelve apostles? Twelve months in the year? Your guess is as good as mine.

They have stood the test of time in being twelve sound pillars on which to build an effective design for learning. They hold hands, one to another, corroborating the perspective of quantum thinking:  everything is connected.

Chapter One is boldly deductive, starting out with the bare content: twelve principles!  The hinted promise of particular instances (inductive work) does not inhibit the commanding stance:  from my experience I have made this selection. Listen to me!

Yet, I read a certain openness as well:  these are not presented as the twelve principles and practices, but as those that emerged from my experience as largely effective. On page 3, I promise fifty more stories as well as principles and practices readers can find in Training Though Dialogue (1995). 

This chapter renews my conviction that we must design with confidence and conviction, boldly stating the content we see essential. Learners will select and construct that content for their context. They will add to it as that context demands such additions. And so, we all learn!

Some great lines in Chapter One:

  • “In adult learning, accountability is mutual.” p13
  • Zohar: “The questions we ask determine the kinds of responses we get.” p15
  • “As subjects, we evoke the world we perceive.” p16
  • “Inviting learners to be subjects of their own learning is the practice of freedom.”  p17
  • Zohar: “You hear a chorus of conversations!” p22



Which of these twelve principles has been most useful to you in your design and/or teaching?


Tuesdays with Jane: Week #1

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read the Foreword and Preface to the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)


The Foreword by Malcolm Knowles; the Preface (2002)

When we read the fax Malcolm sent in 1993 with his draft Foreword, my sister Joan and I wept. It is such a gift! This is a beautiful man with my friends, humble and abundantly generous. 

You will learn more from this book

than from any textbook written by me…

The Preface to the Revised Edition (2002)  

I remember the response of David Brightman, my editor at Jossey Bass, to my suggestion that, in this revised edition, we include the perspective of quantum thinking. “What in the world?” he wrote back. “Never! Your work is accessible and we want this revised edition to maintain that accessibility!”

Of course, he finally agreed, and I linked arms with Danah Zohar and Margaret Wheatley to show how dialogue in educational design and practice corroborated quantum thinking.

The response of many readers reminded me of my dear mother’s response to my using saffron and curry on our Sunday dinner:  “What a waste of a good chicken!” However, I remain convinced that the connection is sound. My recent reading of James E. Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain (2012) showed me that current research in neuroscience corroborates the conjunction of quantum thinking and dialogue in education. 

When David Brightman invited me to do this revised edition, I also said I would not change the stories or the twelve principles and practices. This preface makes a clear case for the stories’ diversity in cultures and the global usefulness of the principles and practices. 

Here are some delightful lines in the Preface: 

Danah Zohar 

  • “How can we teach multitudes on a human scale?” p.ix
  • "We must change the thinking behind our thinking!" p.xxi


  • “Notice The Thinker is thinking with his toes!" p.xii
  • "Prepare yourself for a quantum leap into a familiar place.” p.xii



What line moved you in the Foreword or the Preface of the 2002 revised edition of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach?      


Learning-Centered Conferences: All's Well that Ends Well

After a plenary or panel session at a conference, it is helpful to protect time at the end to engage the audience with the content just presented. One idea for doing this is to pose a question for people to reflect on or discuss with others around them (or at their table): 

  • “What key ideas were offered in this presentation that you feel are worth trying?”
  • “What did you hear from [the speaker] that resonates with your own experience? What was new for you?”
  • “What ideas were offered here today that you find most challenging?”

Another idea to help engagement and personalize the content is to invite personal reflection:

  • “On your own, what one idea do you want to share with your team? Write this in your conference booklet.”
  • “Take a few minutes on your own to write one key learning from this session that you want to take back to your work with you. What is it, who do you want to share this with, and when.”

Although this engagement time is often short, even 5 minutes is time well spent. Whether you frame it as a “take away” or “key for me” or “now what”, facilitating it well is important. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be simple and clear. Since time is limited there is no room for complex instructions. Projecting the task on a screen at the front is helpful and recommended. This way no one is wondering what was just asked.

For example:  “We just heard [the speaker] offer us much food for thought. Now we are going to take some time to consider what was most important for each of us. At your tables, share what was most important for you, your team or your organization to hear today, and why that is so.”

  1. Set the task and get out of the way. There is no need for discussion or explanation. Once the task is set, let the participants start the dialogue. Your voice has to stop, in order for theirs to start.
  2. State the allotted time. People need to know how much time they have. If they hear they only have 5 minutes, they may start their discussion a bit faster than if they think they have an unlimited amount of time.

For example:  “In groups of 2 or 3, take 10 minutes to…”

  1. Encourage digging deep. The audience has just been passively listening to a presentation and may need a bit of encouragement to get started and engage authentically in small groups.

For example:  “… as you discuss this at your table, think of the communities in which you work. What is critical for them in light of what you heard today?”  

  1. Affirm the group. After everyone engages with the task you asked they to do, thank them. They have just shared their thoughts, questions and sometimes tough issues – this should not be taken for granted.

For example:  “Thank you for sharing all you did and for the tough questions and stories you shared. Although we don’t have time to hear the dialogue that happen at your tables, I invite you to continue these conversations over lunch and during the breaks.” 


Jeanette Romkema is a Senior Partner at GLP.  You can join her and GLP Partner Michael Culliton in the January 2016 online course, "Learning-Centered Conferences".  

Play it Again, Sam

This is a true story: In 2001 I was invited by Jossey-Bass publishers to do a second edition of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach.  I thought, "Before I agree, I should read that book again!"  I was working in California and faced a long airplane ride: a good opportunity to read the book and ponder the possibilities of a second edition.

I sat by the window, reading, chuckling quietly at the humor, weeping silently at some of the stories. My companion in the aisle seat looked over at me: “Looks like a good book!”

“Oh, it is wonderful!” I replied. “I would love to meet the author!”

For the past two months I have been doing a customized special course for my adopted grandson, Zachary, and a very special friend, Beth, of TeachingHorse.  Both are young, hungry to learn about teaching and learning. We are using three of my books: Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, Taking Learning to Task and On Teaching and Learning.

Preparing for this week’s class, I re-read Taking Learning to Task. Published in 2001, it anticipates on every page the work of James E. Zull, The Art of Changing the Brain.  It needs a second edition, showing all that we have learned since 2001. I have asked my friend and colleague, Sarah Gravett, Dean of the Faculty of Education at The University of Johannesburg to work with me on this.

Please, read it again – marvel at the explicit, well-sequenced directions that enable you to build your own

viable system of learning-centered programs. Look for the second edition, hopefully in 2016. David Brightman, my editor at Jossey-Bass/Wiley is now a senior editor at Stylus Publishers who published Zull’s work! Now that is Synchronicity with a capital G for Gift!

What strikes you as most useful in this text as you read it another time? 


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

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?

The Praxis of Dialogue

One of my favorite axioms is: There are three things that make effective learning happen, in this order: time, time and time.

While the wry humor in that axiom always gets a belated laugh, the significance and meaning it offers is not at all trivial. I discovered the biology behind my simple axiom as I reread, with delight, Norman Doidge’s amazing book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Consider the implications of this paragraph from p 24:

Traditional rehabilitation exercises typically ended after a few weeks, when a patient stopped improving, or “plateaued,” and doctors lost the motivation to continue. But Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary —part of a plasticity -based learning cycle— in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation . Though there was no apparent progress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.

In our present school system we rush students from one 45 minute session to another, without any reflection time or periods of consolidation.  This lovely story of a dinner table conversation between a father and his six year old son captures this principle:

Dad: What was the best thing that happened at school today, Tim?

Tim:  Recess! We went out into the garden!

I see that Tim knew he needed a period of consolidation; he wanted to learn! He knew praxis: action with reflection long before he took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course!

How can we re-design our courses, webinars, or learning tasks to include what the brain is telling us it needs: a quiet time, a period of consolidation, the opportunity to reflect on the new information or skill or attitude we just met?

In Johannesburg, South Africa years ago, I was doing a course on Dialogue Education with law professors from the university.  My friend Tricia, whom I met at a Quaker meeting, sat in on the course to observe the process. I shall never forget her comment at the end of the first day: “That is amazing, Jane. Have you ever thought of using quiet?”  Tricia challenged me then to consider The Praxis of Dialogue.  Norman Doidge offered me today the biology behind it.  

  • When have you used quiet to enhance learning in a course or workshop? 
  • When have you given yourself a period of consolidation to ensure your own learning?

10 Tips for Groups Where Language May Be a Challenge

by Kathy Hickman, Jeanette Romkema and Elaine Wiersma

From time to time we work with a group where language is a challenge (e.g. dementia, low-literacy, different languages of origin). It is important to understand learners’ language abilities (expression and comprehension) when planning for an education event. During the learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) process, find out what you can about learners’ comfort and abilities related to reading and writing. Then carefully and intentionally design your event. Here are a few things to keep in mind when language may be a challenge.

  1. Use visuals. Where possible use visual aids to teach the new content or to make a point i.e. video clip, role play, pictures, cartoons, etc. When you need/ want to share words visually, support them with a visual representation as well. In general, limit written text.


  1. Offer choice. Adult learners will choose wisely according to their needs and comfort level. For this reason, when you offer choice about how to do an activity (drawing or writing) or receive information (follow along in the brochure or with the drawings), adults will engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Be sure to create safety (“it’s okay to do it different”) and give reminders about the options for a task. Remember that too much choice can also be overwhelming for learners living with dementia.


  1. Use props. Whether as a metaphor or a concrete example of what you are explaining to a group, demo objects can be helpful in learning or understanding a complex or new concept or skill. The key is to find props that communicate clearly and simply. You can also SHOW rather than, or perhaps as well as, TELL to explain a new concept or skill.


  1. Engage learners by DOING. The best way to learn something is to do something with new content to test, challenge and/or practice it. If you ensure that this activity does not involve much writing OR that there are options for how to do the task, learners will be successful regardless of language abilities.


  1. Use language that is familiar to the group. As a general rule of thumb, everyday language is more easily understood compared to academic or professional language.  Listen to the words used by learners when you speak with them as part of your assessment process and during the course. Check with others within the community or others who are familiar with this group about what language is most appropriate and is most likely to be understood. Make sure that this language is reflected in your design and facilitation. This will not only aid the learning but also shows respect for the learners.


  1. Reading aloud. By asking for volunteers to read instructions aloud and at times reading aloud yourself, ALL learners will have the chance to know what is expected of them. This increases safety for learners that have difficulty reading because they know they will not have to read in order to participate in the group.


  1. Be clear and simple. You may think that this goes without saying, but all too often professionals get caught up in jargon or the complexities of their field. Teach as if you are having a casual conversation – keep it down to earth.


  1. Use stories. Story is a powerful thing for all human beings. When written text is a challenge to read or understand, oral text is often helpful. Stories are personal and often come from or touch the heart – this is why they are so powerful.


  1. Use role play. It is a form of storytelling, but can also help learners experience how it must feel to be in a particular role. Get learners to act out a role they are not normally in to gain empathy and new insights into another person’s reality. It is critical that this is done with safety (e.g. in small groups or pairs, with those who would like to volunteer or use a demonstration role play with facilitators).


  1. Ask learners to retell or summarize. We sometimes assume a nodding head means understanding. This is not always true. You can help learning and assist in the personalizing of new concepts when you ask learners to retell or summarize their understanding of what has been presented or explained. This can be done with a partner or small group, with a question attached to discuss together. Frame this so that learner safety is ensured (e.g. no wrong answers, affirm, and respectfully clarify as needed).


Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com;

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca.


How to Evaluate a Training

Evaluation Checklist

Do you ever get emails asking you to spend a few minutes sharing your thoughts about evaluating a training? I do. And I'm always a little torn because I know whoever asks is eager for a few crisp tips. Instead, I grill them with questions!

The rest of this short blog post is about questions:  questions to ask somebody if they ask you about how to evaluate a training.

Question #1 - When you say evaluate, are you looking for feedback (i.e. how people perceived their experience) or learning (i.e. how well people grasped the skills/ knowledge/ attitudes being "taught") or something more (see Q4 below on the topic of something more)?

Question #2 - If you are looking for feedback, is it primarily on the design of the training (i.e. course content, structure, sequence, relevance) or on the facilitation (i.e. the way the facilitator listened, guided the dialogue, posed questions, etc)? What kind of feedback will you be able to make use of in the future?

Question #3 -  If you are looking to evaluate learning, have you set clear objectives against which to evaluate?  Are those objectives written in such a way that you - and the learner - will KNOW when they've been achieved?

Side bar:  I just watched a presentation by Dr. James Zull, author of "The Art of Changing the Brain." His words echoed those of our very own Dr. Jane Vella when he said "The way we know we know is if our back cortex (area of sensory input) senses an action we initiate with our front cortex (area of motor skills)."  I loved hearing that because it made the biology of learning evaluation so crystal clear. We know it was learned when we did something with it. That's what achievement-based objectives set us up for!

Question #4 - (With this question I draw a little diagram showing how learning leads to transfer, and transfer leads to impact.) If you are looking for something more, then you probably want to evaluate "transfer" (i.e. how learners use what they got in the learning) or "impact" (i.e. what difference it made to them or those around them). If so, have you set up a plan to capture evidence of learning and then track what happens after the training ends?

By the time I hit question #4, the caller usually pauses their note-taking and says something like "Hmmm. I guess I have to think this through a bit more.” And that's when I feel like I've done my work for the day.

What do you say when a colleague asks you to spend a few minutes talking to them about training evaluation? Share it with us in the comments section.

Your Brain on Ink

Neuroplasticity. Now that’s a ten-dollar word. It belongs in everyone’s wallet. Its purchase power underwrites a message of hope and inspiration. As Jane Vella celebrates, “We can create ourselves!”

But how do we create ourselves?  Where is the instruction manual when we want a self-directed course of study? How do we SNAG the brain (stimulate neuronal activation and growth)?

One answer is close at hand. Actually the power is in your hand when you pick up your pen and write in your voice. Journaling and other forms of expressive writing – personal essays, poetry, fiction, song lyrics – are all ideally suited to fire and rewire your circuits. Imagine 5,000 years of expressive language history – papyrus and quills – meeting cutting edge science!

A group of scientists in NYC who research the brain by day are firing and rewiring their circuits by night; they write songs and perform with their band. The Amygdaloids, named after the brain structure that has a primary role in processing memory and emotional reactions, describe their music as “heavy mental.”

Since most of us are not destined for the concert circuit, a notebook and pen can be our first class ticket. As we recount a story through sensory detail, process the nuances of emotion, and explore the dimensions of thought, our neurons are firing, our circuits are wiring and we are witnessing neuroplasticity in action,  guided by our own hand. Focused and engaged attention is key, for the brain takes the shape upon which the mind rests. So, where are you resting your mind?

From Dr. Dan Siegel comes the phrase “Inspire to rewire.” I invite you to use your first journal entry to write about what Siegel’s phrase means to you. I hope that your pen and journal help your mind rest in resilience, love and integration. 

Deborah Ross, LPC has practiced psychotherapy in Northern Virginia for 20 years, focusing on both individual and couples counseling. She studied neuroscience at the Mindsight Institute with Dr. Dan Siegel and applied her findings to a therapeutic writing curriculum, Your Brain on Ink. An avid journaler, she recognizes the healing power of expressive writing and believes that this practice can change the way our brains work so that we experience a deeper sense of well-being and greater resilience. Deborah is certified as an instructor in the Journal to the Self program through the Center for Journal Therapy and offers journaling instruction through workshops and private consultation.

A New Axiom: Dialogue Education Creates Friendships

Blog Author Dan Haase with his friend Jim Wilhoit.

This afternoon I was working on revisions for a syllabus of an upcoming fall course. The course was designed using the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. A large part of this design was honed through the feedback of a dear colleague, Jim Wilhoit. Jim and I had the privilege of taking the Advanced Learning Design course together last summer in Raleigh (here we are with Jane Vella and Karen Ridout).

Over the course of this year Jim and I have gathered almost weekly and had countless phone calls to share our learning and designs. Recently, I received a call from Jim after he had given a keynote address using the 8 steps of design and facilitated learning through Dialogue Education.

“Dan,” he said simply, “it works.”

He went on to share the level of engagement and transfer he witnessed during the experience. We had a good laugh together about this past year of growth and what we have seen change in our teaching, as well as the change we have experienced in becoming learners among learners.

At the end of the day, I have come to this conclusion:  Dialogue Education creates friendships.

In the hard work of preparation and design for a course or a workshop there emerges the fruit of more deeply connected learners. People can enter a room full of strangers and leave having shared a lived experience of education. Dialogue invites interaction and the sharing of a narrative. Dialogue Education offers a design for human relationships to flourish. I know that Jim and I are grateful for the friendship that has grown in our lives out of the applied principles and practices of DE.

Name an experience in the comments section below where you found a friendship develop through Dialogue Education.


Check out the blossoming friendships in the Learning & Change Online Community - get an advanced taste of what's in store for us at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute (start the learning before you arrive or determine whether you'd like to attend). All are welcome! 

Teacher as Neuroplastician?

It’s true, my friends! Teachers are neuroplasticians.

In The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge M.D. coins the word neuroplasticians to describe those who – quite literally – change the brain.

I was frankly shocked to hear that until very recently we all believed a terrible fallacy:  that the brain was a machine…built to last but not capable of change. Our belief in such a significant fallacy moved us to condemn blind people and deaf people and indeed, ourselves, to the condition we were born into, or developed into as children, with the idea that the brain was set in stone. Blind? You’ll never see again. Deaf? You won’t hear.

Boy were we wrong!

Take a few minutes to watch this incredible video, in which Paul Bach-y-Rita, neuroscientist, teaches a blind man to see . . . using his tongue!

Today we know that the brain has innate plasticity: and nothing is impossible! We can change. We can learn. We can become what we dream of being. We can change the neuronal networks in our brains, grow new dendrites and be what we will. And – relevant to our work as educators, we can guide others to do that – to celebrate the plasticity of the brain by using it!  Learning and Change, indeed!

So neuroplasticians is what we teachers are; we use the brain to enhance and strengthen and delight the person. For example, we tell a story to begin our math class: the experience of hearing and imagining the story moves the learners to delight, to curiosity, to experimentation.

Engaged as they are in the story, they are ready to try on the relevant mathematical concept and its accompanying skill. They laugh together! They share their expectations of the outcome of their work.

They argue and fight for their perspective.  They change their brains!

And you, the math teacher, Dialogue Educator, are the brilliant neuroplastician who designed the story, the learning tasks and materials, who managed their time and task and responded to their work.

I must confess I am moved to tears by the power of this new insight, this revision of a dominant fallacy that has held us down for all the years we’ve lived on this planet, until now! The Copernican revolution, the printing press, the world wide web – were mere blips on the screen of civilization compared to this! Because of the plasticity of the brain, we can create ourselves!

It is a new world, friends, and neuroplasticians rock!


Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning and Change.

6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue

PowerPoint. We love it. We hate it. We abandoned it to flirt with Prezi. Then we came back.

It's like that relationship we know is not good for us, but we keep it on speed dial.

So, we won't give you the long list of how not to use PowerPoint. You've been there and you could write that one. (But this Gettysburg Address example is worth seeing if you haven't already).

Here is a list of how to use PowerPoint and still get the kind of engagement you want with your presentations.

  1. Consider not using it. (Sneaky, I know, but at least consider it). If it does not enhance your presentation in meaningful ways, don’t use it at all. It has a bad reputation and people have come to expect that they will be passive and unengaged when the first screen comes up. You will have to work against that in the first few seconds.
  2. Set it up with an open question (i.e. “As you look at the numbers, be thinking about how they will impact the work in your own department in the short term.”).
  3. Use it to visually communicate what you are presenting (that is not the same thing as “textually” communicating). Images stick in our minds, for instance, and some graphs can help people to make meaning of complex concepts.
  4. Use text that the group needs to see in order to react to it. (And then give them time to do just that). i.e. “Read through this description of the product we are considering purchasing. What jumps out at you from this description? What features are most important to your team?" (Hint, if the text is too long to fit on a slide, use a hand out or a pre-read instead.)
  5. Intersperse it with dialogue (i.e. "Which of the policies that we’ve outlined so far might be a challenge for you? Why?").
  6. Divide it into short chunks (no more than 10 minutes) around core concepts. People won't stay with you much longer than that.

Above all, remember this.

Your PowerPoint is not your presentation. It is a visual aid to your presentation.

What are your best PowerPoint tips? Worst cases?! Show us some examples in the comments section below.


Hey, good news! We messed up the original Early Bird deadline for The Art of Facilitation, which means you have until September 10th to save yourself $80 on registration! The course is October 10-11, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

How to Facilitate Introverts and Extroverts in Your Group or Class

Thanks to Karyn Greenstreet of Passion for Business for allowing us to repost her original blog post!

Whether you teach classes, run mastermind groups, or offer group coaching programs, understanding what makes introverts and extroverts tick will help you run your group better.

We all know there are two personality styles that are polar opposites of each others, right?

I wish it were that simple.

Introversion and extroversion are on a line, a continuum. Sometimes people will be strongly to one side or the other on that continuum, but often people exhibit mixed tendencies, especially in a group setting where there is rapport and trust.

For example, an introvert like me (yes, I consider myself an introvert!) might be quiet around new people, but very gregarious when with my mastermind groups. I might be quiet when I’m the student and trying to absorb new information, and highly extroverted when I’m the teacher. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum, and often it’s situational.

So let’s define what we mean by these terms:

An introvert gains energy by being alone, and expends energy when in a group setting, like a mastermind group. Being an introvert doesn’t mean a person is shy; it means he needs quiet time alone to process the outcome of the group meetings and recharge his batteries before he wants to get back into the group-mode again.

An extrovert gains energy when she is out in the world, especially brainstorming with a group of people. She’s excited to share ideas and to process her thoughts verbally in the group. Sometimes she gets her best ideas while talking through a problem with other people.

How do you facilitate a group that includes both types?

An introvert needs quiet time, even a minute or two, to collect his thoughts and reactions to a given problem or situation. Giving the entire group a few minutes to write down their ideas on their own, before sharing, can give the introvert the space he needs to process.

On the other hand, the extrovert needs time to talk out loud, to process her thoughts while she’s actively communicating with others. Knowing this, you can allow the extrovert a few minutes to explain her situation: she just might find clarity — or even solve her problem herself — simply by talking openly about it.

Between meetings, give each of these types a way to communicate with the entire group, possibly through an online message forum. The extrovert will appreciate the ongoing connection to the group and the introvert can take his time to process internally, then communicate at his leisure.

How can you tell if a group member is an introvert or an extrovert?

It’s not possible to pigeon-hole someone and label them as “all introvert” or “all extrovert,” but there are tendencies the psychologists have identified that you can (and should) pay attention to:

  • an introvert makes more and sustained eye contact
  • an introvert will appear to think before she speaks
  • an introvert may disappear during breaks, or talk deeply with only one person during breaks
  • an introvert may seem shy around the group in the beginning, until he gets to know everyone better
  • an introvert needs quiet time away from the group to relax and process
  • an extrovert will appear energized by being in the group situation
  • an extrovert jumps right into the conversation and thinks while he speaks
  • an extrovert may prefer to talk with 3 or 4 people during breaks
  • an extrovert will interact with everyone in the group, even in the beginning, because she loves to meet new people
  • an extrovert may enjoy additional social time with the group after the official group meeting ends

As a mastermind group facilitator, teacher, or group coaching mentor, you will foster a tight, powerful group by being aware of these two personality types and giving each what they need.


If you'd like to learn more about the Art of Facilitation, join us October 10-11, 2013. (Note - early bird deadline expires August 10th!)

And learn more about facilitating both introverts and extroverts at the Learning & Change: International Dialogue Education Institute, October 24-27, 2013, during the session Solo Flights of Thought: The Power of Introversion in a World of Learning with Valerie Uccellani and Jeanette Romkema.

Upping the Ante on Brainstorming: 5 tips to increase group creativity and productivity

Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path! ~ Michael Culliton

For years I have used “brainstorming” to help groups generate creative responses to important and challenging situations. Recently, I’ve run across several things that have led me to realize that if I really want to help groups cultivate and amplify creativity, then I need to do some things differently.

The journey began with reading James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain as preparation for Dr. Jane Vella’s plenary session, “The Biology of Learning,” at the October 2013 International Dialogue Education Institute. This has heightened my curiosity about learning, creativity and the brain and led me to, among other things, a fascinating interview with Rex Jung, a professor of neurosurgery and a clinical neuropsychologist talking about creativity and the everyday brain.

It was in the interview with Dr. Jung that I heard the bad news:  my beloved brainstorming was not a healthy host for creativity. The studies supporting this conclusion are presented in a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” (If you are interested in a thorough and nuanced explanation of the research mentioned below, I highly recommend the article.)

Based on the research presented in the article, here are five things I plan to do differently.

  1. STOP using the term “brainstorming.” As far back as 1958, a study at Yale University showed that the process doesn’t yield the best results within a group. So, I think it’s time to give it up. I’m not sure what to call the revised process of creative idea generation just yet (any ideas?).
  2. Ask people to engage in “solo” idea-generation first.  Subsequent research at Northwestern University confirmed the Yale study and also showed that a group produces a greater number and better quality of ideas when people generate a solo list of ideas first and then bring them to the group. (Sorry fellow extroverts!)
  3. When the solo ideas are brought to large group, introduce a “debate condition.” Studies done in 2003 at Berkeley found that ideas and actions are more effective when they are vetted via a process that allows for questioning and challenge. (Farewell my sweet brainstorming guideline of “No judging, analyzing, or evaluating of ideas!”) Given the principle of “safety,” as a Dialogue Education practitioner I’ll need to experiment with structures that allow ideas to be vetted while honoring this important principle.
  4. In group idea-generating conversations, experiment with ways to interject “errant responses” that have the potential to interrupt predictability and foster “aha’s.” The same Berkeley researcher mentioned above found that “unfamiliar perspectives,” as well as “unexpected” – even wacky – responses, can help groups think their way off of well-worn paths. Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path!
  5. Structure meeting and break-times in ways that foster more mixing and happenstance. Recent studies at Harvard University suggest that physical proximity and spontaneous interactions foster creativity. This has led me to wonder how I as a Dialogue Education practitioner can better structure meeting and break-time environments to increase the opportunity for people to interact with a greater number and variety of people. For starters, in designing meeting processes, perhaps I’ll make greater use of tasks that invite people to share “cocktail party style” or “speed-dating fashion.” Maybe I’ll put the beverages at one end of the room and the snacks at the other.

I’m looking forward to playing with these changes in the idea-generation process and to discovering how these revised practices help me and the groups of which I am a part to be even more creative and productive.

What ideas come to mind for you?

What might a Dialogue Education-based idea-generation process, one that puts the research outlined above into practice, look like?

How might a Dialogue Educator introduce such a practice to a group or in meeting?


Michael Culliton, GLP Partner, is co-facilitating a session entitled Educational Jujitsu for the 21st Century: Applying User Research and Design in Learning at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations.

You can also work with Michael is an upcoming workshop:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach   |   October 1-4, 2013   |   San Diego, California

3 Tips for Engaging Presentations (Hint: It’s not about you!)

Want engaging presentations? Here's a hint. Stop thinking it’s about you.

Presenters often think of “engagement” as an adjective; we believe we must be engaging when we present. It is much more useful to see engagement as a verb, applied to the people you're addressing. And – this is important – we are not the actors. They are!

Sure, we need to have some content. We need to have a message. And it helps if we have style. But engagement doesn't happen because our story is so compelling. It happens when the people we’re addressing see themselves in the story. And it’s much easier for that to happen when we put them into the story from the get-go.

Below are three easy shifts you can make to start engaging your audience.

  1. Before you touch that slide deck or open up your PowerPoint, spend some time thinking about who is in the room. Why are they there? What would they being be doing if your presentation really hit the mark? (This thinking is way more valuable than thinking about what content you want to share. Think about your audience first, and keep coming back to them throughout your planning.)
  2. Define the Big Question you have for them and be sure to ask it. (Hint:  that question should not be "any questions?”) Once they are engaged in answering the question, they become the protagonists of your presentation. Yes, that cuts into your presenting time, but think about this:  if your goal is for this group to take some action or learn something specific, having them simply listen passively won’t help you achieve your goal.
  3. Be selective -- really selective -- about the content. In fact, just enough information to help them dig into the Big Question and no more. If they walked out remembering just three things (which is likely!), what would they be? How about one thing? You probably know a lot more about your topic. You may really love it. And most likely you have done a lot of thinking about it. You want people to understand everything you understand. But guess what? That's about you!

Your presentation needs to be about them.

Christine Little is a Partner at Global Learning Partners. You can work with Christine at the International Dialogue Education Institute - with Peter Perkins she's co-facilitating a 3-hour workshop entitled Your Self as an Instrument of Change. You can also sign up to work with Chris in a one-on-one private consultation at the Institute.



Dialogue Education Essentials: Well-Researched Content (WHAT)

This is the fifth post in a series called Blogging Towards Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Because that's where we'll be learning together at the International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013.

One of the best ways to show respect of a group of learners is to put them to work on learning a tough set of relevant, immediately useful, complex, intricate and dense content (or, in Dialogue Education's 8 Steps of Design, what we like to call the WHAT). Such content is cutting edge, the latest version of research in the field, a synthesis of the tradition and the latest new insights - no matter if you are teaching six-figure salaried managers how to deal with economic downturns, or high school juniors the intricacies of selecting and applying successfully to a college or university, or white-haired seniors the vital nutritional knowledge and skills that can add to the quality of their lives.

You respect me when you bring it on! Put me to work learning what I know I need to know – knowledge, attitudes and skills – and I promise you I will not resist nor will I falter in completing a tough learning task. You honor me by your evident hard work in researching the latest science can offer me; I want cutting-edge content as an adult learner.

Our work in design, using the 8 Steps of Design, is demanding. The most demanding step, I have always found, is selecting the most appropriate content (WHAT) for the learners (WHO) in their current situation (WHY), noting the time available for the learning (WHEN) and the place and space in which the learning will take place (WHERE). I feel deeply that well-researched content – the WHAT – is indeed a Dialogue Education Essential.

Dialogue Education is based on empirical evidence, on the hard research done in the fields of epistemology, psychology, biology, anthropology, theology, sociology. That means our daily bread is earned as much by research and study as by designing, teaching and evaluating. Dialogue Education must be an open system, ready to change when new knowledge invites such change. Our life as educators is an ongoing research agenda, building a developing resource for educators that will not look the same in the year 2113, or even in 2023!


And, to help you out with this challenge, my colleague Darlene Goetzman has written a terrific chapter (download it here for free!) about how to select the "best" content for your learning event in her helpful, downloadable coaching guide, Dialogue Education Step by Step: A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.

Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

An Interview with Karen Ridout, GLP Senior Partner

This is the second in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. Today's interview is with GLP Senior Partner, Karen Ridout.

 A quiet mind listens to only what the speaker is saying; a quiet mind does not have its own agenda, does not form its response, does not judge—until the speaker has finished.  ~ Karen Ridout

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Karen Ridout (Karen):  Among my favorite axioms is THE DESIGN BEARS THE BURDEN. I have found that when I have gone through the process of wrestling with the who, why, so that, what, achievement-based objectives, when and where, going back and forth, creating, revising, refining, capturing new insights during the process of designing the learning tasks, I can (1) sleep the night before the event and (2) be fully present, adaptive, flexible and confident during the event, knowing the design is assuring my accountability. It’s got my back! A cogent design—what a joy.

Joan:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they are favorites.

Karen:  OPEN QUESTIONS: Open questions have “universal” use in DE—by their very nature, they invite dialogue; they can be used in every/any situation—one-on-one, pairs, during a mini-lecture whether rhetorical or inviting a response, in a group of 4 or 400, in written or oral material. I use them when I am not the facilitator/leader and the class or meeting leader is not applying DE—I’ll ask an open question of the group to get dialogue started (subtle manipulation!). Works wonders! My response to learners when asked “How do I start introducing DE to my colleagues when they are resistant?” I say—start asking open questions in all of your interactions. (Of course, the questions must be robust and relevant to the topic and the learners.) Open questions are my backup—always ready, always appropriate, always productive!

LISTEN WITH A QUIET MIND: A quiet mind listens to only what the speaker is saying; a quiet mind does not have its own agenda, does not form its response, does not judge—until the speaker has finished. This requires intention, attention and discipline from me—I usually have an agenda and a judgment which I must put on pause in order to really hear what the other person is saying.

SMALL GROUPS: Safety and inclusion—every voice is heard!  And, learning is expanded—more diverse ideas, perspectives, solutions. The buzz of small groups is an indicator of the learning happening—there and then!

TRANSPARENCY: I have found that when my learners  know the what and why of a concept, a technique, an action, a decision, etc., their confusion dissolves, their resistance changes to acceptance, and their learning moves forward (rather than getting stuck).

Two Practices

  1. STAND WHEN PRESENTING NEW CONTENT; SIT WHEN FACILITATING DIALOGUE: This is not a skill—just a practice I use that seems to facilitate the flow. Learners expect a degree of authority from a teacher of new content and standing is a subtle way of affirming that, whereas sitting connotes an equality of members in the group of which I am one.
  2. HAVE AN OUTSIDE PERSON PROOFREAD ALL MATERIALS: Mistakes in materials, no matter how small, are an interruption to many learners’ flow of thought, creating a barrier to his/her learning. No one—none of us—can proofread our own material. Use another set of eyes just prior to printing.

Joan:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Karen:  ENGAGEMENT: learning at the cellular level—promotes true, sustainable learning

LEARNER AS DECISION MAKER OF HER/HIS OWN LEARNING: Incorporates respect, relevance and safety; the learner embodies his/her own context

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?


Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Karen:  IT WORKS! Gives me a foundation, structure and principles that generate a confidence in me to enthusiastically trust what I am doing to create a robust, meaningful learning environment/experience for the learner. DE offers a way (to borrow a quote from Carol Folt, newly named chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill) “…to make sure that our students don’t simply learn what we know, but they learn to create what will be.” DE is a foundational attitude, a system, not just a model, approach or method. It is a way of being: "the means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace" (Jane Vella).

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Karen:  LEARNER’S MINDSET IS TRANSFORMED: Happens in multiple ways with multiple learners. One example—a brilliant, gifted, knowledgeable person with expertise to share exclaimed at the conclusion of her DE training “I now can pass on my learning so others can benefit! I’m so grateful.” Another—a non-profit which has infused DE into their culture as they serve and teach the needy with respect, engagement and skills.                                                                     

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Karen:  DE SHIFTS LEARNER’S LEARNING FROM PASSIVE TO ACTIVE LEARNING, resulting in learning at the cellular level—the content has become a part of them. My mantra when designing a class or workshop is always to ask myself at every decision point: “What will enhance the learning?” “How will this (task, activity, content) enhance the learning?” “What in this design or environment will create a barrier/interruption to their learning?” If it doesn’t enhance the learning or if it creates a barrier to learning—don’t do it!


Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Karen:  KEEP LEARNING FROM YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH DE: DE is a developing system, a research agenda


ENTER WHERE THEY ARE: Build on the learners’ experiences, knowledge, themes and language

KEEP THE FOCUS ON THE LEARNING: celebrate what emerges, what is created.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Karen:  HONORING THE PREFERENCES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES:  An introvert needs reflection space, an extravert needs expression space; one person needs concrete data, another needs a theoretical context, etc., etc. Our psychological preferences influence our paths to learning as well as barriers to learning. We want our learners to use their energy to wrestle with the new content, not have to spend energy on coping with the teaching method we are using.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?

Karen:  HAVE FUN!  Celebrate the energy you and your learners feel in all your cells and neurons.


Karen Ridout is the co-coordinator of the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where she's also offering one-on-one private consultations. Karen is also teaching several upcoming workshops:

Dialogue Education Essentials: The Right Bit of WHAT for the WHEN


"If I only had enough time I could cover this subject!"

You may have said this yourself. And I'd be surprised if you hadn't heard other teachers say it! If the content of a learning event is worth its salt in meaning and significance, you'll never have enough time.

The fourth step of the 8 Steps of Design allows you to consider the time and timing for your learning event (the WHEN). It assures that you know how much time you have with a set of learners for them to learn the content of the event (or the WHAT).

We all know how easy it is to design too much content for the alloted time, or what we who use Dialogue Education like to call "too much WHAT for the WHEN." Skilled educators are aware of this danger to learning, and they design with it in mind. Less is more! (As a little aside, see why GLP Senior Partner Peter Perkins loves the axiom less is more.)

The end is learning, not sharing buckets of information!

It is skilled and difficult work indeed to select those items of content that are essential to developing knowledge, attitudes and skills for the purpose at hand. I have not discovered a perfect magic formula to avoid too much WHAT for my WHEN. But I do know it helps to be aware that too much content in a given time frame is a danger to learning.

And, to help you out with this challenge, my colleague Darlene Goetzman has written a terrific chapter (download it here for free!) about how to select the "best" content for your learning event in her helpful, downloadable coaching guide, Dialogue Education Step by Step: A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.

All of this explains why this is one of my Dialogue Education Essentials:

Cuidado! Be careful! Beware! Attention! Angalia! DANGER!!!     


What tips do you have for avoiding this danger?


Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

An Interview with Peter Perkins, GLP Senior Partner

This is the first in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. She starts the series with members of the GLP core consulting team.

We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. ~ Peter Perkins

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Peter Perkins (Peter):  “Less is more!”

This axiom actually comes from schools of architecture, where the less that’s built into a home or office, the more comfortable and usable is the resulting space. I see myself as a designer of effective and sustainable learning, in much the same way an architect designs efficient, beautiful and enduring buildings. To do this, I must be careful and intentional about not over- or under-building the learning design for the learners.

Joan:  Name some of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Peter:  Silent Listening - I have moved from using primarily active listening (from Carl Rogers' person-centered-therapy) to silent listening, in which my silence allows me to listen more intently for the learner’s threads of meaning and new discovery. I listen for when I can add to the learning without usurping the deeper reflection and meaning-making by the learners themselves. I still have an important role with my voice, but I find it more useful to the learner if I listen deeply throughout.

Joan:  Of all the Dialogue Education principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Peter:  The 6 foundational principles of Dialogue Education (DE) and learning:  Respect, Relevance, Immediacy, Safety, Engagement, and Inclusion

These principles are the basis of all the other principles and are simple, clear, and powerful when steeped into a design for learning events or consulting work with organizations. Malcolm Knowles and Jane Vella gathered these principles for two different types of research:  in formal university- and field-based discovery. These principles hold up over the test of time, culture, geography, class and content. For example, designing consultations or workshops that truly respect the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes and cultural settings will be far more successful than disregarding (disrespecting) them.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning-centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Peter:  The monologist simply reading his notes or slides with little regard for those in the room … I can read on my own and save time and money, and forgo the illusion of learning.

Joan:  Why do you love DE? 

Peter:  I don’t love DE; rather I am thankful and indebted to those who contributed to its creation and its continued development as a gathering of ideas, theories, tools, and considerations in how I do my work.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story(ies).       

Peter:  SURE-Fire meetings workshop – Following a successful redesign of a statewide directors meeting, the executive identified an issue and asked when we might meet to address this issue. A graduate of the SURE-Fire Meetings workshop paused and then – in true SURE-Fire fashion – rebutted:  “Do we need to meet?” They talked it through and in only a couple of minutes realized that meeting in person was not the best approach for what they hoped to accomplish; they set up a short phone conference-call instead.

Another time I was facilitating an organizational learning event and partway through our work, a participant blurted out that she still goes back to the Steps of Design every time she designs a workshop or other event. She had graduated from our foundational Dialogue Education course, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, seven years earlier!

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Peter:  Dialogue Education is an accumulation of theory and practice from many practitioners tested across myriad cultures and content to deepen a learner’s engagement, increase meaning making by the learner, and result in more sustainable learning that is more likely to transfer in their own setting as they need it. DE is a way to transform facilitation and teaching to be more effective for the learner.

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Peter:  DE is not static. We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. Continue to develop from within your integrity as a practitioner!

DE is not a set of tools; rather it is a way of thinking and being with learners. Use the principles – rather than the techniques – as your guide. Do your work differently on a regular basis – don’t let DE be defined only by sticky notes, or – as valuable as they are – the 4As for designing learning tasks (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away.) Let your work be defined by decision making to best meet the strengths and needs of those in the room.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Peter:  I most often draw on studies and practice in human organizational development, sociology, and psychology to steep my DE work into a larger context of theory and meaning of being human in our individual contexts.


Peter Perkins is co-facilitating a session entittled "Your Self as an Instrument of Change" at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations. He's also teaching two upcoming workshops in Stowe, Vermont:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (September 23-26, 2013) and Advanced Learning Design (November 18-20).

5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks

This post is the third in a series of three posts on e-facilitation, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Read the other posts in this series: 6 Core Principles, Virtually! and 3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation.

Creating team tasks are a real learning design challenge. At DynaMind e-Learning we spend a lot of time on brainstorming, writing and fine-tuning team tasks for every e-workshop we develop. It’s worth the effort. Well-designed tasks add so much value to the learning experience and to the depth in which learning outcomes are achieved. Team tasks keep learners interested and engaged .

1. Apply problem-based learning principles:  the focus is on “doing”

There is a clear distinction between case-based learning and problem-based learning. Whereas in case-based learning the problem scenario comes with a reading list and a list of questions to answer and discuss, problem-based learning starts with only a problem scenario .

In e-workshop team tasks I don’t ask questions, I ask for a solution. The questions are therefore asked, answered and discussed by the learners as they work on the open-ended complex  problem. Problem-solving is a natural process and it feels real.

I find that online, problem-based learning works much better than case-based learning. Problem-based learning is a total approach rather than a method and provides an excellent fit with adult learning principles .

2. Get your inspiration from real life

I go out of my way to find messy and tough problems that people face in the workplace. Then, together with a subject-matter expert, I build scenarios based on these problems.

The task needs to give plenty of opportunity for decision making. And – this is an important point – there need to be different perspectives on how to solve the problem. This is when team work becomes interesting. That’s when people will also draw from their own experiences and where “sharing” becomes meaningful.

What does this look like?  Here are two examples:

ONE:  Take a performance management e-workshop for a group of supervisors. If they all come from the same or similar sector, make sure your scenario is one taken right from their workplaces. If not, write a more general one that inspires people across different sectors .  Come up with a fictional organization with fictional characters – all sorts of characters, those who are easy to manage and a few who are more difficult. Just like in real life. Write a complex story. Ask teams to do what it is they should be doing: identify desired outcomes, clarify expectations using the language of standards, agree on outcomes statements, script the conversations in which the manager would communicate these, script examples of genuine praise the manager should give the staff regularly, and so on and so on.

TWO:  Or take a project management e-workshop with the aim of building budgeting skills. Again, get right into the real world and describe a project in detail, provide the project document, describe the environment, give the tools and get your teams to work it out. This is how they build the experience in a safe environment, one where it’s OK to make mistakes and one where they learn from others while they are trying to figure out how to develop a budget. They will also get plenty of feedback from the e-facilitator. This is a perfect dry-run for the real thing and very engaging for any professional.

3. Define a clear real-life deliverable

What are real-life deliverables? Ask yourself - what do we do at work? We write emails, draft plans, craft checklists, prepare presentations, write job descriptions, propose budgets, draft one-page briefings, prepare responses, complete forms, etc.

So   – as a learning designer –  unpack this work and have a very close look at all the tangible deliverables that are produced at work. This is your starting point. This is what learners need to “do”. Make sure it’s a manageable deliverable for online teams: a 5 page report isn’t, but a job description is.  Short and crisp is key !

Stay away from asking for a discussion. Discussion is a means to an end. The “end” is a suggested solution of the real-life problem. In the process of getting there, there is a lot of discussion. It doesn’t feel contrived – it feels real because there is a purpose .

Likewise, stay away from assignments that have a “course” flavor. If the deliverable isn’t produced in a workplace somewhere out there, then I believe it should not be a team task in an e-workshop either.

TIP:  To make the approach extra clear to the e-workshop participants, re-name your “discussion forums” as “work spaces.”

4. Design for collaboration rather than cooperation

Collaboration, not cooperation:  the difference is subtle, but important.

Cooperating means working with someone in the sense of enabling, typically by providing information they wouldn’t otherwise have. When online learners are asked to share their experiences or answer questions posted in a forum, that’s cooperation. Most online courses are cooperative, even though they are often labeled to be collaborative.

Collaborating is much more active. “Labore,” from which the word collaboration derives, means work. It means actually working alongside someone  to achieve an agreed outcome. This may involve changing our own individual approaches. Differing views may require negotiation to ensure all team members “own” this outcome.

Collaborative learning requires higher thinking skills than cooperation. Collaborative learning is connected to the social constructivist view that knowledge is a social construct. I believe true collaborative learning achieves much deeper learning. Learners talk about being “hooked” and “addicted” to logging in every day to check on progress made by their team.

This is what I’m aiming at when designing team tasks to be truly collaborative – getting learners deeply engaged and inspired.

5. Craft crystal clear instructions

Nothing is more off-putting than having to work hard to find out what you need to do and where you need to do this. The task should be simple to understand yet the problem challenging to solve .

So I make sure the e-workshop participants find their way immediately when they start a new session with a team task: here is the story, this is what you need to do (explained in clear, short sentences, step-by-step), here is the team you belong to, this is the deadline, and here are the tools you need to use to work in your team.

TIP:  Once tough and engaging team tasks have been designed, it is important to hire e-facilitators who have been trained in supporting this approach online. The required abilities are different from traditional online tutoring skills.

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage: anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani: valerie@globallearningpartners.com


3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation

This post is the second in a series of three, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Read the other two posts in this series:  6 Core Principles, Virtually! and 5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks.


I have made a living facilitating learning since I boarded a plane to Guinnea-Bissau in 1986. That’s nearly 30 years! So I have to admit I was a bit surprised at how much I learned about facilitation when my friend and colleague, Anouk Janssens-Bevernage, invited me into her online e-facilitation course recently.

As I reflected on my learning experience, I drew out three insights that might stretch and bolster your own facilitation.

1. Give People Time to Think before Contributing.

Many of you are jazzed by Susan Cain’s recent work on introversion. So much more than I ever did, I now appreciate the value of giving people time to think before asking them to share their thoughts. It is not just “introverts” who need this. We all do.

In an entirely asynchronous environment, learners get permission and space to step away and contemplate something - deeply - before sharing what they think or feel. A learner can easily log-in, read a resource, contemplate it, go for a walk, do some other work, keep it in the back of her mind, and then post some thoughts. Neither the facilitator nor other participants are staring her down, waiting immediately for her to share her brilliance. The clock isn’t asking her to say something smart, or take a position, before the task is over.

It’s good to cut time-pressures from our face-to-face meetings or gatherings. But it rarely happens. A face clock is still my favorite facilitator’s tool. But, we do a great service for the learners when we give them time to reflect, and to step away from an issue (journal on it, for instance) before having to speak their minds. I find that when we do this dialogue becomes less aggressive, less impulsive, less competitive, and less “positioned.”

TIP:  Design meetings and workshops in such a way that issues can be contemplated, over time, with the promise that someone’s input will not get missed, even if they choose not to talk immediately.

2. Challenge People with Real Life Scenarios to Solve.

If you are reading this blog you are probably already a believer in having learners “do” what they are learning. For example, you probably use small group, pair, or solo work for responding to an open question, or creating a visual which shows their thinking about an issue. But how many of us really push ourselves to create tough, problem-based scenarios that will feel absolutely real to people?

In the recent e-facilitation course, we were asked to imagine that we were an e-facilitator named “Chris.” (Notice the gender-neutral name, carefully chosen so that we could easily envision ourselves as him or her). As “Chris,” we were presented with a panel of names and photographs of the people who were participating in our imaginary e-learning course.  We could read their latest posts to the group and were given some background information about their participation so far. We then had to decide how we would, as e-facilitators, respond (or not) to each learner. Would we write to them personally? Would we post something on the course site? If so, what would we say? What tone would we use?

TIP:  Take the time to create tough scenarios for people to grapple with. Make learning safe and also challenging - really challenging!

3. Let People Choose Where they Want to Spend Their Time

When you look at a well-designed Moodle learning space (Moodle is the e-learning platform used by DynaMind), you’ll see many places where you could go. For example, you might:

  • scroll through the central syllabus and preview the different learning tasks for the course; or
  • click on resource links that accompany each week's lesson and delve into some reading; or
  • post a burning question in the discussion forum.

For those who like e-socializing, there’s always the option of a “social corner."

As I perused the learning space for my recent e-facilitation course, I  was drawn to some parts of the space more than others. I knew where I wanted to go (and where I didn’t want to spend any time). E-workshops have a chronological structure of tasks, and people seem to appreciate that structure. That said, discussions from previous weeks often keep going as parallel threads:  we can have several discussions going at once. People tend to love that aspect. It’s never “too late” – nothing is “finished” if you don’t want it to be.

So I wonder: What if we created more of these “optional” learning spaces and open discussion threads for people in our face-to-face meetings and workshops?

TIP:  Study your own learning event designs to see where learners have simultaneous options to “go where they want to go,” as they would in a virtual learning space.

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage: anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani: valerie@globallearningpartners.com


6 Core Principles, Virtually!

This post is the first in a series of three, co-created by Val Uccellani (Global Learning Partners) and Anouk Janssens-Bevernage (DynaMind eLearning). Anouk and Val like working together because DynaMind’s courses, like those we offer here at GLP, are very thoughtfully designed. Val wrote this post after taking an e-facilitation course led by Anouk. The 5-week course was entirely asynchronous, involving twenty-five participants from all over the world. Read the other two posts in this series: 3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn From E-Facilitation and 5 Ways to Create Tough and Engaging Online Team Tasks.


Respect. Safety. Engagement. Inclusion. Relevance. Immediacy. These six core principles drive our work at GLP. The other day I admitted to my dear colleagues that these principles sometimes feel “old-fashioned” to me. Especially in a world with so much “virtual” dialogue, I  wondered if these principles were still at the heart of a solid learning experience.

To help me examine my own question, I took a look at the extent to which these core principles were operating during my own experience in DynaMind’s recent e-facilitation course. I quickly discovered that, yes, indeed, these core principles are as responsible for the success of a virtual learning experience in 2013 as they were for my old Peace Corp trainings in 1988. They serve us well as a checklist for designing and facilitating, whether in-person or at-a-distance.

1. Respect ~ Acknowledge and affirm who I am and what I bring.

There are endless ways to affirm participants’ uniqueness in a virtual setting.

  • Communicate clearly, up front, the frame and style of the course. For example, in Moodle (the software used for the e-learning platform), we could see the entire course design from the start of the course.
  • Give people reasonable expectations. For example, we were told early on that the course would require nearly daily log-ins, for up to an hour each day.
  • Explain your choices. For example, Anouk decided not to have any “live” component in our e-learning course because of the multitude of time zones. She explained the decision and fielded questions about it as needed.
  • Show respect through your “look." The course site had a clean, concise, professional look. It seemed to say “I respect you and want to look good for you.” (It’s kind of like going to visit Grandma with your clothes clean and hair combed.

2. Immediacy ~ How soon will I get a chance to DO this?

For me, immediacy is all about creating opportunities for learners to DO what they are learning. Right here. Right now. And so it was in this virtual course. We were learning to be superb e-facilitators. So, the principle of immediacy demanded that we be given a chance to hone our e-facilitation skills right within the parameters of the course. We were given a set of very realistic scenarios and were called to respond as we would in “real life” to each one. We had to stretch ourselves to do what we thought was right, and explain the rationale for our choices in our teams. That’s immediacy!

3. Relevance ~ How useful will this be for me?

Relevance is about aligning a learning experience with the needs and wants of those participating, however diverse. In a virtual setting we are often faced with quite a range of interests and realities so it becomes important to know something about the participants beforehand, and to design the course to be useful in their context. For example, in this virtual course, the readings were widely applicable:  they were relevant for both asynchronous and synchronous environments; they were as relevant for those working in North America as for those working in Southern Africa; and, they were as useful for seasoned facilitators as for the less-experienced.

4. Safety ~ Will my view and experience be affirmed here?

What does safety look like in a course in which people log on when they want to, and yet depend on each other’s input regularly? What does safety look like in a course in which anyone can send a public message at any time, to anyone, on any topic?

Here are several ways to create safety:

  • Set the expectation of safety by laying out clear guidelines, from the get-go, about how people are expected to communicate with each other. For example, simple reminders like “no CAPS to show emotion,” and no harsh words.
  • Invite a leader for team tasks (so that they can organize, encourage and affirm comments).
  • Assign small groups to exchange ideas and debate among themselves.
  • As facilitator, continually assure people that “this is a safe place” by modeling safe dialogue, in writing. For example, when I went AWOL for a few days, Anouk sent me a private email, gently inquiring if all was okay, rather than posting, publicly, an inquiry about WHERE THE bleep WAS I!?

5. Engagement ~ If I’m not fully engaged, I’m not learning.

How many of us have been to e-learning opportunities that had the e- but not the learning? How can we design e-learning courses to engage everyone?   Here are some ways I saw it happen:

  • Communicate well in advance of the first day of the event to help everyone get ready (i.e. date in calendar, time set aside, log-in information handy);
  • Create an opening exercise that is “gently” personal, and that everyone can do equally well – no matter who or where they are. (For example, we were asked to sit back and take a look out our closest window, then describe what we see. Often people comment on how neat it is to be able to visualize from where other people in the group are writing. It makes the online environment feel much more personal, a collection of private spaces into which we’re allowed entry).
  • Don’t oversimplify. The most engaging aspect of the course, by far, was the reality of the final team task. Even though the tasks involved an imaginary scenario, I knew that the scenario had grown out of real life experience. It wasn’t artificial or “manipulated” to convince me of anything. There was lots of room for disagreement and there was not one, right answer. It was complex, just like the real world!

6. Inclusion ~ Hear my voice! 

Yes, Anouk used our names to make us feel included. Yes, our photos were up on the site (if we wanted). Yes, there was sincere affirmation of our posts.

All this helped us feel included. But more than anything else what really got me – and kept me – feeling included in this e-course was freedom.

  • I was free to get on the site as often as I was able.
  • I was free to be a part of the dialogue in any way I chose (i.e. discussion forum, team task, e-café).
  • I was free to read as much or as little as I felt inclined to.
  • I was free to disagree with what others had said, and to add to it.

In other words, I felt included because, although participation was compulsory, there was room for me to participate as I felt fit. Might this explain the very high completion rates for e-workshops compared to typical e-courses?

Tomorrow:  3 Things Seasoned Facilitators Can Learn from E-Facilitation

If you’d like to learn more about online course design and facilitation, check out DynaMind e-Learning's workshop, and Global Learning Partners' Dialogue Education Online (note that the early bird deadline ends this Friday, July 12, 2013 so register today and save $110!).

Connect with Anouk Janssens-Bevernage:  anouk@dynamind-elearning.com

Connect with Val Uccellani:  valerie@globallearningpartners.com