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

Posts tagged with "Dialogue Education"

Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

“Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children?”​

I heard this question many times as a graduate student, but never thought I would have to answer it myself. I had no idea I would soon be working as an Afterschool Teacher with a diverse group of eighteen 4th and 5th grade students. This job forced me to reevaluate the lessons I learned as a student and practitioner of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach. Every day, amidst the chaos of my classroom, I thought to myself:  “Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children—especially these kids?”

By daily asking this question, I began to live my way into an answer; an answer that has fundamentally changed my understanding of dialogue, and my understanding of power.

When I first encountered Dialogue Education, I thought it was all about letting go of power. The teacher, forsaking professorial domination in pursuit of real dialogue, becomes a co-learner and creates space for learners to discover their own power. Then the teacher “gets out of the way,” relinquishing power to learners until the process is complete in an event called “the death of the professor.” In my mind, Dialogue Education invited me to let go of power as a teacher for the sake of learners and their learning, as an act of love.

Then, at my new job, I received the opposite advice: I was instructed to hold on to control as much as I could. “These kids are tough,” more experienced teachers told me. “They will push you around if you let them, so they need to know you are in control.” As much as I cringed at this advice, these teachers knew what they were talking about. The more power I let go of, the more my students took advantage of it. When I didn’t hold on to control, students would cause problems for each other and someone would get hurt. When I held on to as much control as I could, I protected students from each other, and from themselves. This, too, was an act of love.

And yet I was not content to dictate classroom dynamics, even if it led to increased order and productivity. I still believed in dialogue as well as a learning-centered approach to teaching. So I did not forsake Dialogue Education, but wrestled to re-contextualize the principles and practices for a rowdy crowd of elementary students. In doing so, I realized how Dialogue Education is not mainly about letting go of power, nor is it about holding on to control: it is about using power well so that it can be shared, which may mean letting go of power or holding on to control, depending on the situation.

This has changed the way I employ the principles and practices of Dialogue Education as taught by Global Learning Partners. Take the principle of “Safety,” for example. Sometimes, safety requires “getting out of the way” to allow softer voices to be heard. Other times, safety requires “getting in the way” to prevent louder voices from dominating. Or take the principle of  “Respect.” Sometimes, respect means allowing learners to make their own decisions. Other times, respect requires taking away this privilege when they are actively disrespecting one another with harmful words and actions. In my own class, I learned that cultivating safety and respect does not only require a soft heart; it also requires thick skin.

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

It still looks like applying the principles and practices, only with younger learners who often require power to be used differently for dialogue to emerge. Ultimately, this points to the necessity of a learning needs and resources assessment, and the importance of the “WHO” in every learning situation. Before we can say what Dialogue Education looks like with children, we must ask, “Which children?”

With the children in my class, I first had to close the space so that learners could safely and respectfully engage without yelling and flying objects getting in the way. Only then could dialogue emerge. In other words, I had to use my power in such a way that this specific group of learners could use theirs. On the occasions when I succeeded, the result was an environment of giving and receiving what one another had to offer—a power that was shared, even enjoyed.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves what will maximize learning in each situation. My goal now is not always letting go of my power, nor is it holding on to control—it is to use my power well, for and with the specific learners in the room. The principles and practices of Dialogue Education call us to use our power well and intentionally so that others can use theirs, until the power of every learner can be shared in love.

What other learning-centered principles and practices have you found to be effective with children?

How may this be different or the same when working with youth?

*****

Drew Boa works at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is in the process of publishing a curriculum for youth about sexual health and wellness, which he began designing while taking "Advanced Learning Design" with Global Learning Partners. He loves Dialogue Education and is a daily practitioner!

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

Rodin

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

 

A LEARNING TASK: 

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

 

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?

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: Maximizing Generativity with DE and AI

Some things just naturally fit together well.  Consider the well-worn example of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for instance.  On their own, each ingredient brings something to the table.  Sliced bread.  That’s pretty cool!  A non-perishable paste packed with protein and loads of sugar?  Yes please!  And jelly…I mean, what’s not to love there?  And yet mix them all together and you have something truly transformational—a delightful little snack whose very mention elicits positive emotions and rumbly tummies in both the young and old alike.  (Unless you have a nut or gluten allergy.  Or are on a low-glycemic diet.  If so, just try and roll with the image as I’m getting to the point shortly.)  The earthy savoryness of the peanut butter highlights the sweet notes of the strawberries harvested at the height of their ripeness.  The soft chewiness of the bread soaks up the spirit of the jelly, and sets off the occasional crunch of the peanut butter.  (Yes, I am of the crunchy peanut butter ilk!)  In short, the sum is greater than the individual parts, and each ingredient actually serves to further bring out the best in the other.  And this is exactly how I see Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Dialogue Education (DE) these days!

My Learning Journey

One year ago I started Case Western Reserve’s Appreciative Inquiry Certificate in Positive Business and Society Change.  Through a mix of classroom instruction, field work, Business as an Agent of World Benefit interviews, and a written capstone paper, I found that my learning journey had a profound impact when I paused to reflect on how AI and DE bring out the best in one another.  (For those of you who are relative newcomers to AI such as myself, I invite you to check out this fantastic summary written by Jackie Kelm.  For those of you for who are unfamiliar with DE’s learning-centered approach to teaching, you can find out more here.)  Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Cleveland to complete my certificate and learn from the experiences of my global cohort members.  As with all deep learning, it was exhilarating and it was exhausting, and I am filled to the brim with both possibility and questions!  In short, this was my year in review:

Throughout this learning journey I saw many overlaps between DE’s core principles and practices and those of AI.  While I was able to directly explore some of these within the timeframe of this certificate program—such as applying an 8 Steps of Design process, and applying learning needs and resources assessments and achievement-based objectives to all AI work projects—I am looking forward to diving deeper moving forward.  I was intrigued by what AI outside of the context of a summit could look like…how it might be applied to all aspects of organizational life.  Little by little, I started experimenting with applying the principles in different contexts, inspired by—what else—questions!  For example:

  • What does an unconditionally positive question look like in a client meeting?
  • What can I do to help further develop an appreciative eye, personally, within GLP, and with the organizations we work with?
  • As questions themselves are interventions, what can I ask to incite positive change?
  • How might I create more opportunities for developing shared visions of the future?

Rather than seeking out opportunities for large-scale AI summits (which was how I entered into this journey), I looked to the daily tasks and interactions I already had such as meetings with potential partners, staff supervision, team meetings, annual reviews, client work, and community member gatherings.  One preconception that I had to overcome early on was my belief that there was a prescribed way that one must do AI.  In all honesty, I was doing my AI work in a bit of a closeted manner.  Though I was applying my learning directly to my work, I found myself doing it in a way that made the most sense and was most beneficial given my context.  I was reluctant to share or talk about what I was doing with other cohort members out of a misplaced fear that I was not doing so with fidelity to the “AI process”.  (My internal chatter often sounded a lot like this: Four Ds or five Ds?  Shoot, what if I only have time for one D?  What if it only makes sense to focus on two Ds right now?  What if I just want to employ appreciative questions to quickly identify life-giving forces to inform a totally different process all together? This is prime for an AI summit but I don’t have the time or resources!)

After several conversations with Dr. Lindsey Godwin, an AI expert based here in Vermont and, unbeknownst to her, my mentor throughout this process, my fears were assuaged and my focus redirected from process to principles.  “How about examining how you’ve honored the core principles of AI?” Lindsey suggested.  [Cue the “Hallelujah” music in my head.]  What a liberating feeling being able to serve as a co-creator of new methodologies of AI as applied to my work at GLP!  (As a side note, I often hear this same fidelity concern from practitioners of DE and would agree: it’s easy to get hung up on the process, but it’s really all about how you honor the principles and practices of DE!)

What I’ve Experienced

Through the integration of both AI and DE into my practice, I’ve experienced a deeper level of curiosity and have seen increased generativity in group settings.  I am mindful of the powerful ability we each possess to reframe a situation and appreciate it in a different light, one that enables us to see the possibilities before us.  (What if all teachers applied an appreciative lens as they supported students in their learning?  What if all learners and organizations were invited to discover their core values and work towards a shared vision?  How can we support one another to make this happen?)  My passion for this work has been reignited, my understanding of partnerships in a world of abundance has been reframed, and I am looking forward to exploring my many questions moving forward.

A few of my questions are listed below and I’m genuinely curious…

  • What would you add to the list?
  • What can you share with all of us all based on what you’ve seen and learned from your experiences?

Questions for You

  • How have you seen the core principles and practices of DE and AI support and transform one another?
  • How might we further integrate an AI approach in our practice as Dialogue Educators?
  • At their best, how do the DE principles of safety, transparency and mutual accountability show up within AI?

 

An Interview with Jeanette Romkema, GLP Senior Partner

Jeanette Romkema with co-facilitator Marshall Yoder, GLP Certified Teacher.

What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Pray for Doubt. I pray for the learners to question, struggle with, and doubt the new content and learning journey I take them on. For me, this means they are engaging with the new content. This is good! However, I also pray for my own doubt. I never want to come into a course or workshop or meeting feeling like I know it all. There are always surprises - from the learners, the place, the timing, the content, and the situation - and I want to walk into an event with lots of questions and curious to discover what I don`t know. I often say to learners, "The day I stop being nervous before a learning event is the day I stop teaching." I always want to remember that there is lots here I don't know... and yes, this is a bit nerve-wracking.

Name your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use it for and why it’s your favorite.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate and respect the facilitation skill of silence. It is amazing what happens when we wait. I have heard the most powerful questions, deepest sharing, and most provocative insights after a long silence. People need time to think; people need time to have courage to share; and, people need to know you are authentically curious and want to hear what they have to say.

Of all the DE principles, what is your favorite? Why?

Lately I have appreciated the DE principle of relevance. Of course it is important for adult learners to know how an event and the new content is important for their lives - they want to know "Why am I here?" Even more important is that people take time during the learning event itself (here and now) to decide what they will do with the new content. If it is so relevant for their lives and work... then let's plan what we will do differently with that 'critical new learning'.

Lately, I have more deeply understood the importance of spending time to transfer the learning: the AWAY part of a task or design. Yes, this is all about maximizing change in real lives, real communities, and in the real world. In the end, this is what it is all about.

Why do you love DE?

For me, DE is rooted in deep love: love for the world and all living things. At its core this method is about authentic presence with each other better systems, lives and communities - it is about right relationships with each other and bringing things back to how they were first created and intended.

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

This is constantly growing in meaning and changing for me, as DE is soooo rich and complex in its simplicity. What comes to mind for me right now is: authenticity. When we are authentically present with each other and in a situation, we can truly see, hear, and understand. When we are fully present with each other we can truly work together for change in the world.

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

Don't stop doubting, questioning or challenging what you do and how you do it. DE principles and practices are wonderfully complex and our understanding of them is forever changing, deepening. What “safety” looks like in rural Iowa may be different from urban Ontario; what “engagement” looks like in a corporate Board meeting may look different from a not-for-profit meeting; what “respect” looks like in Jordan may look different from the USA; what “the WHY” is for leadership training in a small rape clinic in Ottawa may be different from such a clinic in Addis, Ethiopia. The principles and practices of DE are a moving target and we have to constantly work at understanding and practice deep presence with individuals and groups to hear. There is never a time or place when we can say, "Mmmm, I finally know how to do this". This is the stuff of life-long learning and what makes it so exciting.

Part of all this "life-long learning" is also a need to continue to research other methods and ways of doing things. Talk to colleagues, surf the internet, read blogs, study the new thinking on teaching and learning, and ask for feedback on your work from other professionals. There is so much more to learn and just because it doesn't say "DE" somewhere in the text does not mean that it is not congruent or usable.

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

There are many methods that complement and are congruent to DE. Three of these that I use often are circle practice, world cafe, and the art of hosting.

Circle practice is a practice of meeting in a circle to share... deeply. This simple practice of passing a "talking piece" or sharing "popcorn style" can help to ensure relevance, dig into the root of why an event is happening, and include all thoughts and feelings in a safe way. In slowing down and focusing on a single question, idea, feeling or experience depth of sharing is experienced. It can be quite surprising and powerful!

World Café is a wonderful method of working with large groups on complex topics or issues. It is highly engaging, respectful and inclusive, and can be a great solution to the challenge of facilitating a large group.

The Art of Hosting is “an emerging set of practices for facilitating group conversations of all sizes, supported by principles that maximize collective intelligence; welcome and listen to diverse viewpoints; maximize participation and civility; and transform conflict into creative cooperation.”

Join Jeanette Romkema for Advanced Learning Design, November 18-20, 2014 in Toronto.

An Interview with Peter Noteboom, GLP Senior Partner

What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

My favorite axiom is “pray for doubt”. The reason why it is my favorite is that it is both counter-intuitive and powerful. It is counter-intuitive because often facilitators avoid or dread doubt, and see it as a negative contribution. This axiom transforms those negative connotations into positive energy. The reason why it is transformative is that this axiom values doubt, which demonstrates that people care and are engaged; it demonstrates that people feel safe enough to give voice to their doubts; and, it is evidence that analysis is happening and feelings are being shared. Valuing these outcomes gives power to the doubt and contribution, and then can eventually challenge it to become productive and solution-oriented. At the same time, acknowledging doubt cannot be a rote or superficial response. The more empathy can be brought to the situation in a genuine way, the more authentic the learning, the search, the common construction of new knowledge.

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

  • Listening: Again counter-intuitive, demonstrates confidence, makes room for thinking, makes space for quiet in a noisy world.
     
  • Echoing/paraphrasing using names: Acknowledging responses in a specific way, sometimes with a specific personal touch, creates an attentive inclusive difference-valuing space for learning, dialogue and debate.
     
  • Weaving, as in story-telling about the event and how it might unfold: Breaks down the technical nature of a meeting (objectives, tasks, agenda items, resolutions), is more explicit about purpose and outcomes (what we need to get done), yet helps participants know their role and place, what is coming later in the meeting, how it all fits and links to one another.


Peter in Jordan with members of the Jordan Civil Society Program.

Of all the DE principles, which do you like the best? Why?

Singularity: Seeing each participant as a person of incomparable worth stretches the boundaries of inclusion, valuing difference, respect, and safety. When love is the measure of the relationship with each person of incomparable wealth, then that drives a very deep form of engagement on the part of the facilitator.

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

Not knowing where I am going, or how what we are doing is being used, or assuming conclusions are group conclusions when they are really the facilitator or leader’s conclusions.

Why do you love DE?

I love DE because it is the best system of principles and practices I know that facilitates learning and change. I also love its versatility; virtually every other “method” or approach can be enriched by the application of DE principles and practices.

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

Dialogue Education is . . .

  • How adults learn.
  • A reliable system for facilitating change.
  • A useful set of tips and tools.
  • A principled way of life.

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

Personalize, innovate, make the practice your own. Move beyond the structure to breathing more life and “naturalness”, personality, into the designing and learning process.

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

They are all enriched and strengthened by DE, whether strategic planning tools like Appreciative Inquiry, SWOT, SOAR; or teambuilding principles and concepts, etc.

An Interview with Valerie Uccellani, GLP Senior Partner

Global Learning Partners (GLP):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Valerie Uccellani (Val):  Pray for Doubt. Funny. I didn’t used to like this one. In fact, when we taught axioms in the introductory course, I sometimes deleted it from the binder; I didn’t want the language to make some people feel excluded. Not everyone “prays”. But now I love this axiom and I like saying it to myself when I’m not sure how to make sense of what’s going on around me – or what to do next.

Doubt opens us up. When we have doubt, we become curious.

And, with that curiosity, we grow.

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

Val:  My all-time favorite has been to trust my gut. It’s in none of the “facilitation skill” materials I’ve created over the years. But it ought to be. I’ve found that if I pause, and listen to my gut, I get good direction about how to proceed. And as I’ve listened to my gut over the years, I feel like it’s grown stronger – like a muscle.

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

Val:  I think immediately of the principles and practices which Jane Vella has called “the signs of Dialogue Education.” I use them a lot when working with clients on creating new programs and learning designs.  I check:

  • Are the learners being productive?
  • Is there substantive content injected into this learning experience for them?

Yes, I like substantive content and productivity for the learners!

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

Val:  That’s easy! I abhor fake listening. It happens in so many ways in so many places, even by really well-intentioned leaders and facilitators. We want people to think X, to know X, to believe X. Instead of just saying what we think, know or believe, we craft a series of questions that “guides” people to arrive at our conclusions. This drives me crazy. And, when I've inadvertently done it myself I regret it terribly.

GLP:  Why do you love DE?

Val:  It creates a space for people to be true to themselves and different from others. It creates a space for us to learn together and move in a direction that feels right for us.

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

Val:  Thank you for asking that question. I hadn’t thought about this moment in a long time. I was in Mozambique, working as the leader of a group of teachers/ trainers for the Peace Corp. I had worked for a month or more with a team of young teachers. I had tried to model, and explain, the principles behind a learning-centered, dialogue approach. I hoped they would bring it with them into their own classroom teaching with Mozambican students.

One day, I sat in the back, observing a class. There were unmovable benches, 3 children in each one (crammed together). The students had learned that they only speak when spoken to, and when they answer a question they stand up. I watched them all, noticing in particular a young woman who sat hunched at her seat. Clearly she didn’t want to look up for fear she’d get called on. As I continued my observations I watched her – like a plant whose growth would indicate to me the healthiness of the garden.

One day she pulled up her head, another day she sat up straight. One day, she volunteered to answer a question (a beautifully designed open question) and she offered her response proudly. When the teacher affirmed her reply I saw a peek of a smile. I felt so good. This is a moment she would remember—it was a teeny start to a transformation. That’s what it’s all about, for me.

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

Val:  DE is like a braid. It intentionally weaves together:

  • Our personal experiences and truths;
  • The latest of outside perspectives; and,
  • The world of learning.

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

Val:  Look for ways in which our instincts can make a positive contribution to any work we are involved in. If DE resonates for you, it’s because you care about honesty and clarity and sincerity. You want affirmation to prevail over negativity and destructive competition. Listen to that and find ways to apply it to everything.

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

Val:  There is a premise behind this question that doesn’t quite work for me. I don’t see DE as a teaching method. It is an overarching way of connecting people to each other and to learning. So, any teaching method could be done in a way that is compatible with the principles. The key is to always ask myself: does this feel respectful? Does it feel relevant? Are we being transparent here?

In that case, bring it on!

 

The Importance of Written Tasks

Blogger Saba Yassin teaching with GLP Senior Partner, Peter Noteboom, in Amman, Jordan.

Why do we have to create a visual of our learning tasks?

Can’t we just give out verbal instructions?

Why do students need more than that?

I can’t begin to count how many times I have heard these questions from my learners while teaching Dialogue Education courses. I used to explain that the importance of having the tasks in both verbal and visual form helps those who are visual learners, and shows respect by providing the learner with an easy reminder, and . . . much more. I knew it was important, but now I really know why.

I was in the final stages of certifying a group of university professors as Dialogue Education Practitioners in Saudi Arabia (yes, these professors are working to embrace DE at the university level!). As I assessed their sessions using their full learning designs and their practice facilitations, I quickly started noticing big differences. Each candidate who had the learning tasks well-written and presented visually during her class had a very organized, smooth session that was clear to the students; the students easily followed the learning tasks. The dialogue was rich and the learning deep.

On the other hand, some facilitators didn’t reveal the learning tasks visually, and only related them to the students verbally, from memory. While the facilitators clearly knew the learning tasks themselves, they weren’t as clear for the students. I noticed that the sessions were not as organized and the learning tasks were not as well sequenced or presented. There was a tendency towards monologue (where only the professor spoke) and the learning seemed questionable and less authentic.

Wow, what great learning for us all! Writing well thought out written tasks, with all the needed resources, offers us important guidance. It is our “road map” for the session, the gateway to a room full of Dialogue Education practices and principles that lead to meaningful learning.

Now, when my learners ask why it is important to share learning tasks visually with the learners, I have proof. It’s all about the learning.

Saba Yassin is a GLP Certified Dialogue Education Teacher who lives in Cairo and teaches licensed Dialogue Education courses in the Middle East.

An Interview with Michael Culliton, GLP Partner

This is the third 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 Partner, Michael Culliton.

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

Michael Culliton (Michael): “The learning is in the doing and the deciding.” In James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain he notes that we can’t say that people have truly learned anything until they engage in “active testing” of the content. This is not just philosophical, it is biological! We actually need to do something.

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

Michael:  Pay attention to the physical “geography” of the learning environment. For example, in the circle, have just the right number of chairs (one for each, no extras; it says, “I know how many folks are in this group--and it cues the group if someone is missing); keep the circle in shape (so everyone is “in” and each can see all). To me, this says so much about the “intention” of the time and the process.

Monitor for visual noise: on the walls, only keep up the charts and visuals that are still needed. I have been to events where facilitators just keep adding more and more visuals  to the room that are not ever referenced again. For me--and some other visual folks, this creates the equivalent of a room full of “screaming monkeys.”

Remember: it is possible to sit and teach. I was so habituated to standing. When the setting and size of the group allows, sitting for me signals so much about dialogue, power, roles.

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

Michael:  1)  Congruence - Knowing the principles of DE is not enough: I must put them into practice in a way that brings each to life: in the design, in the learning event;  with the learners and with us as facilitators. 2) Autonomy - Questions of power and agency abound in the design and facilitation of learning. The principle of autonomy demands that I be aware and intentional as I design and facilitate: recognizing, honoring and celebrating the power of learners to do and decide for themselves.

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

Michael:  That often I am in a room with other participants who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and yet there is no structure or time to share any of our energy and knowledge with one another.

I once took a history of modern art class with 70 other people. For weeks, we listened to lectures. Not  once were we invited to share any of our own passion or knowledge.

Imagine if the teacher had asked: “Turn to the person next to you and tell about one of your favorite paintings. What do you like about the work? What does the work elicit for you?"

Michael with Teryn Jones, who recently co-taught with him as part of the GLP certification process

Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Michael:  To me the principles are not just about learning, but about life. The principles and practice serve the building of respectful, collaborative relationships and offer tools for creating processes that harvest shared wisdom in service of repairing the world and shaping interactions and structures that are more life-affirming, sustainable and responsive.

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.

Michael:  Over a decade ago, I helped design and lead a two-year program to support community leaders in developing local legislative advocacy programs. Most of the programs are still going and report success in influencing policy. In addition, several participants still talk about change in both personal and communal confidence and skills. This shows the power of DE in developing individual leaders and organizations; in making a difference for individuals and for communities.

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

Michael:  When people leave a DE event, they have actually practiced DOING whatever it is they are learning. (As opposed to just “hosing people down” with lots of information, which is the MO of a lot of learning, be it lecture or webinar.)

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

Michael:  Team up with another dedicated practitioner to study, design or teach together. I am consistently delighted and deeply influenced by what I learn from others who work out of the DE approach.

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

Michael:  The use of Open Space Technology within multi-day DE-designed events is something I find powerful: it provides a vehicle for emergent conversations and creative explorations.

When there is pattern of tension between two deeply held values within a group or organization, I have found polarity mapping to be a powerful and instructive tool.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?
 
Michael:  As a practitioner of DE, I don’t think I ever “arrive”: there is always more to learn, re-learn, explore, and research. It’s a courageous, exciting, and very satisfying journey!

Michael will be teaching the following courses in 2014 - join him!

Foundations of Dialogue Education, Sept 22-25, 2014  |  Anchorage, Alaska

Foundations of Dialogue Education, October 6-9, 2014  |  San Diego, California

SURE-Fire Meetings, October 23-23, 2014  |  Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota

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.

12 Detailed Tips for Wondrous Webinars

Webinars offer a great alternative to holding face-to-face workshops as they save the costs and carbon associated with travel. However, they can easily become a sleep-inducing monologue in which a disembodied voice drones over a hypnotic barrage of never-ending PowerPoint slides. 

Meanwhile, the participants, their identities hidden by their remote connection, may be tempted to check out, finish that email (“clackity clackity clack!”) and/or update their Facebook status.

So to make your next webinar a wondrous learning experience, try incorporating these 12 Tips for Wondrous Webinars:

1.  Understand What Your Webinar Platform Can (and Can’t) Do

Before you get started, be sure to understand what your particular webinar platform can and can’t do.

Currently, all webinar platforms should allow you to share online visuals like PowerPoint presentations, and audio feeds via an integrated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or over a separate phone line. Some webinar platforms also allow you to broadcast a live video feed of the presenters, and perhaps even video of the learners. But in many cases you may find that the bandwidth restrictions of your participants’ connections will limit the quality of the picture.

Also be sure to see if your webinar platform lets you:

  • use on-screen collaborative tools like whiteboards, chat boxes and polling tools;
  • install third-party “apps” to incorporate additional features like interactive-maps, Twitter feeds, and external web pages; and/or
  • assign participants to breakout groups with their own video and audio feeds – perfect for small group work.

2.  Do Your Homework Before the Webinar

Before you get started, be sure to conduct a basic survey with the participants who will be in your webinar, their prior experience with the topic, and what they need to learn. At Global Learning Partners, we call this conducting a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) to determine what the participants already know and what they need to learn. For a webinar, an LNRA can include asking a few questions on the registration form, or visiting the websites of the participants’ organizations. Look for any “generative themes” or ideas and challenges that come up frequently that might create energy or engagement for the participants. However, keep the number of questions in proportion to the length of the webinar or course.

Remember that the motivation levels of the participants in webinars can sometimes be lower than in face-to-face learning situations since their investment to attend is low (and perhaps because their expectations of learning during webinars are also low). As well, the anonymity of the experience means that people may multi-task during the webinar and not devote their full attention to what you are saying

If you can't conduct a full LNRA, at least review the registration list beforehand so you can get a sense of who is taking part in the webinar. Share this list with the presenters. Check out their organization’s websites or their blogs to see what they do. Choose examples and stories that speak to their sector or where they work. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

The LNRA is also a great time to invite the learners to do some advance preparations. When you send out the webinar log-in details, consider sending to the participants a short pre-webinar reading (e.g. a short article, a link to a website they might review) so those who are keen can work ahead.

Provide a couple of good open questions for them to consider and revisit these questions during the webinar (but do so in a way that doesn’t exclude those who didn’t do the pre-work).

3.  Create a Well-Structured Learning Design for Your Webinar

Too often I see webinar presenters being lazy and just crafting a PowerPoint slide deck without thinking about all of the parameters that frame the choice of content and activities. At Global Learning Partners, we like to think of this as 8  Steps of Design. Instead, be sure to:

  • Define the People, Purpose, Place, and Time (Steps 1-5) for your webinars. Review this with the participants at the outset in order to keep you, your co-presenters and the participants on track.  
  • Include a Reasonable Amount ("just enough") of Content (Step 6). As with PowerPoint, it is tempting to "dump" too much data into the slides and overwhelm your participants. Keep it simple and not too full. (Download a free chapter about choosing just the right content - from the e-book Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.)
  • Keep your Presentations Short. Don’t go for more than 5 minutes at a stretch without asking for questions or asking the participants a question. Breaking a longer presentation into smaller chunks with breaks will help to revitalize the group energy, check for understanding and allow more voices to be heard. It will also allow you to pause and recharge, since presenting to silence can be de-energizing.
  • Create Achievement-Based Objectives (Step 7) that describe what the participants will do during the webinar beyond just "listening" and "watching". Think of ways that they can be more active participants to deepen their own learning (e.g. analyze, name, suggest, reflect, tweet…).
  • Create a Series of Learning Tasks (Step 8) or instructions that describe how the participants can engage with the content to meet each objective.

Build in opportunities for interaction as permitted by the size of the group and the technology. These can include:

  • Preceding every presentation with an open question to the participants. Post this question on a slide. For example, “As you listen to this short presentation on <your topic>, consider how you’ve seen these principles in action.” Be sure to ask them for a sample of their ideas after your presentation.
  • Taking a poll or a multiple choice quiz.
  • Asking participants to “raise their hands” in response to a question using the “raise hands” tool on the webinar platform.
  • Soliciting their questions for clarification, and their comments. 
  • Asking open questions to the group and hearing a sample of their responses (e.g. "How have you seen this problem play out in your situation?"). 
  • Using the platform’s whiteboard and inviting them to add their answers on screen. 
  • Incorporating an interactive map where the participants can show their location.

4.  Assemble a Webinar Team

As they say, there is no ‘I’ in Team but there certainly is a WE in Webinar.

If possible, never webinar alone! 

  • Try to have a moderator, facilitator and a presenter on the call. The moderator can focus on the technology, the facilitator on the flow, time, questions, etc. and the presenter on the content.  
  • Meet as a team before the webinar to discuss what you’re expecting in terms of amount of content, duration of presentations, transitions between sections, participant interaction, slide quality, etc. Also, make sure that everyone is comfortable with the webinar platform technology before the session begins.
  • Practice your presentations ahead of time on the webinar platform to make sure that any transitions between presenters are smooth. You’d be surprised by how many kinks there can be, and how many things change after you’ve tried them out once. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

5.  Technology: Be Prepared

Unlike in most face-to-face learning situations, managing the technology in a webinar can be a major pre-occupation for the learners and the presenters. Too often, too much time is wasted trying to resolve one person’s audio or computer problems while the others wait on the line. Instead:

  • Test out the technology ahead of time to make sure that it is working well. Be aware the same webinar platform can work quite differently each time and with different internet connections.
  • Provide clear instructions to the participants and any offsite presenters before hand in an email on:
    • testing their computer for compatibility – most webinar platforms provide this capability
    • how to use the webinar technology
    • how to contact you via a separate phone line or text message 
    • how to log in again if they get bumped off for some reason.  
  • Be “on the line” and platform early to make sure it works, and to greet those participants who come on line early.
  • Include a series of preliminary slides with instructions on setting the sound, any other programs they may need to run, and how they can ask questions.

6.  Prepare Vivid Visuals

In an online setting where the participants may not be able to see the presenter or have an opportunity to interact, the visuals become critical. (Check out our 6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue.)

  • Invest more time than usual in creating high-quality presentation materials, even more than you might in a live setting where participants have other people to engage with. Choose compelling images, keep the text clear and minimal, and make sure that the formatting (titles, headers, spacing, etc) is flawless. 
  • Use on-screen slides with basic visuals and little or no animation so that people with slower bandwidth connections won’t experience a delay in the transitions. Alternatively, you can simulate animation by repeating key graphics on distinct slides and adding in changes on each slide.
  • If possible, have a separate display where you can see what the participants are seeing. (Source: Levey) This will let you know if the slides are running more slowly on participants’ machines or if they can’t see a feature you assume they can see (e.g. questions box). I like to log in to a participant account on my iPad so I can see what participants are seeing. 
  • Consider an alternative to using PowerPoint slides  (e.g. Prezi Meeting now allows multiple participants to follow and modify a Prezi online). There are also online mind-mapping tools and other data visualization platforms that you can use as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. Just be aware that bandwidth limits may make the animation run more slowly than you'd like.   
  • If you do have a webcam for the presenters, be sure to stay in frame, still and in focus! Test out the “depth of field” or range of focus for your webcam, as well as how far you can move from side to side before you’re out of the frame. Check out the background to eliminate distractions (e.g. people walking past your cubicle, visual clutter, bright windows that will backlight you).
  • Change slides frequently to keep the visuals moving and fresh.

7.  Get Off to A Good Start

The first few moments of a webinar can make or break it for the participants. So be sure to:

  • Assume that you may start a few minutes late as some participants may come in gradually (Source: Stephen Boyd).
  • In the meantime, you can use the time to chat with the participants (i.e. to get to know them and maybe even conduct a mini-LNRA) or address any administrative issues.
  • Include a slide that has a picture of the presenters, facilitators and moderators, along with their contact information. This will give them an image to keep in mind when listening to your voice. 
  • For smaller groups (< 10), start with a quick go-round or roll call to introduce the participants to each other. But – very important! -- be sure to set clear guidelines for how (and thus how long) participants should introduce themselves. For example, “Please share your name, and where you’re calling from” and then model it yourself “My name is Dwayne and I’m calling from Ottawa”. 
  • For larger groups (> 10), spoken introductions may not be practical, but you may be able to circulate a participant list by email in advance of the webinar.
  • Refer to your guests as “participants” to set the tone that they are there to actively be involved in the learning, not to veg out.
  • Provide a simple outline of the webinar at the beginning of the presentation that shows the topical program of learning tasks. Refer to this outline repeatedly during the session so that people can check their progress. Consider using a graphic (e.g. a “you are here” arrow) that marks where you are in the program and show a slide that indicates that progress periodically throughout the webinar. 

8.  Sound Advice: Get the Audio Right

  • Encourage everyone to use a headset  to avoid feedback and to prevent their microphones from capturing ambient noise (e.g. keyboard clatter, ticking clocks, Farmville chickens clucking).
  • Ask people to switch their microphones or phone lines to mute when not speaking. In some cases you can do this for them via a setting in the webinar program. 
  • Vary your tone of voice and enunciate a bit more than you might in a face-to-face situation.  As Stephen Boyd writes, "Your voice is everything with the webinar. Show enthusiasm in your voice from the very beginning. Punch out key words, pause for effect, create variety in vocal quality, speed up, slow down, and don’t speak too rapidly.” (Source: Stephen Boyd)
  • Be careful not to use “pause words” like um, like or you know.  When people can’t see you in person, these phrases become even more noticeable and annoying. Similarly, pay attention to whether you have any unusual vocal inflections (e.g. mumbling, speaking too quickly, raising your voice like everything is a question). Listening to a recording of yourself can be quite instructive (and frightening).
  • Do not read your slides verbatim. People tend to read faster than you can speak, and they will wonder why they had to attend if all you’re doing is reading the slides. Two exceptions:
  1. It is all right to read a definition or a quote for effect.
  2. If you are setting a learning task, keep your verbal instructions closely related to any text on the screen so as not to confuse the participants.  

9.  Share the Airspace: Giving Voice to Learners

Webinars can be so much more than PowerPoint on the phone. Where you can, try to build in opportunities for genuine interaction and dialogue:

  • Design opportunities for large group discussions, small group work (if possible), and individual reflection (great for introverts!).
  • Frame each mini-presentation with an open question that invites the learners to listen and watch more deeply. 
  • Leave enough time for questions throughout the webinar, rather than cramming in a few token questions at the end. 

If letting the participants use their audio line is too complicated (i.e. for larger groups, or if there is simultaneous interpretation), consider using a parallel communication channel to solicit questions and their comments (e.g. the chat box, or Twitter).

10.  Build in Movement 

As more and more webinar platforms start producing apps for smartphones, the potential for mobile webinar learning is growing. (Check out 35 Ways to Use an iPhone in a Workshop.) Consider inviting the learners who are mobile to engage in a more kinesthetic, or active-movement task:

  • Stretch at the half-time point to get the blood flowing again -- maybe a little yoga to get the energy back up. 
  • Take a walk while listening and watching the webinar on their phones.
  • Go out and find an object that symbolizes their involvement with the topic and share that with the group (perhaps via a photo on their smartphone).

Any opportunity to get their "bums out of their seats" will also be appreciated by those who are participating on a computer or laptop.

11.  End Well

Time for the Big Finish!

  • Design your webinar to use less than 100% of the time you have in case something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. But always finish on time so that people can leave gracefully. (Levine)
  • At the end of the webinar, invite the learners to name what they will apply to their work situation after the seminar. For example, “Use the chat line and name one thing that you’ve seen or heard today that you’ll apply to your work soon.” This encourages them to synthesize what they've seen and heard with their real world context. 
  • Design any feedback questionnaire to be proportionate to the length of the session and the depth of engagement (i.e. don’t send a questionnaire with 10 questions for a 1-hour webinar).  You can either send a short online survey as part of your follow-up materials or, better yet, conduct a very short anonymous poll about the webinar at the end of the session before they sign off.
  • If some participants want to stay on the line to chat, great, but also consider calling them back after the webinar (to save money and to keep their conversation private). You can also help them connect with each other if they want to continue a conversation offline later.

12.  Follow-Up Afterwards

But wait! there’s more! The webinar doesn't end when the last person hangs up. Consider what you can do afterwards to support their learning: 

  • Follow-up with supplemental material (via an individual or group email) immediately after the webinar (or at least by the next day) before the participants turn their attentions elsewhere. Send them some additional resources via email to respond to any emergent learning needs. 
  • Assign a follow-up task via an asynchronous platform. Invite them to participate in a follow-up forum discussion after the webinar via an online platform.  
  • Post a recording of the audio and visuals of the webinar online for them to review later. 
  • Remind them of the next webinar that you're providing. 

Your Thoughts

What would you add to this list of tips? What challenges do you foresee in applying any of these ideas in your context? Drop us a line and feel free to ask us about how GLP can help you design wondrous webinars using a Dialogue Education approach to learning.

Consider joining us for Dialogue Education Online, September 11 - November 12, 2014.

 

Are You a Splitter or a Lumper?

Wednesday, October 2, 4:15 p.m. - Wrapping up Day 2 as a participant in Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, it struck me like a lightning bolt! I'm a lumper. Not to be confused with lumpy . . . that's a whole other blog.

You see, I am an animal trainer. I spend a great deal of time teaching animals behaviors that are compatible with human life. I teach dogs to walk on the loose leash and not pull their owner, to go potty outside and not on the wool rug, to chew specific toys and not Italian slingbacks, and to be sociable and comfortable with new people. Including the mailman.

When I create these training plans, I break them down into the smallest components possible. These thin slices, or “splits,” as animal trainers call them, help the animal be successful and build new criteria in a seamless fashion.

It's similar to a great novel. One page alone does not mean much; however, when the pages are read in order, each page builds the story and creates a wonderful fantasyland.

As I was working on my learning design, I realized that I was not using the same thoughtful process with my human learners as I do with my animal learners. I was lumping together too many broad concepts and asking people to absorb the information without giving them the opportunity to actually apply it. Dialogue Education - in particular the 8 Steps of Design -  sets you up to be a splitter! When designed well, learning events will be broken into component pieces that build from one another. Your content and tasks will sequence so seamlessly that participants will almost not recognize that they are learning complex skills or concepts.

So ask yourself, are you a splitter or a lumper? If you’re a splitter, congratulations!  The participants at your learning events will be grateful for the time you have spent in designing their materials and will have learned many things from you. If you're a lumper, consider the principles of Dialogue Education and if you haven't already, I highly recommend attending GLP’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach course.  

In the end, whether you're teaching companion animals or people, you want them to learn new skills, be engaged, feel safe, and feel that their voices were heard.

Natalie Zielinski is Behavior Program Manager at Wisconsin Humane Society, and a happy graduate of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (now called The Foundations of Dialogue Education).

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.

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?

KarenBEING IGNORED AS AN INTEGRAL PARTNER IN THE LEARNING

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!

IT’S ABOUT THE LEARNING, NOT THE TEACHING

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

NEVER UNDERTEACH, ALWAYS CHALLENGE (with safety)

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!!!     

Be aware of TOO MUCH WHAT FOR THE WHEN!

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