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).