The “Top 4” Preconditions for Learner Engagement
Educators and presenters are rightly concerned with learner engagement. Creating engaging learning environments was the theme for the conference I attended today, and it made me wonder…what are my own “rules of engagement” in classrooms large and small, real and virtual? Here are my top four:
1. Make it fun
People are generally motivated to pursue activities that offer positive reinforcement, and the opposite is true for aversive experiences. That’s why chocolate + Reality TV often trumps time at the gym. By adding laughter, socializing, exploration and discovery to our facilitation we add engagement.
2. Make it personal
While altruism is a lofty ideal, in practice the most salient learning happens when we directly relate to a concept or skill on our own individual level. These personal connections evoke “aha” moments way more powerfully than relating new skills and ideas to abstract or hypothetical scenarios/applications.
3. Make it real
At its very best, presenting to groups more closely resembles a conversation than a performance. When we can be our authentic, playful, idiosyncratic selves in front of hundreds of people, that fosters connectedness (another word for engagement). If the audience sees our real, true self, that gives permission for them to be real too.
4. Make it safe
We’re only learning when we’re struggling. If it’s easy, that’s because we already know! The journey toward mastery involves making ourselves vulnerable; and our deepest instincts tell us that we can only permit our vulnerability when we feel safe. As a facilitator, I can help make it safe by modeling my own willingness to take risks or make mistakes, by creating opportunities for connectedness with other learners, and by fostering a climate of unconditional respect and acceptance.
When I think about what it really means to teach and learn, engagement is everything. Engagement is like oxygen: teaching feels as natural as breathing when it’s present, and teaching is as painful (and scary) as choking when engagement is absent. Nothing happens without it, and everything is possible when it’s there.