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Tag Archives: Learner engagement

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual accountability for engaging in learning, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the course as the instructor does. This means focusing on the process (how learners decide to engage – or not) as well as the content (syllabus or curriculum).

Courses and workshops represent particular journeys for all participants – teacher included. In general, learning facilitators establish and negotiate the content, pacing, climate and structure throughout the course. And yet, learners themselves decide what and how they will learn. Learning can happen in the absence of teaching, and teaching can happen in the absence of learning. The magic happens when the two come together.

Most workshops and courses typically start off with a conversation about:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Course overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Learning assessments.

However, it’s equally important for learners to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how they will learn and participate, what might hold them back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that can feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused beginning to workshops and courses, because a conversation about process sets the stage for reciprocity and co-engagement in the learning journey.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both the instructor and the group) collectively intend to make the journey together. From a facilitation perspective, this means starting out by asking questions like:

  1. Are you (learner) coming to this class as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas, knowledge and skills in order to apply them in practice?

It’s not essential that we ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions we could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles and on the nature of the voyage they will take with you and with one-another.

And the next time I attend a workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

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The evolution of teaching and learning

Whether implicit or explicit, we all have a theory of teaching and learning. This gets expressed and enacted in how we engage with our students, the tools we use (or don’t use), and even where we stand in the classroom (F2F or virtually). Traditional theoretical frameworks can be broadly grouped into four domains: instructivism, critical theory, constructivist approaches and andragogy (or adult learning). But the rise of many-to-many, decentred and non-linear networking and communication channels have given rise to corresponding advances in frameworks for teaching and learning in the global classroom.

The 1.0 Classroom

education 1_0

Instructivism as a standard approach to teaching emerged from positivist and post-positivist paradigms. Characterized by the traditional “chalk and talk” style, instructivist pedagogy is premised on a transmission model of learning. Learning outcomes and curricula are pre-determined and delivered in a primarily didactic fashion. The same information is provided to all learners regardless of their pre-existing knowledge and skills.

 

 

Teaching 2.0

education 2_0Constructivism marked a shift from teacher-centred to student-centred learning, deemphasizing informing (memorizing facts) in favour of transforming: locating, critiquing and synthesizing knowledge in a culture of collaboration and sharing. Curriculum development is based on student query, which acknowledges that students learn more by asking questions than by answering them. In this model, students critically engage with course material by posing questions that further group reflection and debate. Adult learning (andragogy) and critical approaches extend and complement contructivist learning models.

 

Education 3.0

Over the last decade, two models have emerged to challege our existing paradigms: heutagogy (Blaschke, 2012, Hase and Kenyon, 2000) and paragogy (Corneli and Danoff, 2011). These extend constructivist, critical and adult learning theories offering models of learning that are (1) self-determined, (2) peer-led,
education 3_0 (3) decentred and (4) non-linear. These characteristics map onto social media applications and the democratization of knowledge and information. Heutagogical and paragogical approaches also extend traditional andragogical and adult learning frameworks by emphasizing meta learning, or learning how to learn.

 

Andragogy, Heutagogy and Social Media

Andragogy (Self-directed) Heutagogy (Self-determined) Parallels with Social Media
Competency development Capability development Knowledge curators
Linear design of curricula Non-linearity in curricula Hyper-learners
Instructor/learner directed Learner directed Autonomous digital communities
Content focus (what is learned) Process focus (meta learning, learning how to learn) Online collaboration, sharing, crowd-sourcing

 

This shift is radical in challenging the implicit notion that we (educators) know best what students need to learn. As Morris (2013) puts it, the issue of how to modify or reinvent teaching in higher education “can create anxiety, uncertainty, and even resentment toward a shift in the culture of learning that we’ve had little control over, that’s come at us from outside our own domain; for others, this new landscape appears inviting, exciting, and full of possibility”.

Radically self-determined and networked learning approaches (like heutagogy and paragogy) affirm individuals as the experts in their lives and learning trajectories. Nothing less than what has always been.

 

 

Note: Images depicting Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 were adapted from a blog post by Jackie Gerstein: Experiences in Self-Determined Learning: Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

This post was adapted from a previous article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning is up to the learner, but teaching is up to the teacher

 

It’s one thing to teach, and quite another to learn. Learning is up to the learner, not the teacher. Just like the old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

But…here’s the thing: You can make him thirsty!

So the question is, how do we create environments that make learners “thirsty”? In other words, how can we foster learner engagement? Herewith, my personal Top 10. Some are prosaic and some can be incredibly challenging. And that’s a good thing, because we are all learners and we’re all teachers.

1. Start as you mean to go on: Begin every workshop, class, course, etc. with a question. Establishing right at the outset that our learning journey will be collective and collaborative is key, and especially early on I make a point of explicitly praising and otherwise rewarding any and all signs of positive engagement on the part of individuals/groups.

2. Incentivize participation: We want learners to take risks and make mistakes. When a person volunteers for something high risk, reinforce the desired behaviour. I don’t advertise it ahead of time, but whoever comes to the front of the room to do a role play with me is going to go back to his or her seat with some small token. It doesn’t even really matter what it is (think $ store).

3. Provide normative feedback: Using in-class mobile polling or an audience response system (like iClickers) lets learners compare their own knowledge/opinions/beliefs/assumptions with others in the room.

4. Establish relevance: Learners what to know “what’s in it for me?” Creating learning activities that help people bridge curricula to their own lives = good. Co-constructing learning activities that address/solve real-world problems = better.

5. Show your sense of humour: It’s hard to be serious all the time. Make it fun and mix it up! Shared laughter builds group cohesion.

6. Affirm autonomy: Let’s face it. Some days we are more fired up than others about our life’s work, and it’s no different for our students. When individuals or groups just don’t seem to be getting on board, I find that stating out loud (with 100% sincerity and with 0% judgement) that how/when/if folks engage is entirely their choice seems to free up some good energy for engagement.

7. Deploy multiple “engagement channels”: Individuals come to learning environments with a range of different learning preferences and a range of preferred ways of participating and engaging. Some people like the limelight, others need time to process and formulate a thoughtful response, and many are more comfortable sharing in a smaller group. The more choices we can offer about how to participate the better, including: verbal/written, large group/small group, synchronous/asynchronous, classroom-based/online, and more.

8. Evoke affect:  Research about emotion (affect), memory, and implications for learning suggest that teaching needs to go beyond engaging at a purely intellectual (cognitive) level, and touch peoples’ feelings (for example, Sylwester, 1994; and more recent perspectives that encompass academic technology and affective/cognitive learning, Calvo & D’Mello, 2011). Create learning activities that pair new knowledge and skills acquisition with positive affect, like surprise, delight, excitement, curiosity for deeper and more durable learning.

9. Show them you care: Authentic care and concern can go far in building good will and fostering mutual respect and support for one another’s learning and achievement.

10. And last but not least – know when to break the rules (and go ahead and break them). Like the time I called it a day and took the group shopping. 

 

 

Related articles

Five Reasons why Reality TV is not a Waste of Time: How reality TV can inform teaching best practices

Seven Essentials for 21st Century Education and Teaching: Stuff it took me 20 years to learn and I’m still trying to figure out

Rules of Engagement: The “Top 4” preconditions for learner engagement

 

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Be yourself, only better

 

The term present connotes giving a performance, with all of the formality and pomp that implies. But it can also mean being present; in other words, being our true and authentic selves in each moment with the group.

“The most precious gift that we can offer is our presence.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Henderson and Henderson (2007) argue that the most effective presenters engage the audience in ways that feel like a one-on-one conversation. The qualities of a performance versus a conversation are summarized in the diagram below:

 

Slide11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some strategies include:

  • Making eye contact that encompasses all sections of the audience (left to right, front to back).
  • Exercising self-awareness with respect to what makes you unique, appealing and enjoyable to be with? Leverage these qualities in your presentation style.
  • Intentionally modulating your vocal tone and phrasing consistent with a conversational approach.
  • Carefully considering the audience, including their needs, wisdom and experience (individually and collectively).

Of course, I don’t deny that presenting is different from a casual conversation. There is formality, gravity and hierarchy to it (as in the diagram above). But the more we see of you – the real you – the better. We’re most engaged when we can identify with the other person (even just a little). When their experiences connect to ours.

Sure, we’re all special, but we’re also all human. It’s a bit of a paradox: The more you express your unique and unreproducable humanness, the more universally engaging you are as a presenter. Easier said than done (especially when performance anxiety is a kind of enemy of authenticity – check out 5 tips for Coping with Stage Fright).

But there it is: that’s the journey!

 

chipmunk

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.

Related:

Deep Learning

Who was your favorite teacher?

3 Classroom Essentials: Education, inspiration and fun

Transformative learning in the conceptual age

Education is…

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You know when it’s your first time, but not always when it’s your last

 

This morning I had the pleasure of handing out awards of distinction to about 100 college students. In addition to their regular coursework, each had the option to take it further and demonstrate achievement and competency to the highest standard. This had no bearing on their actual course grade and was totally voluntary. “Winning” this award is not a competition – except with oneself.

 

The fact that such a high proportion of students were motivated to excel in the first place was inspiring. It reminded me that when students are engaged, they will work far beyond our expectations (and the requirements on the course syllabus).

 

What was the secret ingredient that resulted in this level of uptake and motivation? I think the heart of it is that these students felt truly cared for by their teaching faculty. They perceived corrective feedback as having the best of intentions. They kept striving to succeed knowing that someone really believed that they could.

 

After the awards were distributed I was asked to say a few words to the group. These were students from across all academic semesters; some new to the program and some in their final weeks before graduation. I asked them who was attending the ceremony for the first time? And who was there for the last time? And I reflected that we don’t always know when it’s our last time.

 

While first experiences are clear and often memorable, we don’t always know (as this group did) when it’s the last time we have a chance to: learn, do our best, say what we really feel, take a risk, show compassion, dig deep. Or, we figure it out long after that “last time” is past.

 

All of those students did the semester like it was their last time. I bow down to that.

 

 

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Reflections on motivation and why people change

 

How to motivate change is a big question for clinical educators and practitioners because someone else’s behaviour change is, in the end, wholly out of our hands. Over my 15 + years of practicing and teaching Motivational Interviewing, I still find myself getting stuck in the “righting reflex” when I see a person making (what I consider to be) unwise decisions.

It all comes down to individual motivation and commitment, and that’s a scary prospect when the stakes are high. We see someone following a risky trajectory and we want to grab the steering wheel. How bad do things have to get before an individual figures it out for him- or herself?

My own experience is that everyone has a particular “pain” threshold: biologically, psychologically and socially. In other words, a state of being that I might find totally unendurable physically, mentally or inter-personally may not be so bad for someone else. We each bring a singular standpoint and value-set to the decisions we make and how we live our lives. 

And here’s the thing:

People only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.

 

In other words, motivation is tied to individual perception and experience of suffering. For example, from a teaching standpoint, it can be heartbreaking to see a promising student at risk of failing a course due to not attending class or completing assignments. But the important thing is…how does the student see it?

A “red flag” from a Motivational Interviewing perspective is when I am more invested in change than the person I’m working with (in this case, the student). I can better enhance motivation by stepping back, exploring possible reasons for change, and offering what I’m hearing about the pain of staying the same. Underlining a person’s perception of some of the costs of negative behaviours can open the door to a productive conversation about possible solutions.

 

As Andy Warhol put it:

When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.

 

Related articles:

Reflective Listening: The most valuable tool in the tool box?

Reflective Listening Reflections

 

robots dancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please turn off all mobile devices…in your dreams

 

The “two turntables and a microphone” line sounds a whole lot better when you sing it, especially if you’re Beck. But the general idea relating to teaching and presenting is our need to balance multiple instructional strategies in order to keep learners engaged. Just like a great DJ keeps a dance floor full.

 

Given the ready distraction of mobile devices, along with an increasingly normative expectation for immediate text/email responding, today’s educators and presenters have a hard row to hoe in holding a group’s undivided attention. The cellphone issue gets lots of attention in conversations about classroom comportment and etiquette.

 

And yet…I can’t help asking…

Do people tune out, text, talk and email when they are super-interested in what’s happening in their learning environment?

 

In other words, if people aren’t dancing, whose fault is that? I hate to blame the DJ, but the truth is that some pancake turners are more attuned to the energy in the room than others. They know when and how to change things up.

 

I have observed an inverse relationship between the use of mobile devices by participants and the number/frequency of instructional strategies/approaches used. I’m just saying.

 

 

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It’s about preparation versus rehearsal

 

My first exposure to the concept of a ‘meditative preparation’ for working with others – whether in a therapeutic, collegial or educational context – came from Dr. Lawrence Shulman in his notion of sessional “tuning in” to a group prior to each group therapy session.

For Shulman, tuning in is about taking a few minutes beforehand to anticipate and imagine what might be going on with each person and with the group as a whole:

  • Was it difficult to get to group because of weather or transit?
  • What other competing priorities might people be struggling with?
  • How safe are people feeling in the group itself?
  • What stage of group development are we at?
  • Are people there because they want to come, or because someone else made them attend?

I have found the skill of tuning in to be enormously helpful before leading any group, including conference presentations, trainings and workshops. Intentionally tuning in helps get me focused on the participants, how they’re feeling, and what they are hoping for; versus focused on me and what I am feeling or hoping for! Tuning in puts me squarely in in the “here and now”. It helps me to be 100% present.

Take five minutes before you enter the room to reflect on the above questions. The best five minutes you can possibly spend: think preparation versus rehearsal.

 

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabbymarcuzzi/7125458745/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a moment and consider…who was your absolute favourite teacher?

 

What was it about him or her that had such an impact? What was so memorable about this person’s qualities and behaviours?

 

Chances are that a name and a face came to your mind immediately. Even after more years than I care to say, I still remember Mr. Bolland, my high school English teacher. His sense of humour, his love of literature, his patience in the classroom and respect for students made me keen to come to class. He was inspiring. Chances are, these are some of the qualities that you also recall so vividly.

 

I’ve used this activity, contributed by Dr. Carolina Yahne as a resource for the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), in my own clinical courses and workshops as a way to evoke the “spirit” of Motivational Interviewing. This includes the principles of partnership, unconditional acceptance, accurate empathy, autonomy support and compassion.

 

The fact that people experience the “favourite teacher” exercise so universally and so similarly underlines the impact that educators (and others!) can have on a someone’s life. People remember most of how we make them feel (as opposed to what we say), and I like to remind myself that each and every student represents an opportunity to make a positive difference.

 

Happy Assorted Biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How well do we integrate all three in our teaching/learning environments?

 

 

On a Porter Airlines flight the other day I read an interview with branding guru Ron Tite in the in-flight magazine, re:porter. In the article, Tite notes that you can add value to consumer and corporate brands in three ways: via education, inspiration or entertainment (ideally combining all three).

 

This got me thinking about teaching and learning tools, and the extent to which we educators successfully integrate each of the elements (education, inspiration, fun) into our classroom delivery and student engagement strategies.

 

The education part implies some form of didactic instruction. Easy enough. Inspiration is harder, and often arises from hands-on practice – whether through student interactions, simulation, critical analysis or collaborative learning. What about fun? How do we build in play, humour, joy, excitement, passion? Attending to the meta-learning environment, fostering a sense of community, safety, risk-taking and engagement would seem to be preconditions for having fun in the classroom. As does the extent to which I’m enjoying myself too. It seems to me that a combination of all of these elements is integral to transformative learning.

 

We talk about scaffolding learning to help engineer success experiences for students. Let’s also consider how to scaffold learning to engineer fun experiences!

 

 

 

Halloween Topiary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s not to like about putting on a costume and knocking on strangers’ doors for free candy?

 

 

 

I grew up in a low-candy household, so when I was a kid, October 31st was my chance to stock up for the year. As fellow witches, ghosts and monsters dropped away one by one, I persevered alone carrying a heavy white pillowcase, trudging on until I achieved a self-imposed quota of sugary provisions. Months later, in the heat of an August day, lying on my bedroom floor desultorily reading an Archie comic, I would find a mass of dusty and melted candy forgotten underneath the bed.

 

The lessons learned?

Candy tastes really good. Scarcity makes things more appealing and desirable. Too much candy, after a while, doesn’t taste so good. A surfeit of that which is most desired siphons the magic away…Until months pass, autumn leaves turn, and the cycle continues anew.

 

I resolve to apply the following lessons learned from childhood to my teaching:

Don’t give out more than students want: “To teach well we need not say all we know, only what is useful for the pupil to hear”.

Make learning appealing and desirable (and fun).

Awaken others’ minds to the places where their knowledge is scarce (because that will make them want it even more).

In the end, the one who wants it most will trudge on after all others have had enough or given up.

and

There may be such a thing as too much Halloween candy, but there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.

 

 

 

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The stages of group development can help us see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading

 

Why are some classes a pleasure to teach, while others test every skill and fragment of an instructor’s patience and fortitude? How can things seem to start off so well, and then proceed rapidly downhill? I have found it helpful to remind myself of the stages of group development as a rough heuristic for making sense of the classroom climate over the course of a semester.

 

Having a “big picture” sense of the terrain I am navigating with students gives me a general road map and guide. Where did we start, where are we now, and where do we want to go? These are the questions I am asking in reflecting on my teaching practice. The principles of group dynamics state that groups tend to progress through five specific stages in the process of developing cohesion and productive functioning:

 

  1. Forming: Getting to know each other, as people determine the degree to which there is safety in risk-taking. Groups that get stuck at this stage tend to remain at a superficial level, and there is minimal group cohesion and community. Keep challenging their assumptions and encourage students to step beyond their comfort zone in engaging with one another and with the course material.
  2. Storming: Characterized by interpersonal conflict, as group members test implicit and explicit norms and boundaries. This stage can really stretch our skills as we help the class navigate through rough waters. Hold steady. You (and they) will get through it. And pat yourself on the back for successfully supporting the class’s progress past Phase 1 – that’s not easy to do.
  3. Norming: Developing positive group norms, values and behaviours is the reward for getting through the conflict and challenges of the storming phase. As a community of learners, what values do we stand for? How do we enact them in the classroom? Guiding students to examine and internalize positive group norms shifts some of the heavy work from the instructor to the class.
  4. Performing: This is when it’s easy to remember why you are passionate about teaching. High functioning classrooms happen when students are committed to their own and others’ learning, and are willing to dig deep and make mistakes. Here is the laboratory where transformative learning happens. Congratulations, you earned it.
  5. Adjourning: Saying goodbye can be tough, and guiding the class through this transition means honouring and celebrating their collective experience and acknowledging that this is ending.

And then you get to start all over again!

 

 

Girl Crying Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where does it hurt? That’s the key diagnostic question whether you’re a presenter or a clinician

 

A common clinical dilemma in counselling practice is when the practitioner is more invested in change than the client. This is manifested in clinicians working harder than their clients and caring more than they do about change. How and why does this happen?

 

I think this disproportionate effort stems from two things:

  1. Practitioners are trained to identify issues of concern and have a heightened awareness of the long-term implications and consequences of negative health behaviours.
  2. Because of their training and awareness, practitioners often feel that they know what is best for their clients.

The first point is helpful; the second…not so much.

 

It’s like the quotation:

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”  In other words, people are the experts in their own lives.

 

So what does all this have to do with presentation secrets?

In a teaching context, the instructor – just like the clinician – is expert in his or her specific knowledge domain and strategies for internalizing and enacting knowledge and skills. It’s when we take the stance of “I know best” that we run into trouble in the classroom. All people (whether patients or students) are in charge of their own lives and actions; learning is volitional and learners will always be self-determining in what and how much is learned.

 

Here’s the secret:

Always start with the problem that the learner identifies as relevant and pressing. Affirm autonomy. Offer solutions in the spirit of collaborative problem-solving. Tailor the content to the real-world needs of the individuals with whom you are engaged.

How do you know if you’re doing it right? Hearing “Yes, but…” is the clue that you’ve gone off track. Figure out the pain point and offer ways to make it better. Then leave it up to the real experts: the people you are entrusted to serve.

 

 

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