Why focus on the learner?

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Right now I am designing a series of workshops that will be presented to a group of 23 professors visiting from China. The purpose of their visit is to learn how we ‘do things’ in the Canadian post-secondary classroom…how is our approach different from theirs. Great question! I think the answer to this goes beyond the ‘how’ to the ‘why’; I know that my focus is to be as learner-centred as possible, but why is that important? Let me share a bit of my teaching philosophy.

MexicoI believe that teaching has not happened until learning has taken place. That being said, learning is primarily the responsibility of the student; however, as a facilitator, my role is to present material in a manner that is in line with the needs of the learner, doing all within my capacity to remove barriers to learning. In other words, my aim is to be learner centred in the approach I take. In doing so, I need to transition my approach from that of pedagogy to andragogy, being careful to provide support for the students as they move from recipients of knowledge, to participants of and contributors to new learning.

Growing in my own ability to do this effectively has become a driving force in my own learning journey. My mission is to embrace various learning styles, engage student curiosity and invite them to explore new information. The new learning needs to be applied, and if appropriate, it should re-frame their existing knowledge.

As a teacher I must also be a continuous learner. I need to know my material in such a manner that enables me to help the students understand; I need to be comfortable and well informed in the subject matter in order to encourage inquiring minds that may challenge new concepts and theories. I need to be open to learn from my students, recognizing the wisdom that comes from their own life experiences. To do this I need to be committed to listening well.

Listening with both ears.
Listening with both ears.

Learning happens best when students feel safe, accepted, and enjoy the environment in which they are learning. I believe that the classroom should be a place where humour is welcomed, new ideas embraced, questions encouraged, various teaching techniques utilized, and where a passion for learning is cultivated.

It is important for me as a teacher to get to know my students, and for them to know that my primary goal is their success.

In my last blog I finished with… “With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…” In those conversations I wanted to learn what success looked like for each student, but what I came away with was so much more. Once again I am humbled by the life experiences these individuals bring to the learning environment; yes, I have much to teach them, but so much more to learn from them.

Learner autonomy, taking responsibility for their own learning success, looks different for each Stanley Prk Flowersperson. For some it’s a high grade, for others it’s a sense of accomplishment, for others it’s content mastery, and for others it’s the first step toward a better future…and I get to be part of their learning journey!

I love teaching!

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I really love teaching! Not just being in the classroom, but also preparing for the class. I love thinking and working through creative ways to present concepts; I can totally get lost in developing activities that will engage every part of the learner’s brains and pull on past experiences to give context to new learning. It’s one of the few things that will make me forget about having lunch…until I discover that putting two thoughts together is becoming a bit of a challenge!

Take today for example…I have spent the better part of the day at my computer designing a power point presentation on The Anatomy of a Lesson Plan. But that’s not where the creation ended…I then imported it to Explain Everything, recorded a voice over, and am now ready to upload it to Moodle for use in an on-line course for instructors. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud of my first attempt using a new application!

Odeum of Herodus Atticus…great place to learn about Greek history!

 

I haven’t always been this excited about learning new things…especially during my elementary years in Ireland, and then on to junior and high in Canada. Going to school was something that I had to do, and any learning was an unexpected by-product of being there…except for music classes, those I loved, and really didn’t think much about learning, I simply enjoyed the music! But then there was history and geography…neither a favourite. Memorizing dates and places was beyond me, and grasping why I needed to know anything about anything that happened hundreds of years ago seemed like a royal waste of my time. Fast forward many years; walking the cobbled streets of Ancient Greece and Turkey suddenly gave the relevance I needed to study both geography and history!

Now the tables are turned and I am most concerned about the success of my learners. What can I do to help them engage in a way that invites excitement about learning…how does external motivation get transformed into intrinsic motivation? I have a couple of ideas formulating in my brain as a result of reflecting on my own learning journey.

A few words come to mind: purpose, relevancy, ownership, autonomy.

I know that most learners have a difficult time engaging if they don’t see the relevancy in the material content, which makes them question the purpose of extending their mental

The Grand Theatre, Ephesus...can you imagine presenting here? St. Paul did, as did Sting!
The Grand Theatre, Ephesus…can you imagine presenting here? St. Paul did, as did Sting!

energies. As a facilitator I need to make sure that content is linked to desired outcomes, and delivered in a learner-centred way. I also believe that part of facilitating learning is to help move my students from a consumer mentality to an ownership mentality.

We identify adult learners as those being 18 years and over, but how do we help transition young people from a pedagogical model into the world of androgogical learning autonomy? With my current class, it will start with a one on one conversation…

More about this next time…then we’ll talk about autonomy in the workplace!

Flip the Learning

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My mind is full! The last 2 days I attended a conference on the flipped classroom. www.techsmith.com/education-flipped-classroom.html It’s a great practice that has already proven to be effective in all levels of education; however, flipping a classroom isn’t as easy as flipping a switch! It takes time and a lot of preparation. Let me paint a picture of what ‘flipping’ might look like in the course of living and learning.

We love traveling (you probably figured that out already!). One of the things I’ve learned about the individuals we travel with is that we all prepare for a trip differently. Let me give you an example. A few years ago we took a trip to Europe that brought us to such amazing

Vernazza's Harbour
Vernazza’s Harbour

places as Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Santorini, and Barcelona. Together we decided where we wanted to go for a holiday, and the general mode of travel (flights, trains, hikes, cruise ship…).

Once the dates were decided, some of us took a back seat and simply dreamed of what we would experience. However, two of the guys dedicated hours of research time looking at and planning where we would visit, must see attractions, restaurants, and even the best places to buy certain local products. When we arrived at the destinations, Dennis and Dennis (we named them D ‘n D Travel) were prepped and ready to learn the secrets of the historical wonders we visited. They knew the history, the stories behind the cultural landmarks, and were able to deepen their discoveries by adding their prior knowledge to the in-person experience.

The rest of us still had a fantastic vacation, at times weary from sensory overload, but I feel fairly confident in saying that the two who spent time gaining a base knowledge before going, walked away with even greater appreciation of our experience. Their learning was ‘flipped’…rather than waiting for the travel experience to learn about the culture and attractions, they watched Rick Steeves www.ricksteves.com, did Internet research, talked to others who had visited Europe previously, and even created our personal travel itinerary! They laid the foundation for experiential learning to build on, and helped the rest of us appreciate elements that we may have overlooked.

Back to training and development. My formal teaching context is in post secondary, but I am also involved with training and development in business; this happens in boardrooms, or even in coffee shops! Does this idea of ‘flipped’ apply in those non-traditional settings? I would say so. At the start of the conference participants were reminded to ask a very important question: What should students be doing inside the classroom, and what should they be doing outside the classroom?

With our employees and teams, what T & D can take place on their own through reading, webinars, or on-line courses, and what skills need the face-to-face interaction with a facilitator or trainer? We need to think about the hardest thing (skill, ability…) that will be required of them, and make sure face-to-face time is dedicated to help facilitate that learning. If the learning calls for face-to-face interaction, what learning activity can they do ahead of time so that they come prepared for full engagement?

Let me offer a simple example. You have a team that is experiencing conflict, but is at a loss for how to effectively resolve it. How can ‘flipped’ learning be applied?

  • You invite everyone to a short team building session aimed addressing conflict resolution.
  • One week prior, you send a link describing a conflict resolution process that you have found to be effective, or a YouTube video that demonstrates that process.
  • You ask that everyone take time to look at these resources before coming to the team building session.
  • In the face-to-face time have participants summarize what they read/watched, and then put the process into role-play action, providing examples of conflict areas experienced in the industry.
  • Make the training time long enough for participants to become comfortable with the process, but short enough to make good use of their valuable time.
  • Don’t forget follow-up…close the loop by soliciting feedback on the effectiveness of the whole training experience.
Early Critical Thinking Training
Early Critical Thinking Training

So what has happened here? Your team members learned the ‘theory’ outside of the ‘classroom’, allowing the face-to-face experience to focus on the application of the learning; you ‘flipped’ the training.

Whether you are a teacher or a person tasked with leading a team, training and development is a key element in the growth of your people. Let me challenge you to try something that may be a little bit outside of the box…flip the learning experience!

ps In the previous blog I promised more about self-directed T & D…next time…I just had to blog about this conference when it was fresh on my mind! Oh yes, this was part of my own self-directed learning 🙂 

The two most important days of your life…

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I saw a basketball camp poster a couple of weeks ago that really got my attention…so much so that I went back yesterday and took a picture of it!

photo poster
http://www.NBCCamps.com

Can you read the caption?

 “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Think about the impact of this statement; your parent’s life was changed the day you loudly announced your arrival into their world, and your own life was (hopefully) changed the day you found out why your presence in this world has such incredible value!

I always seem to keep coming back to ‘why?’ Such a simple word, but the mysteries it uncovers are endless.

So, once again, what does this have to do with training and development? Everything! In fact, answering your ‘why’, leads to a greater sense of autonomy, and that leads to intentionality in training and development.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a conversation I had with my son around the area of autonomy. Our eldest grand daughter is 10, and she is demonstrating a beautiful aptitude for art; in fact she can get lost in her creations. When a piece is completed she shows it off with great pride and satisfaction. Faith’s life is inevitably going to be in the world of arts, so how can we help with her development and success? By helping her develop autonomy. At this young age she can already describe what she would like to do (granted, this will be fine-tuned over time), so why not work backwards from that end goal? WhatFaith blog pic patterns of behavior, what activities, what mentors, what books, what travel…can Faith be exposed to that will grow and develop this innate talent that is emerging? What questions can we ask her to help her make decisions that will bring her closer to her goals? Can she already be taught that the decisions she makes at various stages of her life regarding activities, studies, healthy living, friendships, values, and so on, will give her a greater sense of mastery and control over what she can achieve? I believe so.

You see, as individuals, self directed training and development is something that each of us needs to take responsibility for, and then act upon. This same process can be applied in the workplace, and in the classroom…more about that in the next blog.

However, for now, you probably don’t remember much about that first ‘most important day’, but perhaps you can reflect on the second most important day of your life…why you were born. What is it that you can do to take responsibility to develop that amazing creation that is you into the person you were put on earth to be?

Hmmm, lots to probe and ponder around that!

‘Watch and Wonder’ or ‘Experience and Engage’?

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In his book Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo quotes from Ben Sanders.

“People don’t want to just watch and wonder. They want “to experience, to engage, to endeavor…that’s where the real meat of life is to be found.”

So, are you a ‘watch and wonder’ or an ‘experience and engage’ person? I am totally an experience and engage type…just ask my traveling friends!

This became very evident when we were traveling in Italy. So many things to see, appreciate, explore…and touch! Let’s just say that it was a smart thing for the guardians and curators in the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academia of Fine Arts in Florence) to have a fence around the breath-taking statue of David! I also learned very quickly that touching wax statues in Dublin, frescoes in Pompeii, and Florence, are greatly frowned on…actually forbidden. It’s amazing how body language, tone of voice and volume help an Irish-Canadian, totally English speaking person understand what ‘non toccare‘ means.      http://www.artoffresco.com/03-History/03.7-pompeii/03.7-history-pompeii.htm

So what does this have to do with training and development? More than you may realize.

Think about your employees or students, would you describe them as being watch and wonder, or experience and engage folks? How does that impact the way they learn…how should it then influence the tools and techniques you use for training and developing?

Let’s apply this to a lesson most of us have experienced at some point in our life…learning to ride a bike. Many options are available: read a manual, watch a YouTube video, and listen to someone explain, watch someone demonstrate, or get on a bike and figure it out. Your style of learning could be any one of these, or a combination of techniques. What about other topics like conflict resolution or learning to use a new piece of technology? All the options exist, but already you can identify which would be most effective for you.

Think about a skill that you know your employees or students need to acquire…got something in mind? Great, now take a few minutes and consider all the ways that skill could be taught. Next, think about your audience, how do they learn best? You will probably need to think of a combination of learning activities in order to address everyone, but the results will be well worth the effort.

So what about the way I was ‘encouraged’ to learn that frescoes were not to be touched? I did learn the lesson, but I was publicly reprimanded and embarrassed. Did I already know that I shouldn’t touch? Probably to some degree, but did I fully understand why? Not really.

OK, so hugging Pierce Brosnon's waxed statue may have bent the rules a little!
OK, so hugging Pierce Brosnon’s waxed statue may have bent the rules a little!

I admit that I am a tactile learner, and I also have to admit that I selectively adhere to rules…when they don’t make sense to me! Would my actions have been different if I had received appropriate information before hand? Absolutely! Is this a teaching style engaged in the classroom or workplace? Sadly I have seen and experienced the technique in both places…with devastating effects.

Let me encourage you to become an ‘experience and engage’ facilitator of learning. Next time you have the opportunity to provide a learning experience, think through the how and why, then let the creative juices start to flow!

Why? How?

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If you were asked to identify one question that you have asked the most over the course of your life, what would that question be? For me that question would be ‘why?’. This question got me into the most trouble as a kid…and as a teenager, giving me the reputation in our family as being challenging and rebellious. In fact, it wasn’t until I hit my 40s that my parents finally realized that I wasn’t rebelling but truly wanted to know ‘why’; what was the purpose of doing the things I was asked to do.

Just had to know why!
Just had to know why!

I still ask that question, and find that it brings the greatest critical thinking challenges to me as I continue to work in the field of training and development. I also use it often in my coaching practice. However, I’ve added another question…it’s like a follow up question…’how?’

Let me give you an example of some of the questions I’m currently asking regarding my business students.

  • Why do some students choose to come to class only when it’s convenient?
  • Why do so many students struggle with thinking critically?
  • Why do we still get the question ‘will this be on the test?’
  • Why do so many students leave college still not knowing what they want to do with their life?

I believe the first step in responding to these questions is to change the questions…

  • How do we motivate students to choose to come to class even when it’s inconvenient?
  • How do we encourage students to think critically?
  • How do we change the question from ‘will this be on the test?’ to how will I use this in my life and career?
  • How do we help students discover their passion, their personal ‘why?’ in order to enter careers they will enjoy?

When I take this same thinking into the workplace, the follow up ‘how’ questions become:

  • How do we motivate employees to be more engaged…to take more ownership?
  • How do we create environments that encourage critical thinking?
  • How do we help employees connect what they do at work with why they do it?
  • How do we help employees realize their greatest contribution?

What do you think?

Author Daniel Pink believes it has a lot to do with autonomy; you may want to get your hands on his book ‘Drive’. Lots of ‘hmmm moments’ to probe and ponder.

Climb the steps…open the door!

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Santorini Door
Through the door…

I have just discovered that I have a fascination with steps and doors. We were looking through vacation pictures from Greece for the purpose of choosing five to print off and create a vacation memory wall…and it hit me! So many of the shots I had were of steps, stairs, and doors! Many of the doors led into private homes…each a different, vibrant colour. One particular door in Santorini actually let us access the descending steps that led to our vacation cliff home! When we opened the door, not only did we see the red clay winding steps, but we were also treated to the most amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea…breathtaking!

Perhaps my fascination with doors and steps has something to do with wondering where they lead. You can imagine the frustration when I came across locked doors, blocked steps, and ‘do not enter’ signs!

...down the steps...
…down the steps…

Does this reflect some of our approaches to training and development? Maybe.

I think it starts with our kids. We want them to grow, to be curious, to explore, to learn, but then hear ourselves say things like ‘don’t touch’, or ‘just do as I say’, or ‘hurry up!’. Moving on to formal education and the structure set in place that dictates the how and when of learning; Sir Ken Robinson has much to say on that front! Check out his blog at http://www.sirkenrobinson.com . Are we allowing time for exploration born out of curiosity, or do textbooks dictate the schedule and content?

Then we finally get the job. On the website we have read that the organization we have joined not only supports and encourages training and development, but places a high value on employees taking initiate for their own growth. Up the steps, hand on the doorknob, but it’s locked…this stated value is just that, stated, not actual. In fact you eventually discover that the first budget line to be cut when difficult times hit is professional development.

So what do you do? Throw your hands up and give up?

Not a chance…you take responsibility for your own development. It doesn’t have to come with a big price tag…be creative in your search for learning. Find a mentor, read a book, subscribe to the blog of someone who is a few steps ahead of you in their career, participate in webinars, and if the budget allows…continue your formal education. Another way to develop? Mentor someone…it’s amazing how much you learn when you are building into someone else.

…enjoy the view!

Next time you see an interesting door, or a staircase that leads to ….? Go through it, climb it, see what’s there, take time to probe and ponder what you find.