Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swimming in the Sea of Learning Resources

I am currently working with a team focusing on biodiversity conservation and assessment to "makeover" an existing training curriculum into one even more interactive and learner-focused. As a part of this process I offered to put together a selected list of resources, from the raft of those available, that are particularly useful to me in this kind of work.

As trainers, capacity developers, learning practitioners, and facilitators we have before us a veritable sea of interesting tools, techniques, and even toys that have been developed to help make our events successful and enjoyable (yes, we have discovered a learning space where we can have fun and learn at the same time!)

Because this sea is vast, we each have our own parts that we prefer. And our selection of what we bring with us may be different every time - we might dip in and out, or we might dive deep into one area or another. It's always varied, to keep both us and our co-learners fully immersed and engaged. What follows are some of the places I go to find inspiration (many I have written about on this blog and in these cases I will link up the posts or the tag).

Of course I always approach an event from the point of view of its learning objectives. Once those are clear, how you achieve these is an exercise in building an agenda or process that will, as much as possible, bring people out of their everyday discussions into a vibrant learning zone. Try...

I use "games" frequently in my learning work, whether they are quizzes (see: Want to Learn More: Take this Quiz), experiential learning processes (see: An Appetite for Experiential Learning), or introduction games (see: An Amazing Group of People), or others. I find they help tap into the natural curiosity of learners and participants. I have written quite a bit about using games (see the tag: Games), and I frequently use the Thiagi Gamesite for ideas and for ready to use games, as well as Thiagi's books, such as this one on interactive lectures, for when you can't avoid a presentation. I adapt games, create new ones (see: Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic: The dryer the better), and get ideas from other trainer's games. Brian Remer and The Firefly Group have a nice website and Games newsletter called the Firefly News Flash, for example. I also use the games of Dennis Meadows, such as Fishbanks and Strategem in my work, as well as the Systems Thinking Playbook (NB: We are writing a new Systems Thinking Playbook on Climate Change right now that should be published by GTZ in the next months.)

Discussion and Co-creation Techniques
There are so many wonderful tried and tested techniques and processes available now with which people are getting more and more comfortable (facilitators and participants). I'll list a few of these here along with some of the blog posts we've written about our learning using them. What is also intriguing, once you get really familiar with them, is to mash them up! This helps them be even more suited to the particular needs and interests of your group. Among these is Open Space Technology, developed by Harrison Owen which has a whole community (OpenSpaceWorld) of connected users (see: Opening Space for Conversation (and Eating Croissants)). We have enjoyed learning about and using World Cafes (see: Our World Cafe: Kitchen Table Conversations for Change), and this methodology has also gone global with a useful website (TheWorldCafe) full of its own tips and resources. We have built numerous Conversation Cafes - into our sessions (instead of holding them in cafes). These are slightly different than World Cafes - they are hosted and build conversations without people moving tables.

Specialisations to Add
To a good interactive learning base, you can add some special features to your event (warning: with too many it starts to become full sensory overload). The selection also depends of course on your goals and objectives. What about Storytelling (see: My Point? To Be a "Story" there Must be a Point)- story circles, featuring cases as stories, etc. Anecdote from Australia has a wonderful website showing how you can "put stories to work" and a good newsletter by the same name. Check out their learning White Papers for interesting applications and how to's. We also have a tag on Storytelling on this blog.

Improv Comedy and Theatre
I love the idea of adding Improv comedy or Theatre activities, especially if you are working in leadership, presentation, conflict resolution, teambuilding or just to spice things up and get the group thinking more creatively. I have been to a couple of Improv Theatre application workshops and have experimented with adding this to events (try to go further than role play.) (see: People Buy Adjectives). John Cremer gave an excellent workshop at last year's European IAF Conference on using Improv and his website gives more ideas about how to use it for creative thinking and presentation skills learning. If participants need to give presentations as a part of their learning event, why not start with a little interesting improv training on this?

Visual Facilitation
There is a great deal of nuance here around graphic facilitation, visualisation, graphic recording etc. which I lump together as "visual facilitation". The bottom line is that real-time visuals are created to capture the discussion and activity threads of your event. (see: Making Memories: Improving Your Impact Through Visualisation, Slam Poetry and More). We have worked with a Danish-based group called Bigger Picture, who are members of a larger, global Visual Thinking community called VizThink. We have contributed to visual murals at Society for Organizational Learning Conferences, worked with cartoonists at several IUCN events, all with great results, tapping into visual learners, and giving an extra dimension to our work. Visual facilitation works best when time is given in the session to have participants co-creating, developing personalised icons and talking through what is being visualised.

Systems Thinking
This is one of my personal passions - using systems thinking tools for learning. We have experimented a great deal in applying an approach that might initially appear to be too complicated to introduce in a short workshop. It does have a specialised vocabulary, a number of graphic tools and a set of conventions. We have a tag on this blog devoted to using systems thinking (see: Systems Thinking) which features posts on using it for strategic planning (see: Building Capacity in Systems Thinking: Want More Amplification? Don't Call it Training), and exploring ways to help learners pick it up and use it in experiential ways (see: Working With Systems Archetypes in Learning Contexts). Systems thinker Linda Booth Sweeney has an interesting site devoted to systems thinking learning and storytelling, and has developed a useful systems thinking resources room.

And So Much More
You can actually find inspiration all around you for making your learning events more meaningful, more engaging, more powerful. Look everywhere (see: When I Was a Game.) Why not do your reporting back after group work borrowing from the current trend in micro-lit? (see: Micro-Lit: Too Wordy, Try it Again or the longer Trendspotting: Micro-Lit and Other Applications) or have all your presentations time in at 6 minutes and 40 seconds because they are given as Pecha Kuchas (see: Taking the Long Elevator - 13 Tips for Great Pecha Kuchas). This great technique helps speakers get to the point by putting all of their inputs into 20 slides, auto-timed at 20 seconds each. Presentations in general can have a myriad of formats - even PPT can be replaced by Prezi (see: Preparing a Presentation? Read this Praise for Prezi) or any other number of innovations (see: The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting and Mashing for Facilitators).

Send your working groups on a walk, use the cafeteria or hallway for a session, make cool job aids (get inspired for your handouts by David Seah's Printable CEO series.) Pull one of your main presentations up into a webinar (see: Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator's Non-technical Checklist), or instead of a live speaker, find an excellent TED Talk video which presents the content in an engaging 15 minutes (see: On My Way to TEDGlobal).

Through this process you will "Learn how to speak agenda" and will be able to both design for interest and impact, and also to write up your agenda like it was a menu at a restaurant. Think of yourself as a diner, if you got this menu (agenda), would you want to eat at this restaurant (or attend this workshop?)

And Finally (although I think this beach is endless)...
A recent book by the World Bank called The Black Box of Governmental Learning, which I am reading right now (download it for free from their website), starts with an interesting history citing the progression of learning in this domain  -governmental- although I find it widely applicable from my experience. It talks about the change from expert-driven learning which is lecture-based with limited interactivity, to the newly evolving paradigm of learning with each other. The tools and techniques that I list above can help makeover a learning event from a one-way teaching model, to one where everyone jumps into the topic together.

Such a long list might seem indeed for a trainer or facilitator like jumping in at the deep end yourself, and yet you can wade slowly into this sea of interesting learning tools and techniques, until you find your own favorite place(s). Good luck! Fellow trainers and facilitators, please add your favorites in the Comments section below!


Michael Randel said...

Lots of rich ideas as usual Gillian!

One of my frequent resources when I am thinking about a new programme is the IAF's methods database - over 500 descriptions of facilitation tools and techniques, provided by other facilitators...


Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Hi Michael, Just getting back into the swim after my beach reflections! Thanks so much for the reminder about the IAF methods database, you are right that it is excellent.

Bonnie Koenig (find her on Twitter sharing on KM and NGOs) sent through a link to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit: which is being put together by a group including the KM4Dev Community So thanks to both Michael and Bonnie for those additions!