Still looking for ways to engage people during virtual meetings and training sessions?

Just last week, two things happened to make me realize that even though Covid-related lockdowns began in March 2020 (leading to a complete shift from in-person to virtual meetings and training sessions), there are a lot of people who still aren’t quite sure how best to leverage virtual technologies to engage people.

First, someone who I used to co-facilitate training with reached out and asked if I had a lesson plan template and some best practices for how to engage people virtually. Second, there was an article in the Washington Post last week entitled: Workers are putting on pants to return to the office only to be on Zoom all day.

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A Conversation with Dialogue Education Pioneer Jane Vella (Part 2)

Have you ever had a chance to talk with someone so fascinating that you hoped the conversation would never end?

That happened to me when I had a chance to talk with Jane Vella. On the verge of her 90th birthday, she’s as energetic as ever and her book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach has been the most influential treatise on learning design that I’ve ever read.

While I find the principles of dialogue education to be important when designing training programs, we left our conversation at the end of Part 1 of this podcast when I posed a question to her, asking if dialogue education was ever not an appropriate approach to learning design.

Here in Part 2 of this podcast, we hear her answer to that question and several others.

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A Conversation with Dialogue Education Pioneer Jane Vella

If you were interested in the NBA and wanted to talk with one of the most influential players ever to play, with whom would you talk? Michael Jordan?

What about if you wanted to talk with a legendary recording artist who changed the face of music, with whom would you talk? Paul McCartney?

I recently had an opportunity to talk with a legend in the field of education whose concept of Dialogue Education built upon her mentor, Malcolm Knowles‘, theory of Adult Learning to further transform the world of learning: Jane Vella. While this is a longer conversation than our typical Train Like You Listen episode – and has been split into 2 parts (part 2 is here), I hope you’ll indulge me and spend some time listening to (or reading) this conversation with someone whose work has influenced every corner of every training program I’ve developed (or written about on my blog) since I learned about Dialogue Education in 2007.

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Dialogue Education: Arguably the most important offshoot of adult learning theory

In 2007, I moved across the country with a 2-month old child and began a new adventure in Seattle with my first training director role.

Digging into the organization’s existing training program, I pulled out my red pen and began scanning the facilitator guide, ready to make an immediate impact and improve a training program that was being used by 70,000 people across the country.

Much to my chagrin, I didn’t find much to improve. Someone before me had rooted out all the learning objectives that had the audacity to begin with verbs such as “know” or “understand”. Each topic had a logical sequence and flow of activities. The program was extremely engaging.

How in the world was this possible without my leadership and guidance?

It turned out that this program was designed with the principles of what Jane Vella termed “dialogue education“. Whatever this dialogue education was, it seemed that this Jane Vella character laid out principles of learning and education that were like none other I’d ever seen.

I’m not a big fan of “you should’s”, because everyone has their own circumstances and situations and what works for me may not work for you. However, in this case, if you’re unfamiliar with Jane Vella’s work or the principles of dialogue education, you ought to make sure you’re incorporating these principles into your training design.

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One Word all L&D Professionals Must Take to Heart

Praxis

Last week I had a chance to facilitate a presentation skills workshop. A colleague had helped me re-tool the lesson plan for the workshop and I was curious how it might turn out.

Instead of introducing a number of concepts and then asking participants to put together and facilitate a sample lesson plan, we instead introduced a lesson plan template and let people design a 15-minute lesson plan. Every 30-45 minutes we would stop participants to give them some content around adult learning, engagement strategies and how to tighten up the language they use (eliminate those uhs and uhms). Continue reading

Did Malcolm Knowles Have It Wrong?

Every once in a while, I’ll look at a post-training evaluation form and see glowing praise for a PowerPoint-based lecture.  Lecture receives a 5 out of 5 on evaluation forms?!  With feedback like that, I sometimes wonder if Malcolm Knowles knew what he was talking about.  Is the effort that goes into interactive, engaging sessions really worthwhile?

The other night, I had a 3-minute interaction with a co-worker that re-affirmed for me that Malcolm Knowles, John Dewey, Jane Vella and the rest of the adult/experiential/dialogue education crowd indeed knew a thing or two about effective educational experiences.

As we were finishing our call, she mentioned that her staff was wondering when I would be returning to facilitate another workshop.  The comment surprised me a bit.  The last time I was in India I had designed the session but it was mostly facilitated by my Indian colleagues in Hindi.  I understood little of the conversations that took place.

“Yeah, well, they want you to come back.  They still remember the towel activity.  It transcended language.”

Several months ago, I had been asked to help put together a teambuilding session for a team in India that was transitioning from a workplace culture that valued individual efforts to our workplace culture which required a substantial degree of teamwork.  We didn’t want to just talk about teamwork but we weren’t going to take everyone out to a ropes course, either.

I worked with my India-based colleagues to design a half-day workshop as a kick-off to a series of monthly sessions we would offer to this new team.  We began with an activity that required smuggling a few towels out of my hotel (the aforementioned “towel activity”).  The team had an hour-long conversation about our mission, vision and core values.  To wrap up, we gave each team member a small stick.  We asked them to break it in half.  Then we asked them to break the two halves in half.  Holding the four quarters of the stick in one hand, the team members could no longer break the sticks.  Four small pieces together were much stronger, less breakable than one individual stick.

It was flattering that they wanted me back, but I asked my co-worker for specific examples of anything that’s changed since this workshop.

“Brian, they communicate now.  They cover for each other.  In the past, if someone was working with a family in the hospital, I wouldn’t know about it for hours… if I ever found out.  Now, if someone is working with a family, someone else gives me a call and a third person sends me a text.  They’re truly working as a team.  And that’s very different.  They put your session into practice.  If it hadn’t been so interactive, I don’t think they’d have remembered.  They still have their sticks!”

Sticks2 Sticks3 Sticks1

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