Creating Stellar Experiences for Learning!

When is the last time you devoted your precious time, energy, and resources to attend a retreat, conference, or meeting? How’d it go for you? What did you learn along the way and in reflection after the event?

Earlier this month, I participated in a story-prototyping lab—Friday evening to Sunday evening—that’s a big commitment! It’s an aspect of my work that I enjoy yet it’s not central to what I do. I was intrigued with the opportunity to meet folks in different fields—film, graphic design, illustrators, cartoonists, advertising, marketing—and to use our collective skills to create an original visual narrative work. I also wanted to discover if there were synergies between the various fields and mine, and to sharpen my story-making skills with some well-known names in the field.

The way the event rolled out made me pause and reflect on all the conferences, meetings, and retreats I have attended this year. My musings ran far and wide! They included:

  • Are good intentions enough?
  • Does being respected in a field as a practitioner translate to running an event?
  • What does success look like for all who are involved—designers of the experience, hosts, participants?
  • Are the various parties involved (designers, hosts and participants) clear about the purpose, goals and objectives of the event?
  • Do participants hail from various fields with different ways of interacting? (I experienced that over the weekend—yikes!)
  • How do I suss out the implementation plans for the program in advance of signing up? Am I about to engage in a content-driven experience (a sea of slides with a few activities thrown in or be dazzled by a series of talking heads) in which the presentations are more important than my understanding and use of the material? Or, will I have to opportunity to digest the material and use it practically?
  • Do the hosts/facilitators/trainers now how to create a space for learning—a container with hosts and participants who understand that in gaining new knowledge, skills and attitudes, there will be disequilibrium, differing points of view, possibly conflict, and the need for respect and possibly collaboration?
  • What is the ebb and flow of learning throughout the event, regardless of the duration? (And, multi-day events require more planning.) Will participants have time to reflect and plan for integration of their learning and experiences?
  • If experts are a part of the design, how is their knowledge being leveraged? What guidance do they need to fulfill their roles successfully and what do learners need to make the best use of the resources available?

As I think about creating multi-day retreats at special destinations in 2020, I am integrating all that I’ve learned from the gatherings that I’ve attended this year. My vision of hosting is one of servant leadership—my goal is to craft experiences that put learners and learning first. I will

  • design and develop experiences with a clear purpose, goals, and objectives, using the lenses of the various stakeholders
  • ensure the usefulness of the content learned to the achievement of the tasks to be learned
  • offer and send materials about the content, activities, and logistics, with prework (with sufficient time for completion), in advance of the gatherings,
  • provide materials for note-making in the welcome materials/before people need them
  • introduce our time together by referencing the creation of a safe container for our work, with attention to checking in with how we are showing up in that moment, asking for people’s expectations, and feeling the energy in the room
  • create early and ongoing engagement in collaborative activities, even if the individuals involved don’t need to work as a team
  • use principles of human learning to guide our schedules so that we maintain our energy and can do our best work
  • be sensitive to the highs and the lows of true learning and nurture eustress—the positive, anticipation of engaging in exciting and appropriately challenging work

I am feeling the creation of a manifesto looming… I’ll share it in the new year!

What’s your thinking? In your perfect world, what would you create? I’d love to know!

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