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How do you learn best?

How have you discovered the answer to my question over your years in educational systems and in training programs?

I find that I am most aware of how I learn best when I am in a situation that doesn’t meet my needs.

What about you?

When is the last time you had a stellar learning experience? What made it great? I find that when the design and delivery of the materials are masterful it can be difficult to say why, because everything comes together so beautifully.

When is the last time you had a challenging, difficult, or awful learning experience? What made it so?

THE CONTEXT

So… I feel compelled to share just a wee bit about my background and how I come to the thoughts I am sharing… It is my effort to share my lens for viewing/experiencing training programs. If you know my background, skip the next paragraph and go straight to the story.

The short of it is:

  • I am a former teacher, principal, and administrator in special education settings in New York City.
  • My doctorate is in curriculum development and my passion is the creation of engaging, learner-centered learning experiences.
  • For me, teaching and training are all about knowledge AND skill acquisition—the ability to use/act upon what has been learned.

THE STORY

For just over a month I attended an online class on a subject which I had only a little knowledge about and yet a keen interest. I knew there was a lot to learn and I was excited.

The first session was almost impossible for me to understand. Even though it was an introductory course, people had varying degrees of experience. The trainer’s approach and materials were not sufficient to work with the varying levels in the group. The second session was marginally better, in that I reviewed videos and slides to gain more knowledge—though I still had only a little idea of how to put it all together to achieve the goals of the program. In my desire to learn what I had come for, I reached out to the trainer and shared, in a forward-looking conversation, information about how I could gain more from the class. Happily, she was very responsive and changed aspects of her style for the next class. I believe a sign of her realizing that folks were struggling was her offer to add one more class to the series… I appreciated that, as it took me until session three to feel like I understood most of what was being said. And, to be clear, understanding what is being said is not the same thing as being able to use the information to do the tasks we were learning.

MY CONCLUSIONS

With these thoughts in mind, and in my effort to focus on the positive—here’s a list of what I need as a learner—

I need:

  • a trainer who has explored her/his philosophy around learning and training, and then worked to develop programming that is all about delivering content in service of the learners/learning, i.e., more than a content expert
  • a course that is appropriate for my level of knowledge and experience (as advertised)
  • to know the elements/topic areas for the entire course to understand it best—I am a “global” learner needing an overview to create the framework in which I can place the details
  • a description of what I will learn/know and be able to do, i.e., the skill(s) I will have gained by the conclusion of the course
  • an agenda for each session in the course—just a few words about the content/subjects
  • use of techniques and materials that support my learning in an online environment—the skillful use of platforms to show materials, and development of print materials that are clear, consistent, well-organized, and provide accurate information
  • to practice with what I am learning—having some “scaffolding” for my learning. For example, in the course I was taking, what are good/some correct examples, what are examples with errors and can I find the errors and correct them, then when I do the work on my own, getting informative feedback about what I did correctly and where I have room to improve… useful feedback that is actionable, not just cheerleading, “You’re doing great!”
  • an opportunity to ask questions as I am learning, not waiting until the end of a session or at the beginning of the next session
  • honesty—in some instances, “there are no wrong answers” is true. In this course, it was not, yet in an effort to encourage us to participate we were told… an untruth
  • a trainer who is aware of what’s happening in the “room” and able to adjust to the dynamics
  • requests for feedback about how participants are doing in their learning and how they are feeling about it… and the time and willingness to listen to it, at the conclusion of every session.

What do you need? How do you do your best to ensure that you get what you need?

I’d love to hear your answers!

How are you growing in your practice?

With spring in the air and shoots emerging from the cold, brown earth, my mind follows suit—I am thinking about growth and change! One of the ever-present areas of interest and practice is in honing my signature style…

What’s your signature style? What has been your journey in developing and refining it?

I think about this question in all areas of my work though I encounter it the most frequently when I am teaching visualization skills. Folks come into the bikablo courses I offer with the initial desire to learn how to do what they have seen in the books and online— literally the drawings and also the methodology which supports the development of their skills. As people progress, they want to make their work a reflection of themselves which to me, is a sign of their growing sophistication. When I’m asked about how they can develop their own style, I reflect on my journey.

What’s your foundation… what supports you? What are you building on?

I began drawing, for use in my training business, with the book, Beyond Words, by Millie Sonneman. As I remember it, she said if you can draw circles, squares, and triangles, you can draw just about anything well enough for people to recognize it. I took her at her word and started drawing on flip chart paper taped to the glass door separating my kitchen from the deck. I loved it—it was fresh, fun, expansive—it opened up another channel of communication for me.

Feeling that my initial work was good yet there was more to be learned, I started poking around online, (back in the late 1990’s) and discovered  Nancy Margulies. I studied how she created her drawings—to learn how she looked at things and started to imitate her style. Her approach was completely different than Millie’s in that she used swatches of color to create her figures. Nancy mentored me briefly and the experience moved me in a different direction—it was fantastic! I searched further and found Christina Merkley, ultimately taking courses with her for over a decade.

In 2016, I attended the IFVP conference and participated in two workshops delivered by the bikablo team of Frank Wesseler and Stefan Böker. I loved the simple approach supported by the structure and methodology—it made it easy to learn and achieve good results fast. Now almost 5 years later, I have become a Bikablo trainer. I’ve also worked hard, OK I have worked and played hard, to develop and use a style that is recognizable as mine in my work outside of teaching the Bikablo method. I have discovered that my digital work/play affords me better practice in sharpening and refining my style because it is so easy to make changes… though that is a double-edged sword because I’ve become more perfectionistic about my work with my Apple Pencil in hand.

How has repetition and persistent, consistent, practice helped you to evolve? In what ways, and in what situations, are you developing your signature style?

Here are a few examples of my own style over the past year or so… as you can see I am still “on the move” incorporating new ways of drawing, using color, experimenting with layouts, and lettering. It’s such fun!

How are you saying, “Yes!” to change and growth in your visualization practice?

If your future visualizing work could be any way you wanted it to be, what would it be? Maybe you’re all set with your signature style of drawing figures, icons, and graphical elements—maybe layout, new uses of color, or lettering are what’s up for you. Or maybe, there’s some other aspect of your work that you want to explore?

How will you be the agent of your own change?

If you’re looking for personalized support along the way, a partner on this journey, let’s have a cuppa coffee (or tea) and conversation over Zoom…

And, if you’re seeking a group coaching environment, to learn from others too, e-xtraklasse starts next week— I’d love to have you join this small coaching program that focuses on deepening your skills. Learn more here, reach out to me with your questions, and register here.

Searching My Treasure Chest for Gems!

When’s the last time you had the opportunity to re-discover a delightful aspect of your work?

Last night was ATDNYC’s Volunteer Connection &  Happy Hour—what fun we had!

I offered to develop an interactive activity that would introduce folks to each other. It’s been a while since I’ve kicked off an event with more than a well-crafted check-in question. I do love my check-in questions yet I wanted to provide a deeper experience. A few different ideas came to mind and then, I had it!

Several years ago, I crafted a networking activity for the inaugural event of the Women’s Leadership Center of the American Management Association. I suggested a storytelling and storycatching experience, in which the women created their own fairytales to introduce themselves and to learn about their colleagues. (A story catcher is a listener with a special intention—who illuminates the gifts and attributes of the storyteller. As listeners, we can become a force for deepening relationships.) The experience was a smashing success.

How often do you make the time to scan the landscape of your past and polish off a gem for a new use?

So I dove back into my materials and created a new fairytale to share as an example. Materials were sent in advance, just in case folks wanted to think about the story they would quickly create during the activity. I had just a few minutes before the meeting to draw a visual capturing the essence of the fairytale—the past, coming to a crossroads, and making a choice. The event arrived and I set the stage by talking about storytelling and story catching, helped participants understand the tasks, and then prepared them for the fun by reading my colleague’s poem, Once upon a time…

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, she said, is a very good place to start.

It takes you very far away, yet stays close to the heart

Of things that were and things that are, both difficult and true

And yet, if you can look this way, they seem outside of you.

 

Start right at the beginning, when someone gave you birth

And tell a bit about the frame of sadness or of mirth

Did you come into a castle, a village or a shack?

Did you have everything you need or did you live with lack?

 

What were those gifts, given there, that stayed with you since then?

What have you used, what have you left, what have you to befriend?

What was it in your character, your nature or your play

That pulled you to the centre or made you stay away?

 

Of course a child, must grow up soon and leave the family home

So did you find a place to be or take to the world and roam?

What were the challenges you met, what was the love you found?

Where was the world a swampy mess and where was solid ground?

 

What lessons still remain in you, what have you had to shed

That makes you who you are today, with all the life you’ve led?

What brought you to the crossroads, the place where you now stand

And by what name are they called, that place of sacred land?

 

Who stands there now to challenge you, what message have they brought,

About that which now could lie ahead, the calling that you’ve sought?

So take courage first, and take a breath and then pick up your pen

And craft a story for us now, the journey can begin…

 

Mary Alice Arthur

30 April 2011

 

It was awesome! I had a partner too and discovered so much more about her in the few minutes she shared her story that I had learned over the last half-year we’d known each other. Several of the participants spoke about the experience and others wrote about it in the chat…

“I loved listening and learning about my partner in this creative, fun way. You could learn about the person in a deeper way through this storytelling format.”

“We learned so much more than in a typical intro!”

I closed the activity with the thought that we are the authors of our stories… let’s be sure to write the ones we want.

 

What activities have you created over the years to amplify the experiential nature of the events you design?

What are some of the best experiences you’ve had as a facilitator, trainer, or participant? I’m guessing that you have your own treasure chest full of ideas, and just a few might have been buried for a while. Time to polish those gems and share them!

If you’re seeking to get more in touch with your story, or have a desire to start a new page (so to speak), let’s get together!

Enjoying the Journey

What was your last big project? Take a moment to bask in the memories. As you reflect on your experience, what was the high point and what insights do you have now? How has what you learned influenced your work?

Context for the Queries

Just last week I completed a long-term project for my Appreciative Inquiry facilitator certification. Re-living (through reading my notes, emails, documents, and reviewing recordings of the meetings), reflecting on all the aspects of the experiences, and creating the final report was a significant endeavor.

As I was finishing up, I happened to say to my daughter with a chuckle, “I made this harder than it needed to be.” And, I felt just fine about it! I was reminded of my Signature Strength of Creativity  (from the VIA Signature Strengths Test)—how it excites and energizes me, pushing me into new and different experiences. And, how it is my greatest challenge, while I love to continue being generative, truth be told, there is a time to say, “Done!”

Have you ever done that—embrace a project so completely that you devote more time than you anticipated? How long does it take you to realize that you have gone down that rabbit hole? What is your thought process in assessing if you want to continue in that way? Upon completion and reflection, did you think it was time well spent? Of course, the answers may vary depending on the project.

I discovered, in creating my final report, that I wanted to create a visual story of the process. In itself, creating multi-panel stories is not a new idea for me, though I usually use markers and paper or my iPad. This time, having worked with Miro (the online collaborative space) for over 10 months now, I took a deep dive into it—expanding my skills through extensive experimentation. I had an initial plan and it grew into a fun and challenging endeavor.

Here’s one of the 14 panels I created to share the project—its conception,

The time and energy I devoted to designing and developing the online presentation of the project has led me to savor that aspect of the experience. It’s something I would never have expected—what fun!

What do you continue to learn about yourself? How are you continuing to grow? I’d love to know!

Creating Greater Connection with More Time… Part 2

In seeking to mine for more gold from my various recent experiences with Deep Dive into You (with my colleague/buddy Heather Martinez), the Agile MeetUp groups, the audiences in my Zentangle classes, and a recent meeting with colleagues, I am drawn to thinking more about time, environment, and connection.

Sebene Selassie’s book, You Belong, is also top of mind for me. She writes about reclaiming connection. I wonder about the dynamics of connection/feelings of belonging and their impact on people’s experiences. There are so many ideas and practices in her book that I want to reflect on further and experiment with in my sessions.

In reading, Say What You Mean, Jay Oren Sofer’s book, I am also reminded to create the time and mental space for myself to consider Relational Awareness. It’s “the capacity to include both you and me, the external and the internal, balancing our attention in a dynamic way.” (p. 50)

  • How can I create (and model) more relational awareness?
  • How will I help participants gain greater awareness too?

I believe that knowing and planning for each of these factors alone,

  • time
  • connection
  • audience members relationship with each other
  • setting/occasion

is insufficient. Having two of these variables, or even three working in concert doesn’t “guarantee” a great experience… the more I think about it, having great information about all of them doesn’t promise a stellar experience either. The variables of structure, content, and processes —the design of the experience—and the facilitator’s skills—need to be added to the mix. In my experience, the folks that work effectively with all the ingredients of the recipe, to create the alchemy, are few and far between. There are plenty of folks who can manage one, two, or three aspects of the experience… it’s just not enought.

What’s your experience?

When you connect with your heart and your mind, and reflect on your most meaningful experiences in groups, as the facilitator or as a participant, what are variables matter most? What is your recipe for spectacular deliveries? I’d love to hear about it!