September 24, 2012

Moving Participants from Passive to Active


Here's a very simple principle anyone who makes presentations or leads workshops should commit to memory:  for every segment of content, a more engaging way to present it exists.   

As a result, designing powerful learning experiences requires us to go through a simple process for each content segment of a program:
  1. brainstorm possible ways to teach it, ones that move participants from passive to active whenever possible;
  2. select one of those options as our initial planned format/teaching technique;
  3. order the content in an appropriate flow, both in terms of content and learning format; and
  4. examine the flow of the draft teaching techniques and revise as desirable.
Here's more about this process in action using a customer service workshop as an example.
What often happens, however, is a presenter focuses almost exclusively on content or teaching technique.  Design becomes an either/or activity for them instead of one involving the AND.

Great content, poorly presented, sucks the life out of participants.  This is the shortcoming of many subject matter experts presenting at association conferences.  They know their stuff, but don't really know how to engage others in learning about it any way other than talking at them.  I previously wrote about this challenge and offered some practical tips in this piece for the ASAE Professional Development newsletter.

Or a presenter gets so excited about using a teaching technique (case study, audience voting, role play) that they lost the necessary connection between content and learning format. Interesting and varied teaching techniques can initially mask weak content selections, but ultimately are like cotton candy: the good feeling dissolves and leaving nothing behind.

Calibrating the selection of appropriate content and learning formats is as much art as science, but doing so is a commitment each of us needs to make to honor the interest and attention of the learner and the process of learning.  I like how Jeff Cobb defines learning on his Mission to Learn site"Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes."

Robust content presented in ways that engage participants in active learning should be a minimum standard for success, not an aspiration only few strive to achieve.  Recalibrating both content and technique in real-time based on what's happening in a program is the new capacity we all need to develop.  Too many presenters focus on presenting information instead of facilitating learning.

If you'd like to practice this art and explore what engagement looks like for different learners, I invite you to join me for one of two rare public programs.  I'll be leading three-hour hands-on learning labs on Designing Interactive Workshops and you can learn more and register at the links listed below:
Each session is limited to 15 people so that we can really work through the design of a powerful program.  We'll design a workshop together, using key concepts and a design worksheet I provide; you'll then do a draft design for a workshop on a topic you choose; and we'll conclude with a debrief of the design process and answering any questions.   As you can see, the session is meant to be side-by-side lab time with only a little lecture.

Hope to see you there.


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