The Participant’s Shoes

November 21, 2012 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools |


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Make your face-to-face meetings more learner-centered to foster stronger commitment and greater learning. Networks’ face-to-face meetings are a great opportunities for learning. What does it need to make it a learning happening? How do adults learn? What are the key ingredients to be taken into account already at the planning stage?

By Nadia von Holzen, SDC

The driving forces of any network’s face-to-face meeting are the people and the purpose; WHY and WITH WHOM the event is organized. In the last week blog post on “Guiding questions that matter for preparing the next face-to-face network event” we reflected about the importance of getting the purpose clear.

The following key ingredients might be of help while planning a learning event.

The people joining are the “stars of the event” (Jeff Hurt). But who are they? What knowledge, experiences and expertise do they bring in? Where do they stand and what can you do for them as event organizer?
As learning event organizers, we have to view the event through the lens of the participants to make it learner-centered (and avoid the risk to make it speaker-centered or content-centered). A great tool to step into the shoes of the participants is the Empathy Map.

In the age of online libraries, Wikipedia and other great online platforms, adult learning is definitely no longer focused on information delivery. Learning is collaborative; something we do ourselves (Harold Jarche: “What is learning’s role?”). Learning and knowing are an act; an act of sense making and interpretation.
As learning event organizers, we want to stimulate discussions, in-depth reflection, joint creation of meaning, prototyping.

To strengthen the engagement and commitment and to create ownership for solution finding the participant or adult learner needs to see “the whole elephant” (see the story of “the whole elephant” as a valuable  insights on working with the whole system here). In Malcolm Knowles (the father of adult learning or andragogy), words: “Adults need to know the reason for learning something”.
As organizers, we need to build bridges and put the learning event in relation with previous networking meetings and activities, as well as with activities and processes of the wider organization.

The transfer of learning is key for the learning event’s success. How do we facilitate the transfer of insights into programmes and policy work to find faster, better, smarter solutions, to strengthen thematic quality and to foster new ways of approaching challenges? Once more Malcolm Knowles: “Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation)”. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation). Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives(Readiness).
As organizers we increase the relevance and the learning benefit by anchoring the reflections in the participant’s practice. And by asking always again: What does this all mean for SDC programmes?

It becomes clear that the programming of a learning event matters. A good agenda is not developed by putting topics together and assigning key speakers; in the contrary. The success of the programme is largely defined BEFORE the event, by a careful and well thought planning process and by the design. “It is crucial also to think about when to do what, to give the event an inherent structure and flow, and a thread that guides participants from one phase to the next – working (and learning) step by step to create a logical structure which targets precisely the purpose of the event” (Mark Steinlin and Catherine Widrig Jenkins).

What matters in your experience most to really foster learning? What do we have to take into account while planning learning events?
We are curious to learn from your point of view!

Further reading:

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