Most of what I know about learning and development, I learned from 10th graders

March 5, 2015 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Meetings, Preparation, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

A_TEACHER_TALKS_TO_HIS_STUDENTS_IN_A_CLASSROOM_AT_CATHEDRAL_HIGH_SCHOOL_IN_NEW_ULM,_MINNESOTA._THE_TOWN_IS_A_COUNTY..._-_NARA_-_558210I often make the comment in workshops—especially when the class is for internal trainers or SMEs preparing to lead their own workshops—that the best teacher-training I ever received occurred at my first job, the three years I worked as a high school English teacher. No group of learners of any age or occupation is more brutally honest. No group has been more willing to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong in the moment as a classroom full of 15-year-olds. It was a humbling and great experience.

I know the Learning and Development field makes a clear distinction between child learners and adult learners (pedagogy vs. andragogy), and I won’t go into my concerns about those distinctions here. But I will say that what I learned in the high school classroom about what learners want and need from teachers is absolutely relevant for adults.

Here’s a breakdown.

1. They don’t want to be there.
High school English students don’t care about what you are there to teach, and they have no problem letting you know it. Some might acknowledge the benefit of knowing how to write clearly. Some might like to read. Some of them might even like to write. But from their perspective, those activities aren’t what sitting in class every day is about. Being in class every day was about the drudgery of secondary education.

I learned to respect this attitude as an honest, reasonable response to their circumstance. To do otherwise would be to assume that every student walked into my classroom ready, willing, and excited to learn. Which is absurd.

Business application: Business people are in a similar situation. Sometimes this has to do with questioning the need for what they are about to learn or the manner in which it is going to be delivered. It’s important to remember that they are also being taken away from their regular jobs to participate in training. As learning and development professionals, we must anticipate resistance and do all we can to be as efficient and relevant as possible. Remember: training is not a gift everyone wants. It’s work that takes people away from what they consider their real work.

2. Be very careful when asking for any type of activity or interaction.
I learned very quickly that the variety of teaching methods I had been taught to use—group activities, games, any type of self-directed work, all meant to enhance learning—were land mines. Sometimes this simply meant the students refused to take the exercise seriously. At other times, the class exploded in fits of reckless disregard for whatever I was asking them to do.

I learned that there are two reasons for this.

“Why should I bother?”
It is best to assume that asking students to participate directly in any way—from answering a question to participating in an activity—is an infringement on what they consider their right to sit silently at their desks. Active participation is work. Recognizing this is essential. There must always be a benefit for participation that is relevant for them.

“Is this going to put me at risk in front of my peers?”
For a 15-year-old, the biggest risk they face is embarrassment in front of peers. Think back to when you were that age. Most of your energy was probably channeled toward keeping up whatever appearance you chose to project. So anything you ask students to do in class that will set them apart, embarrass them, or make them look bad to others must be avoided.

Business application: When it comes to the things we ask learners to do in a workshop, are adults any different from the 10th graders? As we age do we somehow become more willing to suck it up and make the effort in the classroom? More willing to face embarrassment? I don’t think so. We’re just better at hiding our frustration and fear. Again, it comes down to relevance and efficiency. Will this activity, from an icebreaker to a table discussion, help me do my job? Will it be an efficient use of my time? If not, throw it out.

3. They expect you to be in charge and do your job.
Needless to say, the relationship between teacher and student is complicated. On one hand, sophomores want to be treated fairly and with respect. At 15, they are the center of each of their universes, so it’s important to keep their perspective in mind. On the other hand, they want you to lead them. They know that you are the one in charge, and they want you to act like it. This doesn’t mean that the teacher should rule with an iron fist, of course. It means that students know that things will go a lot more smoothly for them if you take the reins.

This was one of the most difficult things I had to learn because it involves an unspoken agreement. No student will ever say, “Please take charge. Please be the manager and leader this class needs.” But if they feel you have dropped the ball, you will know it. Every day in every class I learned that the first thing my students wanted me to do was take control—in spite of the fact that they themselves were the ones always struggling for control themselves.

Business application: For learning and development professionals this has to do with communicating that whatever you are about to do in the classroom is going to be managed well–you are not going to waste their time and you are not going to make them work harder than they have to. This is the “process goal” we talk about in our presentation skills workshops. When we apply it to trainers, it means that learners are more likely to buy into the training you’re delivering if they feel they can trust you. When they do, you will create the conditions for learning to take place.

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dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorI didn’t last very long in the high school classroom. Leaving, though, was not about the students or their attitudes. Working with them was the best part of the job, and what they taught me has served me well ever since.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

How Do You Want to be Perceived?

October 21, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg_owen-boger_hi-res_colorAs Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, this is an important question to ask ourselves. Just how DO we, as an industry, want to be perceived?

Almost every workshop we conduct and speaking engagement we lead starts with a group discussion around this question. Answers are charted and discussed. Once the chart is hung on the wall for all to see, we can start to look at ourselves through this lens and identify two things:

  1. What are we doing to support this hoped-for perception?
  2. What are we doing that’s preventing us from reaching it?

Here’s an example: I recently presented a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” to a group of highly engaged learning professionals at a local ASTD chapter. The chart we made included a lot of great words, but the two that spoke the loudest to this group were “respected” and “relevant.”

Our conversation that day eventually turned to the use of icebreakers. The group was fairly evenly split. Some love icebreakers, others don’t. There was passion on both sides of the argument. Eventually I asked the group if the use of icebreakers supported their goals of being respected and relevant.

“No.”

“Yes.”

Eventually someone said, “Only if the icebreaker supports the learning and is relevant to the group.” Finally the group was in agreement.

When we work with trainers and instructional designers, we encourage them to scrutinize everything. Every module, everything they do and say, every exercise and facilitated discussion needs to support their goals. If they don’t, they should be tossed out or restructured.

Making these changes is a difficult thing for people to do. It’s hard to let go of long-held beliefs, habits, and industry trends, but it’s a necessary thing.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Melt the Icebreakers Already

June 18, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg 200x300I have had the pleasure to present a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” for several ASTD chapters this year. It’s designed for an audience of trainers and those who coach trainers and SMEs.

A common discussion that comes up during this session is around the use of icebreakers and energizers that our industry has become so fond of. (Just google “ASTD icebreakers” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some people in our industry love them. Some don’t.

During the session I make the case that if we, as Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, want to be respected, we need to value learners’ time. One way we can do that is to not waste it with silly and irrelevant icebreakers.

There’s one particularly awful icebreaker that I’ve suffered several times at conferences. People are to pair up and spend 10 seconds looking at each other. They are then told to turn away from each other and change 5 things about them. For example, move a ring to another finger, take off a jacket, and so on. Then they are instructed to turn back to each other and discover what has changed about their partner.

The point? Change is hard. And here’s the thing: we’re adults, we know change is hard. So how might we make that point quicker? I’d say something like “I think we can all agree that change is hard.”

I suppose I could agree that we need to lighten the mood once in a while. I could also agree that we need to energize learners from time to time. But, as a learner, if you ask me to do irrelevant and/or embarrassing things such as laughing yoga, sharing my favorite Christmas gift as a kid, tell you something unusual about myself, do jumping jacks while yelling “ha,” or recite a nursery rhyme multiple times using different voices and inflection, I may do what I’ve seen others do in these very common situations:

  • Sit there with my arms crossed
  • Roll my eyes
  • Check my phone
  • Walk out

I might also:

  • Question your judgment
  • Think twice before attending another session with you

So, what are better ways to lighten the mood, energize learners, and earn their respect?

  • Explain why they’re there, what they’ll learn, and how to apply it to their jobs. Do this first thing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. Remember: they are not blank slates.
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for not wasting their time.
  • Send them on a break.
  • Listen fearlessly to their ideas.
  • Connect dots.
  • Respect their differing points of view.
  • End early.

There’s always at least one person in each session who will defend their use of icebreakers by saying that they only choose ones that are relevant to the training content. OK, I’ll go along with that as long as the activity doesn’t waste time or make people feel awkward in front of their peers. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve seen don’t meet those criteria.

So, what are your thoughts? Are icebreakers ever OK with you? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

I need to warm up my audience. What sort of icebreaker should I use?

July 3, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Introduction, Presentation, Video

In this video blog, Dale discusses icebreakers and the best way to use them to benefit your audience.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication