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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0037| January 22, 2002
7,700 Subscribers


Group Awareness &
Management
Skill

We Learn Best by Doing

Facilitate learning with "experiences" whenever possible.


Principles

As teachers and trainers, you've probably noticed that people really learn better through "experience" than by simply listening to talk about theory or practice. For almost any situation, you can develop an experience to either instruct or model the learning you're trying to facilitate.

For instance, if a group wants to improve the way it solve problems, you can give them a problem and observe their problem-solving process. Debriefing this will tell you, and them, volumes about why they are or aren't having success solving other problems.

If they have teamwork problems, get them doing something in groups and debrief their process of working together. How a group works together will show up in anything they do together, dysfunctional patterns and all.

If you want to help a group learn to communicate better, why not get them to communicate with each other about something relevant to them, then help them discover what works and what doesn't about their communication style. They'll learn much more about communication theory AFTER they've found holes in their own process.

Breaking Through to the Core

The idea of kicking off a learning segment with an experience or exercise is further validated by the work of Reldan S. Nadler and John L. Luckner in their book, "Processing The Adventure Experience: Theory and Practice." In this book, the authors discuss the value of inducing a state of disequilibrium--a state of internal conflict resulting from a mismatch between old ways of thinking and new information--that provides motivation for an individual to make personal changes. "By involving one in an experience that is beyond one's comfort zone, individuals are forced to integrate new knowledge or reshape existent perceptions. This is the basis for accelerating and promoting change into a persons' life."

They go on to speak about learning and anxiety, "There is a direct relationship between learning and anxiety. In the psychological literature many authors call this change condition different things. Alfred Bandura called it "emotional arousal," Fritz Perls called it "frustration," and Illya Prigogine called it "chaos or fluctuations." Anxiety causes people to get out of their comfort zone and use new behaviors to lessen the anxiety. This process breaks through the wall of defenses (denial, super responsibility, anger, humor, perfectionism, intellectualization, aggression, charming, control, blaming, denial) to the core feeling (inadequacy, loneliness, rejection, hurt, love, fear, embarrassment, helplessness, sadness) and thus enhances a persons' ability to embrace change."


Application

The Experiential Learning Cycle

A learning facilitation model I've used consistently is one called the "Kolb Learning Cycle," which includes the following four-parts: 1) Experience, 2) Analyze, 3) Generalize, and 4) Apply. I find this cycle useful because it starts by providing an experience, the processing of which can elicit learning on all levels--physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual--and address the different perceptual and processing styles. Let’s review each phase of the cycle below.

1) Experience. Activities are presented first to evoke an experience that inspires later discussion around your training focus. Though the content of these activities is usually less important than the behaviors they evoke, you’ll usually increase student involvement by offering activities relevant to their learning goals, taking care to inform them of this relevance up front. For example, if a group is having problems working as a team, get them doing something in groups and debrief their process of working together. This will often induce a state of disequilibrium or internal conflict in the form of frustration, anxiety, fear, etc. as we discussed above, thus revealing the emergence of habitual operating patterns. Facilitating focus on mental and emotional reactions to the exercises provides a richer and more personally relevant spectrum of learning.

2) Analyze. As learning facilitators, we know that one's process is modeled in their action and reaction to the exercises. For example, if one tends to take the lead in an exercise, they probably tend to take the lead in life. If one tends to sabotage their success in an exercise, it's likely that they tend to sabotage their success in life as well. In other words, a person tends to "show up" the same everywhere, whether in a simple exercise or in a major life or work challenge.

At the conclusion of each activity, we give students the opportunity to reflect on and analyze their feelings, thoughts, and actions to increase awareness of their operating patterns. You’re role will be primarily to ask questions and reflect back your understanding of what they’re saying. Sometimes, journaling or small group discussions are used to assist in the self-reflection process, deepen awareness, and to involve additional senses and learning styles.

During this phase of the learning cycle, you may guide the content of the debrief by the questions you ask. Hence the same exercise may draw out different types of learning based on your line of questioning.

For example, if you do an activity that requires a group to express itself extemporaneously, your questions around presentation skills will tend to bring out learning in that arena. If you ask questions about team-building skills, you’ll bring out learning on teamwork. The key with questions is to formulate them in light of your learning goals, and while observing and listening to your students.

Here are some generic debrief questions that are almost always relevant:
Ø What did you notice about this experience?
Ø How did you feel about it?
Ø Did you notice any familiar behavioral patterns, in yourself or the group?
Ø What did you notice about your (presentation, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, etc.) skills?
Ø Where else in your life do you see this pattern?
Ø How would you approach this exercise if you had it to do over again?

By having one reflect on an experience that challenged their comfort zone, individuals may have the opportunity to integrate new knowledge or reshape existent perceptions. This is the basis for accelerating and promoting change in a person’s life.

3) Generalize. This is about making meaning from the insights gained through the experience by generalizing it to similar life experiences. This is where you can lead a discussion in the typical learning “content” while seeking to draw information and applications from the students where possible. Your role here, outside of facilitating a discussion, will be to fill information gaps and provide additional resources for students to pursue based on their interests.

4) Application. In this phase you will facilitate students’ commitments to applying what they’ve learned to their personal and/or professional lives. Here it’s often a good idea to give students a few minutes to reflect and write down a commitment and then share it with someone in the room to help solidify it. They may even seek to support each other’s accountability to accomplish their action.

Kolb Learning Theory

This learning cycle is based on the Kolb Learning Theory, which proposes that individuals have a tendency to both perceive and process information differently. The different ways of doing so are generally classified as follows:

Concrete and Abstract Perceivers

“Concrete perceivers” absorb information through direct experience, by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling, which is nicely addressed by the “Experience” portion of the learning cycle.

“Abstract perceivers,” on the other hand, take in information through analysis, observation, and thinking. They get this opportunity in the “Generalize” phase of the cycle where they can examine and share their experience, learn new theories and ideas presented by the instructor and explore new approaches that can be applied to their existing challenges and opportunities.

Active and Reflective Processors

“Active processors” make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information and can do so in the “Application” phase, where they make plans to apply their new learning to their lives.

“Reflective processors” make sense of an experience by reflecting and thinking about it. The “Analyze” phase encourages students to do just that.

Adaptive Teaching Styles. The ideas of adapting your teaching style to that of your learners is certainly not a new idea, and one most any progressive teacher or trainer will embrace. But this is not an easy thing to do. We tend to work best from our strengths and it’s sometimes difficult to work with a group of students who happen to require a teaching style that tends to lie in the shadow side of our instructional repertoire.

One of the beauties of this learning cycle is that if you learn to apply it effectively, it will automatically address all of the ways students like to perceive and process information. It will infuse life into the learning experiences you present, allow your students to bring their true selves and real lives into the classroom, and offer them to opportunity to learn from each other, the practical skills and qualities they need to be successful in their workplace and in their lives.

About the Author

Steve Davis, M.A., M.S., is an Business/Life Coach, Infoprenuer, and consultant, helping facilitators, organizational leaders, educators, trainers, coaches and consultants present themselves confidently, access their creativity, empower their under-performing groups, enhance their facilitation skills, and build their business online and offline. He also published an ebook called, "Becoming a Learning Facilitator," that takes the above material to much a greater depth. It can be accessed at www.facilitatoru.com/products.html. Also, for weekly tips and resources for leading or participating in groups, subscribe to this free weekly ezine for group workers at . Contact Steve here


Action

Your assignment this week is to examine how your approach to interventions corresponds to this model. Let us know if this model strikes a chord with you.  We'd love to hear your perspective on this important subject.  Please email your comments to us.


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About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 


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