All good experiences have a journey to it. That is true for your favourite movie or book, where the heroine goes from insecure and reluctant to brave and genius. The impact of the challenges and the support of companions along the way is essential for this. Same goes for a day in a theme park, where you go from the idea and planning to a fantastic memory.
I approach the planning of educational activities in the same way. That is not just true for the overall process but especially for the phase where I translate objectives and outcomes into a general draft schedule.
In the first part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I took you through the steps necessary to define killer objectives and outcomes. Check the post out for more information! In short, you need to focus on keeping your objectives as specific, achievable and realistic as possible. It will not help you to set some wage goal like ‘participants will look at different mindsets’. Better is something like ‘participants explore how four different mindsets are affecting a person’s personal development during adolescence’. That gives you actual guidance for further development. Also, your client understands if you are walking in the right direction.
Once you have hammered that out, you need to look at the transformation you want the learner to go through. What is the learning journey you want to design? Who are they going into the activity and who are they going out? What experiences and challenges will support them along the way? Where do you want them to start working and towards what?
I approach this process through different lenses. Those depend on the context and content of the educational activity and the target group of participants. Is the content either entirely theoretical or skill-based, I would see how I can logically connect the learning outcomes and objectives. When the activity is more about self- or topic-exploration, or the participants are non-experts, I would go down the road of participant or topic development. Of course, you can reverse or mix the approaches too.
Let’s look at these two approaches using an example:
We are planning a training on climate change and its social impacts. It will consist of eight sessions, and the participants are youth activists that work on a local level with displaced people.
As learning outcomes, you have formulated the following:
- Participants explore the social impact of climate change.
- Participants can articulate the connection between this impact to displacement.
As objective you set:
- During the training, participants gain knowledge regarding the effects of climate change in rural communities in the global south.
- Participants develop displacement profiles through case studies.
- Participants explore the connection between climate change and displacement.
- Participants learn about reasons for displacement by building on each other’s expertise.
- Participants present the social dimension of climate change to stakeholders in the decision-making process.
The objective approach
So, building the learning journey from the objectives is a quite straightforward process. First, I check if any objectives need to be achieved before others as they are relying on each other. Looking at our example, I would tackle objectives 1, 2 and 4 before 3 and 3 before 5.
Next, I evaluate the objectives looking at the group process. Objectives like number 4 would come before number 2. Both look at reasons for displacement, but 4 includes sharing personal perspectives. That helps the group grow together as it gives them a meaningful space to connect while initiating a work process. This gives me the following order: 4 – 2 – 3 – 5
As objectives 1 tackles a different topic than 4 and 2, it could go before or after. In this case, I would schedule it afterwards, to have the personal exchange at the very beginning. So my final order is 4, 2, 1, 3 and 5.
The development approach
Working on the learning journey through the lens of development is almost like drafting a narrative. I start by defining my protagonist, the learner. In our example, these are youth activists that work with displaced people on a local level. That tells me that they will already have a political opinion on the topic and personalised expertise regarding displacement. They might carry frustrations and trauma with them, and their approach to the issue might be more localised and reactive.
Next, I would decide the flow of my story. Do I want it to go from micro to macro or the other way around? The example gives us ‘personal and general’, ‘local and global’ and ‘practical and theoretical’ as possible pairs. Before I make the final decision, I would have a look objective if I can recognise a pattern regarding these pairs. For me, the objective 5 is deciding. As it involves stakeholders ‘local and global’ makes more sense. The order depends on the kind of stakeholders and on which level they are included in the decision-making process. Let’s assume that they are stakeholders on the municipality level. As also the participants are working in localised realities, my proposal for the flow would take the pattern of ‘local – global-local’.
My narrative for the learning journal would be: Participants work on reasons for displacement starting from their own experience on the local level. Next, they are taking it to the global level, generalise it and add the impact of climate change to their perspective. They close the activity by bringing it back to the local level and formulate the tangible effect it has in their municipalities.
In this example, both approaches let to a similar learning journey, but that is not always the case. I personally prefer the second approach as it really starts with the participants. As I am coming from non-formal education, it is the most crucial aspect in the development of educational activities to put the participants at the heart of it.
The Learner’s Journey
A third approach goes even one step further in this direction. This one is developed by a friend of mine, Bastian Küntzel over at Incontro. He recently published a book called ‘The Learner’s Journey – Storytelling as design principle to create powerful learning experiences’, in which he uses the hero’s journey as a core tool. The heroes journey is a model that is used in scriptwriting for movies since the 1990s but can be found in stories dating back to ancient Greece. I will write an in-depth post just focussing on this model another time and get Bastian on board for a Q&A.
Risks & traps
What are the risks when it comes to designing educational activities this way? I think the most significant threat is to get stuck in this stage. Sometimes the wish to find the perfect narrative keeps me from moving on. Also, you need to make sure to consider all aspects – participants, objectives, learning outcomes, client, and so on. And finally, be aware that you need to be flexible with the narrative once you facilitate. There is nothing worth than insisting on your design even though the group needs you to adapt and find another way.
- If you facilitate a multi-day event, give every day a theme and work from there.
- Once you are done, check in with your objectives. Did you cover everything? Are you able to refine some of them or even add one because you include more?
- If your client still needs to publish a call for participants, draft your learning journey as a story to attract applicants with it.
So, what do you think about this step in planning a training? Do you have a different approach or a question? Leave me a comment below. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!
In the next part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I will show you how I work the actual content into the learning journey. Stay tuned!