We all suffer - How to address suffering affective

We all suffer – How to address suffering affective

Some days ago, I discovered the podcast Social Distance by The Atlantic. This podcast captures conversations between the preventive medicine physician and staff writer at The Atlantik Dr James Hamblin and the executive producer of podcasts for The Atlantic Katherine Wells about different aspects of the current 2020 COVID-19 crisis. Often they are joimed by a topic expert to discuss with and learn from.

One of the first episodes I listened to was episode 21 ‘You’re Doing Great’ in which James and Katherine are joined by Lori Gottlieb, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a psychotherapist. She recently wrote a column about losing her father in the mids of a pandemic. Their conversation evolved around grief during these uncertain times at large but also very personal. 

One statement by Gottlieb resonated with me:

“Grief is the pain of loss. And it doesn’t have to be a death. It’s any kind of loss that causes you pain. People are minimizing certain losses because they feel like they aren’t valid. You’re missing your college graduation, for example. That’s a loss, and you grieve that. But it’s not the loss of a life, for example, or the loss of a job. As I always say: There’s no hierarchy of pain. There’s no hierarchy of grief. Grief is grief and loss is loss.” 

It reminded me of the many times friends apologised for sharing a problem with me. In the bare face of the death of my father, the struggles with a flatmate over the dishes or the disappointing date seem too small, too unimportant to bother me. How could they feel bad about the favourite t-shirt from that live-changing concert 15 years ago getting ruined in the laundry while I was grieving one of the most important people in my life? How could a sprained ankle that ended the participation in a dance tournament when my heart was breaking over never again seeing the man who raised me?

Similar to Gottlieb, I believe that there is no right or wrong grief, pain or suffering – no bigger or smaller. How could working towards this one dance tournament for over a year sacrificing time with family and friends being ruined just a day before it not count as a loss? Same goes for the shirt, which is so much more than a simple and replaceable textile. It is the token of the memory of the last concert they went to with their university best friend before she moved to the other side of the world.

That might sound ridiculous to you.

To help you better understand this seeming riddle, I would like to introduce to the concept of subjective vs objective suffering to you. 

In this blog post, I am referring to a concept I was taught by a disability activist some years ago. Unfortunately, we fall out of touch and to my shame, I cannot recall her name to correctly cite her here in recognition of her emotional labour. I am aware that these terms ate used similarly within Buddhist teachings and medical philosophy. Nevertheless, I have not done enough research to correctly include them here.

Let’s explain the concept of subjective vs objective suffering with an example. For that, I would like to introduce Alma and Bettel. Alma is a wheelchair user depending on assistance in many of her daily activities. Bettel struggles with chronic back pain and takes pain killers frequently. 

Looking at those two people without knowing anything else, who would you think struggles more going through life? Most of us would say, Alma, as most of our infrastructure is not accessible for wheelchair users and their life is impacted by countless stereotypes and stigma. If both would enter a room at the same time, Alma would always be identified as “different” and “in need of assistance”. In navigating or capitalist, sexist, ableist and racist society, people with visible disabilities and illnesses would encounter more discrimination and oppression – e.g. higher objective suffering.

But if we zoom into the actual daily life of these two people, we would see that Alma actually is the executive director for a nonprofit organisation, frequently travels the world and lives in a house fully adjusted to their needs. Bettel’s pain got so bad that they are on sick leave for over two months from their minimum wage job. The medication they are taking is highly addictive and harms their stomach and liver. Some days the pain is so bad they cannot get out of bed, which isolates them more and more. 

Again, who would you think struggles more going through life? Saying Alma does not feel right anymore, but how could we choose Bettel? It feels wrong to ignore all the societal and systemic factors that Alma as a wheelchair user has to fight against. But it also feels terrible to not count the real physical, psychological and financial hardship that Bettel experiences despite her societal and systemic privileges as a person passing as able-bodied.

That is where subjective suffering comes into play. Subjective suffering looks at to which degree an individuals’ life is negatively impacted through the intersection of their unique lived experience. Acknowledging Bettel’s daily pain and struggle to the degree they negatively affect their life within the framework of subjective suffering does negate the real systemic oppression Alma experiences.

Going back to my apologising friends at the beginning: Your at first sight trivial appearing everyday issues, due not get devalued because my father died. The monstrosity of experiencing grief for a parent does not mean you cannot get upset because the bus did not come, and you will be late for the coffee with a friend. 

If we encounter each other in an affectionate way in which we really see one another with all our weaknesses, we can avoid falling back into oppression Olympics where we measure each other’s struggles in better or worse terms. The pure fondness of affections allows us to be there for others facing racism in the same way we can help out a friend who needs a couch to crash on after a bad breakout. It also allows softness for your own struggles. You can cry over the loss of a pet in the same way you are raging about the endangerment of women* in refugee camps. Our lives and experiences are big enough to give space to both – subjective and objective suffering.

Thank you for taking the time out of you day. I hope it is helpful for you in navigating these uncertain times. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below. If you want me to reflect on another theory or concept reach out. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

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Give your workshop a strong backbone!

From Learning Journey to Thematic Building Blocks – Part 3 of the ‘How to Plan a Training’ series

Ever wondered how to narrow down all the content you want to cover in a seminar or training? How to use good aims and objectives to develop topics and concepts for a training? Or how to translate the learning journey in actual blocks of content that you can dedicate sessions to? If you sais yes to any of those questions, this is your blogpost! Intro

In this blog post, I will guide you through the process I use to define the Thematic Building Blocks for a training. What those are I will explain in a moment, but first I want to set the scene, where in my four-step approach to planning an educational activity we are.

In the first part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I took you through the steps necessary to define laser-sharp aims and objectives. Check the post out for more information! In short, you need to focus on keeping your objectives as specific, achievable and realistic as possible. Next, in part 2, we looked at those as the different elements for a successful learning journey you want to take you participants. Check here for more details, but in short, I offered you three different approaches to create a draft agenda. The first one was focusing on a logical order of the objectives. The second looked on the development a participant will go through during the event. And the third referred to the hero’s journey my facilitator friend Bastian Küntzel over at Incontro proposes in his book ‘The Learner’s Journey – Storytelling as design principle to create powerful learning experiences’.

Now that we have aims and objectives as well as a draft agenda, we want to combine those with the overall content of the educational activity. For that, I want to offer you the following analogy:

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Imagen the human spine. It’s an intricate system of different parts that all serve a different purpose but are all essential for us to stand, sit, walk around or do any kind of activity with our body. Same goes for the success of an educational event and the equivalent to the bones of our spine – the vertebrae – are the Thematic Building Blocks.

Those are all the different pieces of content you want to cover during an educational activity. These can be concepts and terms as well as skills or attitudes you want participants to master or reflect on. They are predefined by the aims and objectives as well as the learning journey and will give you the frame to develop the concrete sessions.

Let’s see how we can come up with them by 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 aims, we have formulated the following:

  • Participants explore the social impact of climate change.
  • Participants can articulate the connection between this impact and displacement.

As objectives we set:

  1. During the training, participants gain knowledge regarding the effects of climate change in rural communities in the global south.
  2. Participants develop displacement profiles through case studies.
  3. Participants explore the connection between climate change and displacement.
  4. Participants learn about reasons for displacement by building on each other’s expertise.
  5. Participants present the social dimension of climate change to stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The narrative of 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.

To start, I would look for keywords in both the aims and objective but also especially in the learning journey. These can be important concepts or terms which need definition or summarising titles that need to be untangled. Below you can see what I would identify for our examples:

  • Climate Change
  • Displacement
  • Local context
  • Global Context
  • Social impact
  • Rural community
  • Stakeholder

As concepts like climate change and displacement are enormously huge, I would create mindmaps to further dissect those terms and concepts – always keeping it in the context of the training focus.

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Looking at the different mindmaps, I would try to identify intersection and interesting aspects but would also start crossing out ‘irrelevant’ tangents.

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

Referring back to the learning journey I defined prior, I would attempt to arrange the different aspects in corresponding order. At this stage, I would also decide if there would be a need an adjustment in the learning journey to fit this analysis. The ‘essential’ building blocks and those specific for this educational event would be added in at this stage. 

Give your workshop a strong backbone!

These are the Thematic Building Blocks! As mentioned before they represent the general flow of the different sessions. What needs to be done now, would be to define how many sessions will be dedicated to each building block and what will be the focus (speak aims and objectives ;)) of each of the session. I usually use the same approach here as I would for the aims and objectives for the overall activity. Check out part 1 of the ‘How to Plan a Training’ series if you want to learn more about this process.

Risks & traps

Go big or go home is not the right approach here. No matter how interesting an aspect in your mindmap is if it does not fall into the scope of the activity, you have to let it go. Also, be aware that a connection that appears entirely logical to you might not work for someone else. Keep this in mind when moving from your building blocks to the methods in the next step. Participants must be able to establish these connections in how you translate down the learning journey and building blocks into the methods.

Some pro-tips

  • Keep it visual: Especially if you work in a team, it helps to establish a shared understanding of the Thematic Building Blocks if you find ways to make them visual. A simple way would be to use post-its and a whiteboard. 
  • Get a second perspective: If you working on your own, you could share your building blocks with a friend or family member to check the logic. Maybe you even have a topic expert in your network. Get their input to the mindmap – but don’t forget to narrow it down afterwards again.

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 and last part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series, I will show what I think is essential when picking the final methods for your sessions. Stay tuned!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

Who, what, why - Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

Who, what, why – Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

In my initial Training of Trainer by the International Union of Socialist Youth, our trainers put a bunch of cards on the ground. On these cards, they had written titles like ‘mother’, ‘football coach’, and ‘teacher’. They told us to choose one of them and that it would represent our identity as a trainer.

Picking one thing that defines me as a trainer? I broke a sweat and started to restlessly sort through the cards. I was looking for the title that would promise me the most diverse ways of working and approaching education. The last thing that I wanted was to be backed into the restrictive boundaries of the formal educational teacher thinking.

It did not dawn on me at that moment, was that any title would be what I made of it. I was the one deciding how to fill any role. Back then, I picked ‘older sister’ as my card. I envisioned my trainer identity to be one that cares for their participants but does not control their learning, that embraces them both lovingly and challenging.

This idea of me as a facilitator and trainer did not change a lot since 2016. What changed is that today I have a better understanding of how different each and every one of us approach their practice. Over the years, I have met and worked with many very different trainers. Thanks to their diversity, I was able to identify eleven trainer or facilitator archetypes. Each of the archetypes expanse around one aspect of the trainer-participant relationship. Once you have read through the different profiles, I show you my way of defining my very own trainer identity using these archetypes.

Coach

The Coach guides the participants through the process. They are incredible in finding the right question to ask to challenge a participant’s assumption. Their high awareness for the process and its flow makes it easy for them to adjust and think on their feet. 

But the Coach can also get into too deep. They risk focussing their attention too much on one or a few participants. They can also lose track of themselves as they are so tuned into the participants. Self-care is not their most vigorous pursuit.

Expert

The Expert trainer is in love with their topic or approach. They often come from the field or have worked on it for along time. They are a great resource to tab into while developing sessions or if participants have specific questions. Their insight can help to push participants to the next level through detailed and precise questions.

On their own, an Expert can be problematic in a participatory setting as they might be too deep into the weeds. They could take over discussions or enforce their authority by giving to much input. Their relationship to participants can be distant. Participants could even be afraid to voice their opinion if it is different than the one of the trainer.

Best Friend

The Best Friend is close to the participants and can relay to their needs and problems. They trust them and want to hang out with them in the evening or after the training. The Best Friend trainer is incredibly useful in feeling the pulse of the group and anticipate what they need next. 

But they can also be too close. The best friend might cut a team meeting short because a bunch of participants wants to grab some drinks. Even in the most non-formal setting, if the line between participant and trainer gets too blurry, it becomes hard to have all the pieces in place to put the process in motion. 

Cheerleader

The Cheerleader creates fantastic energy. They cheer the participants up, spread joy and laughter. If a group is stuck, they know just that small energiser that will help them move on and climb to new heights. It is the same energy that makes them fantastic team members. A team meeting with them feels more like a coffee date with friends. You will feel empowered by them to grow and go further.

Nevertheless, sometimes they miss the target. Cheering up for the purpose of cheering up can feel shallow. It might even allow participants to not reflect on mistakes or shortfalls. When cheering up turns into people-pleasing, it stops being constructive. Especially if there are conflicts that need to be discussed in the team, the Cheerleader in their extreme can be a stumbling block.

Controller

The Controller is always on top of the situation. They have an eye on all the things – the time, the method, the mood, the discussion, the and and and. They know how to keep things on track and make methods work.

For participants and co-trainers alike, the Controller can be a bit of a challenge. Being so focused on keeping everything in the green, they have a hard time to adapt to the flow of a session or the need of the participants. They can be perceived as distant and stressed out at times.

Accountability Buddy

The Accountability Buddy lets participants find their own way but checks in with them to keep them on track to. This type always strives for the right balance of freedom and structure. They are also an ideal partner to have in the team, as they give you your space but also hold you accountable to get shit done. Who does not need some external accountability some time? 😉

The most significant risk with the Accountability Buddy is when they don’t check-in. In that case, the loose structure of their approach falls apart. Especially with participants, it can create a feeling of been let down.

Nurturer

The Nurturer has the gift to accompany participants throughout their entire learning journey by giving them exactly the right intellectual nourishment to grow beyond themselves. Also, in the team, they often show that they know exactly what the others need and how to take care of them.

Nevertheless, even the Nurturer can overdo it. Helping participants too much or too early can stop them from putting an effort in. In the team, they can be just too much. As a consequence, individual team members might need to enforce boundaries which can lead to a conflict.

(Over)sharer

The Sharer has one really powerful tool – they lead groups through their own vulnerability. When talking about a tough topic, they don’t mind lowering the hesitance to participate through bringing a personal example. 

The Sharer becomes problematic when they overshare. Their examples can make them the main focus of the discussion instead of encouraging participants to share their own. Their personal feelings can derail a team meeting.

Method Magician

The Method Magician has – as the name says – always a method up their sleeve. Does the group discussion get stuck – they have a method. Is the brainstorming all over the place – they have a method. Is there a conflict between to groups of participants – they have a method. As a co-trainer, you can always count on the method magician to help you out when you feel stuck developing a session. 

As useful as that might sound, the Method Magician can overdo it. They can plaster sessions so full of methods that no real flow between the participants can establish. The group could also just stay on the surface of an issue because they are more focussed with understanding the next method than to reflect on the topic. Furthermore, methods can create a barrier between participant and trainer. Who would like to approach someone with a question knowing the answer will be a method instead of a personal connection.

Entertainer

The Entertainer is always ready to turn a stuffy session into a fascinating action movie. Their joyful mentality makes them super approachable for participants and a joy to work with for every educational team. They are excited to take on every energiser and lead in educational games and team building activities.

But sometimes they do not know when to dial it down. Some topics or situation need a more thoughtful and sensitive approach. It can be challenging for participants when hard issues are approached with ‘Let’s create a dance that symbolises it.’. Also for themselves, the Entertainer can at moments be too much. They can put all their energy into being on all the time and forget to take care of themselves.

Fly on the Wall

The Fly on the Wall is the most excellent observer of them all. They know precisely the right moment to step back and give space to the participants. Their strong suit is active listening. It gives participants the feeling of being heard in a really authentic and genuine way.

On the other hand, the Fly on the Wall can appear withdrawn and not really part of the process. That can make it difficult for participants to approach them. As a co-trainer, you can feel being let down by them if they are too passive.

Do you remember how I told you at the beginning that I got anxious about picking just one of the cards as my trainer identity? I would have the same feeling today if I had to pick one of the above archetypes.

The way I approach them to form my ultimate trainer identity is to look at them as scales. In myself as a trainer and facilitator, I see parts of all these archetypes manifesting themselves to a different degree. You can see my current set of the scales in the graphic below.

Who, what, why - Defining your ultimate facilitator identity

So what does that mean for my practice? I approach the archetypes as base-assessment for my professional development as a trainer and facilitator. Let’s say I want to be more supportive of my participants without making it easy for them. In the first step, I identify the archetype that relates to this skill – the Coach, Accountability Buddy, Nurturer and Cheerleader. Next, I check-in with my current set of the scale and how it presents in my practice. Finally, I formulate a goal for each of the archetype I need to improve.

I also used it in analysing my practice in retrospect after an activity. That helps me to understand what drove specific actions and how I can do it differently the next time. They can also be a useful concept when addressing specific needs among the participants. Let’s say the group is really slow to react, I might want to dip deep into my Entertainer behaviours.

How would you describe your trainer identity? Do you know other trainer archetypes? Is there a profile you want me to dive deeper in? Let me know in the comments below. 

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with your fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

P.S. Looking for more archetypes? Check out the different kinds of experts and how you can work with them here.

Turn on the right light – How to work with an expert

Have you ever been in a workshop and an expert bored you out of your mind? They had important stuff to say, but there was no process behind it? Did you maybe even wondered why they are there in the first place? That happened to all of us at least once.

As a facilitator, we sometimes have to work with experts during a learning event. Most of the time, this decision is not in our hands, but how we work with them definitely is. I am convinced if well prepared the above horror scenario can be absolutely avoided! In this IMG_0104blog post, I will present you with different types of experts you might encounter and walk you through how to work with them in different settings.

I differentiate between three types of experts. First, there is the floodlight expert that loves to be in focus and floods the participants with knowledge like the floodlight the soccer field. On the other end of the spectrum is the living room lamp expert. This expert feels awkward being in the spotlight. They prefer to shine their light from the background like the lamp behind your couch. And finally the flashlight experts. They feel comfortable navigating an educational space and know where to spot their light while leaving other aspects in the dark.

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The floodlight

The floodlight expert needs the stage. They will take up space no matter what and will speak and behave like THE expert. That might lead to the expert explaining to the participants by flooding them with facts. It also could establish their views as the only correct IMG_0107ones. This kind of expert can operate from a spot of entitlement and often is pushed on you by your client. There is the risk that this expert will take over control of the session as you might not have the ‘authority’ to set up sharp boundaries.

Working with a floodlight expert can be a challenge and has to be handled with some artfulness. Especially if the client insists on the expert. In this case, I work with the client on a clear framework for the expert’s presence. What do they add to the event? In what role will they participate? What are the power relations? After that is clarified, I would present to the client candid which processes are possible in that frame. I would also speak about what role I can take during the event to not create tensions with the expert. If the expert and their input were the main focus of the session, I would suggest that I either moderate the conversation or step back and conduct a Graphic Recording.

IMG_0101In a one-session-learning-event, there is not much more you can do than the above. It really depends on the frame the client sets. If I take the role of the moderator, I sit down with the expert beforehand to clarify the process and look at the questions I would ask. In the case of the Graphic Recording option, I would only passively participate in the session. Nevertheless, it still could be my responsibility to open and close the overall activity.

IMG_0102For a multi-session-learning-event, I often use the sessions before the expert’s input to prepare it with the participants. For that, I would look at what knowledge or attitude they need to build to interact productively. Sometimes, I even work with the learners to formulate questions, that have the potential to increase the relevancy of the input. After the presentation, I usually would debrief the session. For that, it would be best if the expert leaves after they are done. The group would have the chance to voice their opinion on the expert in a safe space and reflect on the content. That makes it easier to build on it in the remaining time.

IMG_0103I would similarly work in a multi-day-learning-event. The point in the learning journey in which the expert would join is crucial. When does it support and not interrupt the process? How can we build up towards it? If the moment depends on the schedule of the expert, I check if I need to redraft the journey itself. Putting an input at the beginning of the event could lead to the participants adopting the views of the expert. I would try to avoid that on any cost. If the group worked already on the topic, they would feel more comfortable to disagree with or challenge the expert.

img_0979

The living room lamp

The living room lamp expert blends in just like the actual lamp in your living room. They IMG_0108might even ask you to join the participants throughout the learning event and feel awkward being put into the focus. They often do not establish themselves as an expert and inputs might be diffuse. That opens the risk for a conflict of views if you have a really dominant participant or that the group does not really know what to do with the input. Unfortunately, this kind of expert is often young and/or female. 

I usually aim to work really close together with this kind of expert in the preparation. The more they feel integrated into the development, the more they appreciate the setting. It also helps to gain a clear understanding of their specific expertise to support them to integrate effectively. If they still do not feel comfortable and prefer to be an expert participant, I try to find small group methods with a lot of rotation of the members. This way, as many participants as possible, can have conversations with the expert.

IMG_0101One way, I include a living room lamp expert into a one-session-learning event, is to let them (co-)facilitate one activity. That could be the moderation of a group discussion or guiding a simulation within the specialisation of the expert. To support them and the group, it helps to give them very explicit guidelines regarding the content and the context of it. The earlier they get this briefing, the easier it will go, and both of us have the opportunity for bilateral feedback beforehand.

IMG_0102For a multi-session-learning-event, I would look at the possibility to give the expert a kind of consultant role. Let’s say, part of the sessions is to develop roadmaps for follow-up actions. Let the groups present their first drafts to the expert. They then give feedback and advice, which the groups afterwards have time to consider and integrate into the final draft. Another way is to let the expert follow a simulation up with a reality check. How does the simulated situation look like in real life? What are the options that the different roles actually have? I also sometimes let them simply go around during a group work phase, where they challenge the different groups.

IMG_0103For me, an ideal option for a multi-day-event is to work with this expert throughout the entire time in a co-facilitator relationship. That will allow the participants to build a connection with the expert and feel comfortable to ask them questions and vice versa. It is also convenient for me as I can tap into their knowledge for the preparation. Nevertheless, this option needs some sensitiveness for how the roles are established. The expert needs to remain a resource person than a knowledge authority. 

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The flashlight

The flashlight expert only shines their expert-light on specific aspects that will further IMG_0106the process. They often have an educational background or at least are experienced in the setting. They usually are aware of the space they take and incorporate the learners’ discussions into upcoming inputs. So, if that does not happen, the different moments of the expert might seem disconnected. This kind of experts can also stir your process in an unplanned direction.

This expert is a juicy one to work with – so many opportunities! I really love to use this expert like an actual flashlight. Before the event, I would sit down with them and see with them what are crucial moments or aspects they can shine their concentrated light on. That makes it really easy for me to guide the process and for them to focus and challenge the preconceptions of the participants.

IMG_0101Nevertheless, in a one-session-learning-event, this approach is a bit tricky to implement as it takes up some time due to the multiple inputs. Here I would see with the expert if they have one aspect that is really crucial for the topic of the event. They would then focus on that, and I would guide the group into diving deeper.

IMG_0102For multi-session-learning-events, I prefer to have this expert with us for the entire time. This way, I can weave the different inputs really deep into the programme and build them up on each other. The preparation with the expert is hugely crucial here. I need to be sure that they stay on track and do not go off on a tangent. Also, I always have an eye on the time and stop the expert when necessary. After all, it is about the participants, not them.

IMG_0103I would dedicate one specific day for the expert to come in and integrate them similar to above. It is essential to establish an understanding among the participants why the expert joins the group. This way, I can lower barriers and support the group to open up to them. Should the expert participate for more than a day, it is crucial to make sure that they do not take over the educational process. They are joining as an expert, not as a facilitator no matter their experience. That is needed to create clear roles and not disrupt the participants. I usually give them space for feedback and input in the preparation to honour their educational skills and knowledge.

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So what do you think? Here are the main takeaways:

  • Get your client into the clear: Check with them what is their expectation for bringing the expert. Sometimes there is a strategic reason behind it, and you do not want to cross them there.
  • Be frank and honest: You must be really precise with both your client and the expert. The better each partner knows what and how it will happen, the smoother the activity will go. And the more they understand the reasons behind it, the less resistance will be there.
  • Preparation is key: When the expert knows, what is expected when from them, the better the cooperation works. Also, a proper groundwork will allow you to get the most educational value out of an expert.
  • Adjust to the type: Use the expert strategic. This way, you make sure they do not accidentally sabotage the activity.
  • And as always, be the advocate of your participants!

What are your tips and tricks to work with experts? Did you have a difficult situation with an expert and no clue what to do?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with your fellow trainer friends!

 

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

Let me take you on a trip! – From the objectives to the design of a learning journey – Part 2 of the ‘How to plan a training’ series

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. IMG_0976

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.

IMG_0989Once 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.

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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:

  1. During the training, participants gain knowledge regarding the effects of climate change in rural communities in the global south.
  2. Participants develop displacement profiles through case studies.
  3. Participants explore the connection between climate change and displacement.
  4. Participants learn about reasons for displacement by building on each other’s expertise.
  5. Participants present the social dimension of climate change to stakeholders in the decision-making process.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Some pro-tips

  • 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.

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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!

Why you should do it non-formal – An introduction to Non-Formal Education

Every time someone introduces me as a trainer and uses the word ‘informal education’, I cringe. Every time a participant complains in the daily debrief about the lack of presentations and immediate solution, I sigh. Every time a client wishes a formal set up for the training and shows me an agenda full of speakers, I want to hold up a big sign “Non-formal education trainer here!”

There is a lot of confusion about the term non-formal education. Therefore, the assumptions and the expectations of the clients and participants don’t often match with the training I facilitate and the methods and approaches I practice. That impact very negatively their capacity to indeed witness and experience the potential and real benefits provided by those learning tools.

img_1008Did you see how I used to facilitate learning at the end of the last paragraph instead of to teach? That was a conscious choice as the words “to teach” and “teacher” are connected to a different form of education – formal education. The concept of formal education is universally known as we all were students taught by teachers in subjects we could not choose at schools we were obliged to go. This one sentence summarises pretty directly what is widely understood as formal education, but let me walk you through the different aspects bit by bit.

First, formal education always happened in a clearly described setting. There is the teacher who holds the knowledge authority and the student who receives that knowledge. The knowledge is defined through curricular and other regulating aspects.

Second, formal education learning is always held to a clear pre-defined standard and assessed based on the individual capacity of meeting the criteria of that standard. The focus of this educative method is, therefore, the outcome more than the learning itself. It globally does not factor in the individual circumstances of students.

Third, formal education to a certain degree is mandatory. In almost all countries of the world, the school attendance up to at least primary school is compulsory for all children. This factor does not mean that voluntary higher education, such as a university, does not fall into the concept of formal education. Once you are registered to enter higher education presence and participation are as mandatory as in primary school.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned another form of education – informal education. This form of learning can be described as learning by doing or learning through experience. It is often presented as the opposite to formal education as it is unplanned and not assessed nor monitored. It does not have a defined space but happens in everyday life. One typical example is, that when you as a child put your hand on the hot oven, you learned that it hurts to touch the hot oven. In some theories and definition also socialisation itself is considered informal learning as your family did not have a set curriculum in mind but shaped your behaviour through their own actions and norms.

So these two are pretty clear, right? So what is non-formal education? Let’s look at some official definitions.

“Education that is institutionalized, intentional and planned by an education provider. The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or a complement to formal education […]. It caters for people of all ages, but does not necessarily apply a continuous pathway-structure; […]. Non-formal education mostly leads to qualifications that are not recognized as formal qualifications […] or to no qualifications at all. […]” (UNESCO)

The UNESCO defines non-formal education through the lens of formal education. It sees it more as an offer alongside formal learning opportunities and as a tool for life-long learning. It considers it as a less efficient form of education, notably in term of outcomes.

“Non formal learning is purposive but voluntary learning that takes place in a diverse range of environments […] for which teaching/training and learning is not necessarily their sole or main activity. These environments […] may be temporarly, and the activities […] that take place may be staffed by professional learning facilitators […] or by volunteers […]. The activities and courses are planned, […] rarely […] assess learning outcomes […] in conventionally visible ways.” (Youthpass)

For the Youthpass the primary focus is on the voluntariness of the participation in non-formal education and informal of the setting. Nevertheless, it is structured and planned.

“Non-formal learning takes place outside formal learning environments but within some kind of organisational framework. It arises from the learner’s conscious decision to master a particular activity, skill or area of knowledge and is thus the result of intentional effort. But it need not follow a formal syllabus or be governed by external accreditation and assessment. Non-formal learning typically takes place in community settings […].” (Council of Europe)

In the Council of Europe’s definition, the focus is apparently on the learner itself. She consciously decides to participate in the learning process and put effort into the creation of a result.

All three definitions clearly place non-formal education outside the formal educational system. Nevertheless all state a planned and structured approach through some sort of facilitator. In two of them, the voluntary participation is a defining aspect. Further, the assessment of the learning outcomes is absent in all of them.

img_0657-1For me non-formal education is the space in which participants acknowledge their own expertise, learn how to connect it with their fellow learners and create solutions together. The most valuable takeaway in this process is the moment of self-awareness and growth. The methods I select are aiming to facilitate this process. It is not about me as a facilitator or my opinions. Therefore I believe a non-formal educator/trainer/facilitator does not need to be an expert on the topic of the session. She just needs to know how to create an experience that kickstarts the process and a frame to guide it in its natural flow. Therefore, it is necessary to continually adjust the planned learning journey to the needs and aims of the learner.

So now we know what I understand as non-formal education. Thank you for sticking with me through this long post. But before I let you go, I briefly want to speak about when and where we can use non-formal education.

The approach of non-formal education is universal and can (and should) be used wherever learning happens. Most of the tools of the formal education only benefit a small part of the learners, and the focus on standardised outcomes does not give the individual development of one learner the validation it deserves. Therefore, I advocate for the introduction of non-formal education within our school system, university and even the corporate work world. How far could innovation go, if we were able to harvest the expertise of each and every one in the room!

I hope this journey into a more theoretical background did not just give you some insights into your own learning but also inspires you to discover the world of non-formal education further. As always leave your comments and questions below and I would really appreciate if you like and share this post!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka