Learning in construction

Last weekend I had the chance to conduct a workshop for a nonprofit group. It was a three day event for a small group new in a volunteer leadership role within the organization. They all started in their new roles last spring and the training program wasn’t able to happen until now due to schedules, summer, etc. I’m now actually glad that it didn’t take place earlier when they were all totally brand new in their jobs. Since they’ve been working with their new roles for 5-6 months, they brought some experience into the weekend which I found extremely valuable. It also seemed to me that everything was much more relevant for them as they could, for the most part, see how it immediately applies to there different duties.

I found it the workshop interesting for me as It was an opportunity to put some of the learning theories we’ve been studying into practice. From my perspective, it seemed that many of the assumptions of Andragogy applied, actually all of them, as far as I could see. The group was interested, involved to a large degree and self-directed to an extent for some topics, although for some things they really wanted expert advice. I could also see a mix in the degree the different learners were dependent or moving towards self-directedness. This even seemed to vary for different learning topics.

There was an interesting exchange that took place near the beginning of the workshop. After one or two activities that were intended to help the learners connect to each other and share their purpose for attending, one of the participants asked when we were going to get ‘into the material.’ He said he was concerned about the limited time and he wanted to be sure to cover the material. He thought the activities were nice but didn’t see their relevance. I had the sense he had attended many lectures as a part of his learning and this was how he expected to learn in this context.

So, I suggested that I could just put up slide after slide for 3 days, but I was afraid that although the group would see the content, they might not digest it and connect it with their work. It might just go through one ear and out the other. I suggested to him that my approach was one where the group would connect with the material through, relate it to their own experiences, and maybe in this way have a deeper learning, at least with some of the key concepts.

At the end of the workshop, the same person seemed quite happy with the approaches of connecting his  own experiences and prior knowledge with the topic at hand. He even seemed like he was going to take back some of the exercises that we did and do them with groups he was working with.

Although i was a bit anxious in the early part of the workshop because I was experimenting a bit with some new approaches and flying a bit by the seat of my pants…, I felt happy at the end because it seemed like the participants gained a deeper insight into their roles and it seemed that they appreciated the methods as they felt engaged with the material. I would say that much of my approach was constructivist in nature, although there were definitely times when the group wanted direction, but this seemed to be their choice at that time. I also could see that when they constructed their own knowledge, it seemed to have a deeper impact on them.

How much any of this will stay with them is another matter that only time will tell… I too had some learning being constructed throughout the weekend… and time will tell how much that sinks in too!


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