Looking At Facilitation As A Model For Community Engagement

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Friday, 6.01am

Sheffield, U.K.

Once I got into pop songwriting, I was kind of just ready to help other people tell their stories… I’m here to facilitate and structure and grow and make things a little more fabulous and a little more urgent. – Justin Tranter

In my last post I wrote about having to give up power to take people with you – and wondered what that might look like.

Let’s look at how learning has changed over the years, for example. I come from a culture of “Guru-ship”, where knowledge was passed down by rote from generation to generation. While the religions practices that led to that are now done by a small minority the overall approach still lingers. I spent the majority of my education memorising and regurgitating. I think I can safely say that nothing from the first seventeen years of my formal education covering school and two degrees has been of any use to me.

The first thing I took away from that period was an interest in reading – but you don’t need to go to school to learn to read – that happens if you have books at home and get the bug early. The second thing was getting a computer and eventually discovering GNU/Linux and Free Software. A three-month placement at a company during my degree and a few months spent learning how to repair electronics were perhaps the most useful things I learned – but these were more about workplace learning rather than school learning.

So, does that mean going to school is a waste of time and you should go and get a job? No, that’s not what I mean at all, in fact far from it. Education is vital, but what happened to me in school was not an education. It was really the first step in a learning journey and for some reason the system is designed to get you onto the first step and then stop there. The full journey is described in Bloom’s taxonomy, and what should happen is you start by getting instruction in the basics – things you need to remember. You are helped to understand and apply this learning. Eventually you are able to analyse what you’re doing and evaluate it. And it’s really at the application stage that you first start to get the point. But the education system as it’s designed gets you to the first stage – remembering things – tests that you remember and then sends you out into the world.

The world, quite frankly, is not much better. But instead of sitting and listening you’ll be given a job and told to get on with it. And so you’ll have to figure stuff out, learn what you need to learn and try and apply it and that creates your own learning journey, a self-managed one. That’s why it seems like getting a job teaches you much more than going to school. I remember going to an event where two people spoke, one who had been through an apprenticeship and another through university – both quite young. The apprentice was polished, professionally put together, articulate and professional. The university student was a shambles, inarticulate and unprepared. But the apprentice was on her way to getting locked into a profession, a trade – while the university graduate had a wide open field in front of her. And you don’t know how things will turn out.

The point I am not getting to is that our systems of education should be trying to facilitate learning instead of forcing information down us that is then regurgitated on a test. But that requires a different way of thinking, a facilitative mindset rather than a lecturing mindset. And that doesn’t exist, really – it’s just not something that people know how to do. When I went back to university and did my next degree the methods of instruction hadn’t change – you had a lecture and information and very little application. But I had changed, and I ignored everything that was being said and used what I saw as a structure, a window to a world and I used my time to learn everything I wanted and apply it in the way I felt would be useful to me. I facilitated my own learning. For example, in my economics course I did a study on a business that I was thinking about buying – and that made the paper I wrote much more relevant and personal than something that you’d write just because you had to.

The problem is not with teachers, of course. Most teachers really want to help their students learn. The problem is usually with the system – the one that requires students to demonstrate their learning by passing tests. And that’s the wrong approach. What students should do is at least learn enough to apply their learning – to remember, understand and apply. The pandemic reminded me that I was no better as a teacher – when I had to teach my children at home I reverted to trying to lecture and found that didn’t work at all. So, I looked into it and discovered things like Flipped Learning and, in particular, the work of Dr. Lodge McCammon and I used that with my children – creating videos that explained concepts and then helping them to apply that learning through practice. And I think it really helped.

What I think should be happening is that we need to get better at facilitating learning – get better at creating and nurturing the conditions that enable people to learn. Think of any group of people as a community – whether it’s a community of children in a class, a community of team members in a company or a community of people spread out across the world connected through the Internet – all of them have something in common and would love to connect and work and share and build a community together. But these things don’t happen by magic, you need some glue to facilitate that. For example, on social media sites, you can create new groups very easily. But what makes some groups a community and others ghost towns? What facilitates community engagement and participation?

Well, the short answer is that you do it by getting them actively engaged. In this video by Lodge McCammon he really lays out a model that seems to work. In a 2-hour session he “shares stories, references research and models teaching and learning strategies that any educator can use tomorrow to create efficient and active learning environments.” He delivers the core content using short, one-take videos that are “60-80% shorter than live lectures” and uses the time saved to “challenge participants to collaborate and discuss the content”. He also likes to get people up and moving and active. Finally, he gets people to collaborate and re-teach the content. That’s the “best way to know if they learned what he wanted them to learn”.

As a facilitator, you have to think about a lot of things. It’s not just about getting up in front of the room and being an entertainer. Your job really is to create the conditions for collaboration. And there are models out there that work in certain situations for certain people and what you have to figure out is what your situation is and how you can adapt those methods to what you’re trying to do. What are the tools, methods and processes that will help your audience to engage and get involved?

Perhaps I need to start working through some ideas here next.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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