LnD Insight Reflection
Today I was the #ldinsight facilitator. It was a more contentious discussion than usual. I’ve thought about it quite a lot over the course of the day, and have yet to do the Storify. I want to write about why I do this, why I chose the question, my feelings during the chat and what I learned from today’s range of responses. Whilst my feelings are still fresh.
I am one of a small group of volunteer facilitators because I value the discussion, and get quite a lot of learning and reflection from it, or I wouldn’t do it. Coming up with questions is the fun part. Scheduling the tweets is a chore. Facilitating is what you choose to make of it – from leaving it to run through to asking follow up questions etc. We have discussions in our private admin group. An important question recently has been about inclusivity. How do we encourage new voices? A lot of the participants know each other quite or very well from Twitter, and in many cases in real life as well. I wonder if this leads to some shorthand, ‘in jokes’ and a tone of challenge that is OK with people you know well, where you understand each other, but might seem a bit sharp to others? I worry that we may have been close to this today, but before I say why, I’ll just share that for me, one of the objectives of being part of this is to hear, and learn from a broad range of voices and opinions, respectfully put. And yes, in the zone of slight discomfort, and no, not in an echo chamber (definitely not.)
When I’m not facilitating, I always look forward to the new question. Some weeks I love it and have plenty to contribute. Other weeks I might find the question a bit too basic or alternatively a bit too deep. On those occasions, if I have time I lurk, then things to say might come to me later, or they may not. The range of questions reflects our different interests and the kind of work we do. More of that later. Anyway, today’s question was “How much information do we need to know in advance about our learners?” This was a follow on from a question a few weeks ago about our experiences of working with learners with disabilities. Although as usual, the question was open to interpretation. It is really hard to come up with a really “clean” question. I thought carefully about the phrasing of this one, as I always try to do. I was aware that the word “need” can press some people’s buttons, that the notion of “in advance” can mean anything from the design and commission phase (for formal learning programmes) to on the day, and that “information” could cover just about anything, including commissioning managers’ pre conceived ideas about participants. But ho hum, I went with that question anyway. Is it even possible to devise a great question? (I’ve asked that before!)
During the first 5 minutes of the chat, I nearly threw in the towel. There were a couple of responses along the lines of “Nothing. Next.” The impact on me, as the facilitator, was to feel dismissed. I had asked a “bad” question that regulars in this discussion group were not going to engage in! Deep breath, then I put the umbrage to one side, and remembered the power of self-regulation within groups, and sure enough challenges were made to that view. I have shared this initial upset because it serves to illustrate what I said earlier about how we challenge in this group. I’m glad this wasn’t the first time I have facilitated, and that I know some of the protagonists – mainly through their excellent and sensitive writing. Was this an example of their feeling so comfortable in this group / about this chat, that they could challenge in this manner? Did this put newcomers off? Does this level of challenge belong in a closed group? Does it diminish our aim to be more inclusive? Am I being over sensitive?
So what have I learned?
- That all chats seem to self-regulate and come to a similar conclusion that “it depends” and “context is all”.
- That we approach the chat differently, as individuals.
- That this particular question demonstrated the range of work we do from coaching, where the consensus seemed to be that it is better not to know about the learner in advance, or that you don’t need to in order to be effective, through to planned, formal or commissioned programmes (or education), where you do need to know stuff in advance.
- That the stuff you need to know, when you do, can vary from practical matters (to make the learning accessible for people with individual needs) through to pre-existing knowledge, through to attitudinal stuff.
- That some of the what you need to know in advance is about us as people, and our level of comfort with adapting and flowing, and not necessarily about what we are delivering.
- That the range of what we do and what we care about in Learning and Development, in fact along the whole continuum of supporting the development of others, is wonderfully diverse. Aren’t we lucky?