"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Engagement"

Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
  2. Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.  
  3. Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
  4. Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
  5. Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
  6. Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
  7. Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.  


What tips or tools can you add to this list?


Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Changing Adult Learning… in Meetings!

I took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course with Global Learning Partners (GLP) in October 2017. The most powerful take-away for me was to think about what the learners will be doing with the content rather than what I will be saying or presenting.

Perhaps it is my love of theater and dramatic arts, but I can easily spend hours practicing what I will say for an upcoming presentation. I make my PowerPoint slides colorful, fun, use a lot of pictures, and work hard to keep the energy up. I work as the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry program. In a nutshell, I teach people about invasive forest insects such as the emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle. I enjoy working with youth because I can make my workshops and presentations interactive. When it comes to adults, I feel like everyone is expected to sit in rows of uncomfortable chairs and listen to me “wa, wa, wa” at the front of the room. However, for me as a learner I can’t sit for long and my mind starts to turn to mush after about a half an hour of listening to someone talk.

Using the learning-centered 4A Model (Anchor-Add-Apply-Away) for developing a learning event has been incredibly helpful for transforming these adult workshops (I’ve stopped calling them presentations!) into intentional, dialogue-based, learning events. The results have been extremely positive.

Last month, I decided to take it one step further. We had a big meeting coming up with all our partners in Vermont that help support my work as Forest Pest Education Coordinator. Historically, this meeting has not been exciting. I literally read off the annual report I’d submitted for the grant that supports my position. We usually have one person who “leads” the meeting and there has been some discussion.

This time I suggested to my supervisor that I facilitate the meeting and incorporate some of what I learned during the GLP course I had taken. I took the topics that I was planning to “cover” and turned each one into a learning task or a “share out.” For example, I have hired a company to make a whiteboard animation video that covers the importance of not moving firewood – invasive insects can travel in firewood, so we ask that you buy it where you burn it.) I wanted to get input from the partners at the meeting before talking to the company about the video content. So, in pairs, I asked the group to “create a visual representation on chart paper of what you would like to see in a one-minute video on the importance of buying local firewood.” I was surprised at how well it worked! The pairs were talking, laughing, and drawing on their paper. The ideas they shared were incredibly useful for me and I’ve incorporated their thoughts into the first draft of the whiteboard video’s script.    

Everyone at the meeting had an agenda in front of them that listed each learning task and used learner-centered language. Here are some excerpts:

     From our coming together exercise:

Today is the darkest day of the year and a time for reflection. These short, cold days can stir up a lot of unease. Take a moment to consider what is sustaining you in your work right now and what is draining you.

     From a section on outreach at private campgrounds in Vermont:

Listen to a brief review on private campground outreach from 2017. Take a look at the map example from last summer’s work and the written Best Management Practices. What kind of outreach to private campgrounds will lead us to the change in behavior we are hoping for?

Having the language written right there on the agenda not only helps the learning experience at the meeting, but I also figured it would be a clever way of sharing a more engaging way of meeting and learning with my colleagues. Here they can see how it is done and the simple ways they might change some of the language and structure of their meetings and workshops. Sharing what I learned is really important to me. I have absolutely enjoyed applying the principles of a learning-centered approach to my work, but I’d love to see others try it too.

The next morning after the meeting, I received an email from one of the participants. She wrote, “Just wanted to say how refreshing yesterday’s meeting was. You managed to cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half, and engage a normally reticent group.” I was smiling from ear-to-ear! That was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to hear.

What do you do in your meetings to help engage everyone?


Meredith Whitney (Meredith.Whitney@uvm.edu) is the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with UVM Extension. She lives in Moretown, Vermont where she enjoys going for long walks and dreams of having a goat farm.

PHOTO: At the end of the meeting, everyone got their photo taken with an interactive banner that was designed last year for forest pest outreach. Look at those happy Asian long-horned beetles!

Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?


Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

Who Gets to Tell What Stories?

"We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative."

-Barbara Hardy

If you have ever attended a Glocal Mission Gathering you may have heard this quote: “We are made of stories.”  We are constantly being told stories that shape how we view the world and treat those who are in it. These stories are part of who we are and we grow in our understanding of them in the sharing of them.

As a fiction writer I have found that whenever I go over to the non-fiction side of writing I am unable to tell my own story without including the stories of my friends, loved ones and even strangers I have met. I struggle being as truthful to their experiences as I am with my own. This often involves sharing what I have written with them and asking for permission to use it, before submitting it to publication. When I write fiction the depth of any characters is determined by the depth of my relationships with the people in my life. Stories are never solitary things but live in relationship with all that is around them. We are characters that step in and out of ongoing narratives that started before we arrived and will continue long after we have parted.

As storytellers it is important that we share and listen to each other’s stories with great care and love, especially when there are unequal relationships involved.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you share stories in both your professional and everyday lives.

Storytelling Challenges*

  • In relationships where power is unequal, our understanding of other people’s stories is shaped by those who have access to the tools of the media – including the press, books, computers, and more.
  • It is important to think about how our representations of others’ stories might be shaped by our own cultural preconceptions.
  • Are we representing other people in our stories as they themselves would see their own lives?

Storytelling Questions to Ask

  • Who gets to tell the story?
  • Who has access to the tools and platforms of storytelling?
  • What stories are not told, and who is expected to be silent?
  • Whose stories are valued and important, and whose stories are ignored?

What else have you found to ring true in your experience?

[*Excerpt from: ELCA Global Mission, Accompaniment Document]


Kristina L. Diaz is Resource Coordinator - Mission Formation of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based in Chicago. 

The Art and Skill of Engaging People

As more leaders recognize that working in silos does not achieve the extraordinary results that can come with cross-department, cross-discipline, cross-sectoral collaboration, the question then becomes: “How do we engage people?” 

Humanity now seems to be shifting beyond me to we, beyond sales to service and beyond ambition to inspiration. Many people seek meaningful contribution—more than just a job.  So the art and skill of engaging people becomes critical as people awaken to new opportunities to make a difference.




















 Consider these 15 tips to set the stage for effective engagement:

  1. Power.  Know that your power as a leader is in how you influence the network of conversations you are a part of.  Engagement is implicit in all you do.
  2. Positivity.  Deepen self-awareness by reflecting on how can you expand your influence effectiveness by becoming fluent in positive self-talk.
  3. Clarity.  Reflect on who you want to attract to your vision or project by clearly defining the ideal audience.  Who are the natural champions with a similar interest?
  4. Authenticity.  Rather than use the ‘sales’ paradigm in trying to get others to buy-in, speak authentically about what you care about.  Resist the urge to manipulate, convince or cajole.
  5. Non-Attachment.  Be prepared to let go of the outcome you want and instead co-create what is mutually desirable.  This way of co-constructing typically generates more ownership. 
  6. Connection.  Two universal human needs are connection and creative expression.  Frame your project as a way for others to get and receive support and a way to share their unique talents.
  7. Meaning.  Help people make meaning out of their situation by asking how they can be a part of creating something new.   Transform complaints by generating action with a powerful ask.
  8. Value.  A principle of engagement is that people will take action if there is perceived value.  So communicate from that place, meeting people where they are and speaking to what they desire.
  9. Trust.  People will take part in new ventures if they trust you.  So practice trust-building by saying what you mean, doing what you say, listening with empathy and following through on promises.
  10. Motivation.  Understand the pain/pleasure principle as it relates to motivation.  People will take action if there is sufficient angst and/or if there is an enticing vision.    
  11. Vision.  When speaking about your vision, paint a vivid, compelling picture using words, images and metaphors to help people understand the fullness of what you are offering.
  12. Listen.  Notice the field of listening of your audience.  Tune into the music between the notes or the message behind the words.  Get curious as to their background conversation and interest. 
  13. Possibility.  Do not be seduced with scarcity thinking in assuming that others will not be interested or be too busy. Explore what’s possible by uncovering creative strategies to collaborate.
  14. Requests.  Get clear on your request and make it positive and do-able.  Have a back-up request just in case you hear a decline.  Be sure to make a promise as a sign of your commitment.
  15. Commitment.  What precedes action is commitment.  If people have competing commitments, tease apart their needs hierarchy.  Get clear on expectations and celebrate success.

Elizabeth Soltis is the founder and director of Bridges Global, a community and organizational development company that specializes in empowerment, leadership and collaboration services. As a bridge-builder in all regions of the world, Elizabeth has a passion for connecting people to their sense of purpose, to others and to the earth.  She enjoys facilitating and coaching people as they expand their thinking, express their creativity and live their potential.  Engaging people in a transformational process that is meaningful, liberating and uplifting is how Elizabeth defines success.  Visit www.bridgesglobal.net for more resource offerings.



Women Writing for (a) Change, In a Circle

"A circle of women is a nurturing and sustaining resource that can become a spiritual and psychological wellspring tapped into whenever the circle meets."

~  Jean Shinoda Bolen, Urgent Message from Mother

A friend tells the story of a time when she was in college. Her male professor asked the class for the qualities of positive leadership. The standard answers came: Focused. Direct. Action-oriented. Authoritative. My friend, on the other hand, suggested that good leaders "allow." The professor thought about it, talked his way around it, and tossed it about, but, in the end, he never actually put the word on the board. In effect, she was silenced. Some 30 years later, it still rankles.

In a world where education, corporate and academic, is often dominated by male voices, where is it safe for women to gather, learn, and express their individual voices? Put another way, how can we create "safe containers" for learning and self expression for women, or anyone, for that matter? Where is it safe to learn?

One answer is: In a circle.

Since ancient times, at least as an archetype, the ritual of sitting around a fire and telling stories has been an effective way for cultures to teach their young, pass on cultural traditions, and make decisions of group conscience. The practice has many benefits. Using a "talking stone," or "talking stick," ensures that each individual is listened to, without interruption. Passing the stone in a circle gives each person a chance to speak and voice an opinion. In a circle, each person is equal to the next.

The rituals incorporated into this group process provide a discipline and a structure that ensures the circle is "held"; that it remains a "safe container." It enables the circle to be nurtured, cultivated, and sustained over time. It also acknowledges a simple truth: in a circle, all are equally important, and all "stories" can be told and heard.

Today's classrooms (and political systems) have typically used a very "masculine” model, emphasizing power, hierarchy, and authority over a more "feminine style" of equality, shared power, and focus on the learning process. One person is usually raised on a dais (the "professor” or "instructor”) and participants are lined up, theater style, and only allowed to speak if they are called upon.

As one example, my aunt often told the story of how, when she was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary during World War II, her professors regularly refused to call on her. One actually stated that she was taking up a seat where a man should be sitting.

This is how we silence the voice of the feminine.

At Women Writing for (a) Change,  a writing school in Cincinnati with affiliates sites around the country, these "circle practices" are being recreated, honored and ritualized. The circle is viewed as a "container” where the participants are safe to share, and various "care of the container" methods ensure that the circle is maintained in a healthy and self-sustaining way.

The Cincinnati site was started because of the failure of the patriarchal model to hold the capacity to hear women's voices. Founder Mary Pierce Brosmer established the school after she was told, as a high school English and writing teacher, that she could not use what was deemed as "feminist literature" as one of her classroom texts. This was in 1991, just 20-some years ago.

On October 9, 2013, Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, one of the two newest affiliate sites, completed its first "sample class" for local participants to experience the WWf(a)C methodology. The session was filled with insight, some tears, and wonderful writing. We used the "circle practices" of Women Writing for (a) Change, which are very specific and geared to create a safe place of expression.

This model is useful not only for women, but also for all learning experiences. Some of the key practices are:

  • Writing is the primary method of expression, allowing participants to access a deeper, more reflective level of awareness and insight.
  • Women are given equal time to write and read their writing out loud in the circle.
  • A talking stone is passed to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.
  • While one person reads, the group jots down key "read-back” lines that resonate for them, then reads them back to the writer after she's finished reading.
  • Read-backs let the writer know they were heard, appreciated, and honored.
  • Feedback is given in small groups, at the level requested by the writer: either “readbacks,” general feedback, or specific craft suggestions.
  • All feedback is geared to be supportive, empathetic, and helpful.
  • "Soul cards" passed at key intervals allow the group "vibes" to be brought forward and issues to be addressed.

This practice, which Brosmer also calls "Conscious Feminine Leadership," represents an opportunity to shift our learning culture from rigid rules and hierarchy to a more flexible, choice-oriented, respectful system that allows women — or anyone — to speak their truth.

The awe with which the Jacksonville participants held the process is reflected in the "Soul Cards" they wrote at the end of the two-hour session:


  • Surprisingly fun! I really enjoyed my time and all the people.
  • Time to concentrate on something for myself.
  • New connections were made. Foundations of trust being established.
  • Graceful space.
  • The safe place to share, though it is hard to trust it just yet.
  • The gift of the circle is the beauty in honesty. Words from the heart are always right.
  • Enjoyed the safe structure and welcoming atmosphere. Enjoyed being encouraged in this space.
  • Enjoyed the synchronicity of the randomness of women.
  • Meeting new friends. Welcoming [us] where we are.
  • The opportunity to get to know the other ladies in the group through their participation.
  • Amazing talent. Safe. Fun.
  • What a blessing — these wonderful women, each a gift to be tenderly unwrapped and opened.


  • It's kind of scary to write.
  • All new for me, down to trying not to write too personally.
  • Killing the critic: learning feedback that is not in judgment. Saying what you hear instead of what you think you hear.
  • To leave a space open for all to share and not get so excited about my process I forget it is ALL of our process.
  • The challenge is to free up what is hiding...get out of its way!
  • So far so good! I'm open to these challenges.
  • Time...the press of time!

Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote the book, The Millionth Circle, to encourage women to create more "circles" until we reach a point where the old system no longer holds power, and the new way — which is a very old way — rises up. Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, is one of those million circles. Perhaps there are lessons here that the Global Learning Community might find valuable and aligned with their own learning practices, as we create new circles and shift to a new era of more consciously feminine learning and leadership.

12 Detailed Tips for Wondrous Webinars

Webinars offer a great alternative to holding face-to-face workshops as they save the costs and carbon associated with travel. However, they can easily become a sleep-inducing monologue in which a disembodied voice drones over a hypnotic barrage of never-ending PowerPoint slides. 

Meanwhile, the participants, their identities hidden by their remote connection, may be tempted to check out, finish that email (“clackity clackity clack!”) and/or update their Facebook status.

So to make your next webinar a wondrous learning experience, try incorporating these 12 Tips for Wondrous Webinars:

1.  Understand What Your Webinar Platform Can (and Can’t) Do

Before you get started, be sure to understand what your particular webinar platform can and can’t do.

Currently, all webinar platforms should allow you to share online visuals like PowerPoint presentations, and audio feeds via an integrated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or over a separate phone line. Some webinar platforms also allow you to broadcast a live video feed of the presenters, and perhaps even video of the learners. But in many cases you may find that the bandwidth restrictions of your participants’ connections will limit the quality of the picture.

Also be sure to see if your webinar platform lets you:

  • use on-screen collaborative tools like whiteboards, chat boxes and polling tools;
  • install third-party “apps” to incorporate additional features like interactive-maps, Twitter feeds, and external web pages; and/or
  • assign participants to breakout groups with their own video and audio feeds – perfect for small group work.

2.  Do Your Homework Before the Webinar

Before you get started, be sure to conduct a basic survey with the participants who will be in your webinar, their prior experience with the topic, and what they need to learn. At Global Learning Partners, we call this conducting a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) to determine what the participants already know and what they need to learn. For a webinar, an LNRA can include asking a few questions on the registration form, or visiting the websites of the participants’ organizations. Look for any “generative themes” or ideas and challenges that come up frequently that might create energy or engagement for the participants. However, keep the number of questions in proportion to the length of the webinar or course.

Remember that the motivation levels of the participants in webinars can sometimes be lower than in face-to-face learning situations since their investment to attend is low (and perhaps because their expectations of learning during webinars are also low). As well, the anonymity of the experience means that people may multi-task during the webinar and not devote their full attention to what you are saying

If you can't conduct a full LNRA, at least review the registration list beforehand so you can get a sense of who is taking part in the webinar. Share this list with the presenters. Check out their organization’s websites or their blogs to see what they do. Choose examples and stories that speak to their sector or where they work. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

The LNRA is also a great time to invite the learners to do some advance preparations. When you send out the webinar log-in details, consider sending to the participants a short pre-webinar reading (e.g. a short article, a link to a website they might review) so those who are keen can work ahead.

Provide a couple of good open questions for them to consider and revisit these questions during the webinar (but do so in a way that doesn’t exclude those who didn’t do the pre-work).

3.  Create a Well-Structured Learning Design for Your Webinar

Too often I see webinar presenters being lazy and just crafting a PowerPoint slide deck without thinking about all of the parameters that frame the choice of content and activities. At Global Learning Partners, we like to think of this as 8  Steps of Design. Instead, be sure to:

  • Define the People, Purpose, Place, and Time (Steps 1-5) for your webinars. Review this with the participants at the outset in order to keep you, your co-presenters and the participants on track.  
  • Include a Reasonable Amount ("just enough") of Content (Step 6). As with PowerPoint, it is tempting to "dump" too much data into the slides and overwhelm your participants. Keep it simple and not too full. (Download a free chapter about choosing just the right content - from the e-book Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.)
  • Keep your Presentations Short. Don’t go for more than 5 minutes at a stretch without asking for questions or asking the participants a question. Breaking a longer presentation into smaller chunks with breaks will help to revitalize the group energy, check for understanding and allow more voices to be heard. It will also allow you to pause and recharge, since presenting to silence can be de-energizing.
  • Create Achievement-Based Objectives (Step 7) that describe what the participants will do during the webinar beyond just "listening" and "watching". Think of ways that they can be more active participants to deepen their own learning (e.g. analyze, name, suggest, reflect, tweet…).
  • Create a Series of Learning Tasks (Step 8) or instructions that describe how the participants can engage with the content to meet each objective.

Build in opportunities for interaction as permitted by the size of the group and the technology. These can include:

  • Preceding every presentation with an open question to the participants. Post this question on a slide. For example, “As you listen to this short presentation on <your topic>, consider how you’ve seen these principles in action.” Be sure to ask them for a sample of their ideas after your presentation.
  • Taking a poll or a multiple choice quiz.
  • Asking participants to “raise their hands” in response to a question using the “raise hands” tool on the webinar platform.
  • Soliciting their questions for clarification, and their comments. 
  • Asking open questions to the group and hearing a sample of their responses (e.g. "How have you seen this problem play out in your situation?"). 
  • Using the platform’s whiteboard and inviting them to add their answers on screen. 
  • Incorporating an interactive map where the participants can show their location.

4.  Assemble a Webinar Team

As they say, there is no ‘I’ in Team but there certainly is a WE in Webinar.

If possible, never webinar alone! 

  • Try to have a moderator, facilitator and a presenter on the call. The moderator can focus on the technology, the facilitator on the flow, time, questions, etc. and the presenter on the content.  
  • Meet as a team before the webinar to discuss what you’re expecting in terms of amount of content, duration of presentations, transitions between sections, participant interaction, slide quality, etc. Also, make sure that everyone is comfortable with the webinar platform technology before the session begins.
  • Practice your presentations ahead of time on the webinar platform to make sure that any transitions between presenters are smooth. You’d be surprised by how many kinks there can be, and how many things change after you’ve tried them out once. (Source: Stephen Boyd)

5.  Technology: Be Prepared

Unlike in most face-to-face learning situations, managing the technology in a webinar can be a major pre-occupation for the learners and the presenters. Too often, too much time is wasted trying to resolve one person’s audio or computer problems while the others wait on the line. Instead:

  • Test out the technology ahead of time to make sure that it is working well. Be aware the same webinar platform can work quite differently each time and with different internet connections.
  • Provide clear instructions to the participants and any offsite presenters before hand in an email on:
    • testing their computer for compatibility – most webinar platforms provide this capability
    • how to use the webinar technology
    • how to contact you via a separate phone line or text message 
    • how to log in again if they get bumped off for some reason.  
  • Be “on the line” and platform early to make sure it works, and to greet those participants who come on line early.
  • Include a series of preliminary slides with instructions on setting the sound, any other programs they may need to run, and how they can ask questions.

6.  Prepare Vivid Visuals

In an online setting where the participants may not be able to see the presenter or have an opportunity to interact, the visuals become critical. (Check out our 6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue.)

  • Invest more time than usual in creating high-quality presentation materials, even more than you might in a live setting where participants have other people to engage with. Choose compelling images, keep the text clear and minimal, and make sure that the formatting (titles, headers, spacing, etc) is flawless. 
  • Use on-screen slides with basic visuals and little or no animation so that people with slower bandwidth connections won’t experience a delay in the transitions. Alternatively, you can simulate animation by repeating key graphics on distinct slides and adding in changes on each slide.
  • If possible, have a separate display where you can see what the participants are seeing. (Source: Levey) This will let you know if the slides are running more slowly on participants’ machines or if they can’t see a feature you assume they can see (e.g. questions box). I like to log in to a participant account on my iPad so I can see what participants are seeing. 
  • Consider an alternative to using PowerPoint slides  (e.g. Prezi Meeting now allows multiple participants to follow and modify a Prezi online). There are also online mind-mapping tools and other data visualization platforms that you can use as an alternative to death by PowerPoint. Just be aware that bandwidth limits may make the animation run more slowly than you'd like.   
  • If you do have a webcam for the presenters, be sure to stay in frame, still and in focus! Test out the “depth of field” or range of focus for your webcam, as well as how far you can move from side to side before you’re out of the frame. Check out the background to eliminate distractions (e.g. people walking past your cubicle, visual clutter, bright windows that will backlight you).
  • Change slides frequently to keep the visuals moving and fresh.

7.  Get Off to A Good Start

The first few moments of a webinar can make or break it for the participants. So be sure to:

  • Assume that you may start a few minutes late as some participants may come in gradually (Source: Stephen Boyd).
  • In the meantime, you can use the time to chat with the participants (i.e. to get to know them and maybe even conduct a mini-LNRA) or address any administrative issues.
  • Include a slide that has a picture of the presenters, facilitators and moderators, along with their contact information. This will give them an image to keep in mind when listening to your voice. 
  • For smaller groups (< 10), start with a quick go-round or roll call to introduce the participants to each other. But – very important! -- be sure to set clear guidelines for how (and thus how long) participants should introduce themselves. For example, “Please share your name, and where you’re calling from” and then model it yourself “My name is Dwayne and I’m calling from Ottawa”. 
  • For larger groups (> 10), spoken introductions may not be practical, but you may be able to circulate a participant list by email in advance of the webinar.
  • Refer to your guests as “participants” to set the tone that they are there to actively be involved in the learning, not to veg out.
  • Provide a simple outline of the webinar at the beginning of the presentation that shows the topical program of learning tasks. Refer to this outline repeatedly during the session so that people can check their progress. Consider using a graphic (e.g. a “you are here” arrow) that marks where you are in the program and show a slide that indicates that progress periodically throughout the webinar. 

8.  Sound Advice: Get the Audio Right

  • Encourage everyone to use a headset  to avoid feedback and to prevent their microphones from capturing ambient noise (e.g. keyboard clatter, ticking clocks, Farmville chickens clucking).
  • Ask people to switch their microphones or phone lines to mute when not speaking. In some cases you can do this for them via a setting in the webinar program. 
  • Vary your tone of voice and enunciate a bit more than you might in a face-to-face situation.  As Stephen Boyd writes, "Your voice is everything with the webinar. Show enthusiasm in your voice from the very beginning. Punch out key words, pause for effect, create variety in vocal quality, speed up, slow down, and don’t speak too rapidly.” (Source: Stephen Boyd)
  • Be careful not to use “pause words” like um, like or you know.  When people can’t see you in person, these phrases become even more noticeable and annoying. Similarly, pay attention to whether you have any unusual vocal inflections (e.g. mumbling, speaking too quickly, raising your voice like everything is a question). Listening to a recording of yourself can be quite instructive (and frightening).
  • Do not read your slides verbatim. People tend to read faster than you can speak, and they will wonder why they had to attend if all you’re doing is reading the slides. Two exceptions:
  1. It is all right to read a definition or a quote for effect.
  2. If you are setting a learning task, keep your verbal instructions closely related to any text on the screen so as not to confuse the participants.  

9.  Share the Airspace: Giving Voice to Learners

Webinars can be so much more than PowerPoint on the phone. Where you can, try to build in opportunities for genuine interaction and dialogue:

  • Design opportunities for large group discussions, small group work (if possible), and individual reflection (great for introverts!).
  • Frame each mini-presentation with an open question that invites the learners to listen and watch more deeply. 
  • Leave enough time for questions throughout the webinar, rather than cramming in a few token questions at the end. 

If letting the participants use their audio line is too complicated (i.e. for larger groups, or if there is simultaneous interpretation), consider using a parallel communication channel to solicit questions and their comments (e.g. the chat box, or Twitter).

10.  Build in Movement 

As more and more webinar platforms start producing apps for smartphones, the potential for mobile webinar learning is growing. (Check out 35 Ways to Use an iPhone in a Workshop.) Consider inviting the learners who are mobile to engage in a more kinesthetic, or active-movement task:

  • Stretch at the half-time point to get the blood flowing again -- maybe a little yoga to get the energy back up. 
  • Take a walk while listening and watching the webinar on their phones.
  • Go out and find an object that symbolizes their involvement with the topic and share that with the group (perhaps via a photo on their smartphone).

Any opportunity to get their "bums out of their seats" will also be appreciated by those who are participating on a computer or laptop.

11.  End Well

Time for the Big Finish!

  • Design your webinar to use less than 100% of the time you have in case something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. But always finish on time so that people can leave gracefully. (Levine)
  • At the end of the webinar, invite the learners to name what they will apply to their work situation after the seminar. For example, “Use the chat line and name one thing that you’ve seen or heard today that you’ll apply to your work soon.” This encourages them to synthesize what they've seen and heard with their real world context. 
  • Design any feedback questionnaire to be proportionate to the length of the session and the depth of engagement (i.e. don’t send a questionnaire with 10 questions for a 1-hour webinar).  You can either send a short online survey as part of your follow-up materials or, better yet, conduct a very short anonymous poll about the webinar at the end of the session before they sign off.
  • If some participants want to stay on the line to chat, great, but also consider calling them back after the webinar (to save money and to keep their conversation private). You can also help them connect with each other if they want to continue a conversation offline later.

12.  Follow-Up Afterwards

But wait! there’s more! The webinar doesn't end when the last person hangs up. Consider what you can do afterwards to support their learning: 

  • Follow-up with supplemental material (via an individual or group email) immediately after the webinar (or at least by the next day) before the participants turn their attentions elsewhere. Send them some additional resources via email to respond to any emergent learning needs. 
  • Assign a follow-up task via an asynchronous platform. Invite them to participate in a follow-up forum discussion after the webinar via an online platform.  
  • Post a recording of the audio and visuals of the webinar online for them to review later. 
  • Remind them of the next webinar that you're providing. 

Your Thoughts

What would you add to this list of tips? What challenges do you foresee in applying any of these ideas in your context? Drop us a line and feel free to ask us about how GLP can help you design wondrous webinars using a Dialogue Education approach to learning.

Consider joining us for Dialogue Education Online, September 11 - November 12, 2014.


Your Brain on Ink

Neuroplasticity. Now that’s a ten-dollar word. It belongs in everyone’s wallet. Its purchase power underwrites a message of hope and inspiration. As Jane Vella celebrates, “We can create ourselves!”

But how do we create ourselves?  Where is the instruction manual when we want a self-directed course of study? How do we SNAG the brain (stimulate neuronal activation and growth)?

One answer is close at hand. Actually the power is in your hand when you pick up your pen and write in your voice. Journaling and other forms of expressive writing – personal essays, poetry, fiction, song lyrics – are all ideally suited to fire and rewire your circuits. Imagine 5,000 years of expressive language history – papyrus and quills – meeting cutting edge science!

A group of scientists in NYC who research the brain by day are firing and rewiring their circuits by night; they write songs and perform with their band. The Amygdaloids, named after the brain structure that has a primary role in processing memory and emotional reactions, describe their music as “heavy mental.”

Since most of us are not destined for the concert circuit, a notebook and pen can be our first class ticket. As we recount a story through sensory detail, process the nuances of emotion, and explore the dimensions of thought, our neurons are firing, our circuits are wiring and we are witnessing neuroplasticity in action,  guided by our own hand. Focused and engaged attention is key, for the brain takes the shape upon which the mind rests. So, where are you resting your mind?

From Dr. Dan Siegel comes the phrase “Inspire to rewire.” I invite you to use your first journal entry to write about what Siegel’s phrase means to you. I hope that your pen and journal help your mind rest in resilience, love and integration. 

Deborah Ross, LPC has practiced psychotherapy in Northern Virginia for 20 years, focusing on both individual and couples counseling. She studied neuroscience at the Mindsight Institute with Dr. Dan Siegel and applied her findings to a therapeutic writing curriculum, Your Brain on Ink. An avid journaler, she recognizes the healing power of expressive writing and believes that this practice can change the way our brains work so that we experience a deeper sense of well-being and greater resilience. Deborah is certified as an instructor in the Journal to the Self program through the Center for Journal Therapy and offers journaling instruction through workshops and private consultation.

How to Facilitate Introverts and Extroverts in Your Group or Class

Thanks to Karyn Greenstreet of Passion for Business for allowing us to repost her original blog post!

Whether you teach classes, run mastermind groups, or offer group coaching programs, understanding what makes introverts and extroverts tick will help you run your group better.

We all know there are two personality styles that are polar opposites of each others, right?

I wish it were that simple.

Introversion and extroversion are on a line, a continuum. Sometimes people will be strongly to one side or the other on that continuum, but often people exhibit mixed tendencies, especially in a group setting where there is rapport and trust.

For example, an introvert like me (yes, I consider myself an introvert!) might be quiet around new people, but very gregarious when with my mastermind groups. I might be quiet when I’m the student and trying to absorb new information, and highly extroverted when I’m the teacher. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum, and often it’s situational.

So let’s define what we mean by these terms:

An introvert gains energy by being alone, and expends energy when in a group setting, like a mastermind group. Being an introvert doesn’t mean a person is shy; it means he needs quiet time alone to process the outcome of the group meetings and recharge his batteries before he wants to get back into the group-mode again.

An extrovert gains energy when she is out in the world, especially brainstorming with a group of people. She’s excited to share ideas and to process her thoughts verbally in the group. Sometimes she gets her best ideas while talking through a problem with other people.

How do you facilitate a group that includes both types?

An introvert needs quiet time, even a minute or two, to collect his thoughts and reactions to a given problem or situation. Giving the entire group a few minutes to write down their ideas on their own, before sharing, can give the introvert the space he needs to process.

On the other hand, the extrovert needs time to talk out loud, to process her thoughts while she’s actively communicating with others. Knowing this, you can allow the extrovert a few minutes to explain her situation: she just might find clarity — or even solve her problem herself — simply by talking openly about it.

Between meetings, give each of these types a way to communicate with the entire group, possibly through an online message forum. The extrovert will appreciate the ongoing connection to the group and the introvert can take his time to process internally, then communicate at his leisure.

How can you tell if a group member is an introvert or an extrovert?

It’s not possible to pigeon-hole someone and label them as “all introvert” or “all extrovert,” but there are tendencies the psychologists have identified that you can (and should) pay attention to:

  • an introvert makes more and sustained eye contact
  • an introvert will appear to think before she speaks
  • an introvert may disappear during breaks, or talk deeply with only one person during breaks
  • an introvert may seem shy around the group in the beginning, until he gets to know everyone better
  • an introvert needs quiet time away from the group to relax and process
  • an extrovert will appear energized by being in the group situation
  • an extrovert jumps right into the conversation and thinks while he speaks
  • an extrovert may prefer to talk with 3 or 4 people during breaks
  • an extrovert will interact with everyone in the group, even in the beginning, because she loves to meet new people
  • an extrovert may enjoy additional social time with the group after the official group meeting ends

As a mastermind group facilitator, teacher, or group coaching mentor, you will foster a tight, powerful group by being aware of these two personality types and giving each what they need.


If you'd like to learn more about the Art of Facilitation, join us October 10-11, 2013. (Note - early bird deadline expires August 10th!)

And learn more about facilitating both introverts and extroverts at the Learning & Change: International Dialogue Education Institute, October 24-27, 2013, during the session Solo Flights of Thought: The Power of Introversion in a World of Learning with Valerie Uccellani and Jeanette Romkema.

3 Tips for Engaging Presentations (Hint: It’s not about you!)

Want engaging presentations? Here's a hint. Stop thinking it’s about you.

Presenters often think of “engagement” as an adjective; we believe we must be engaging when we present. It is much more useful to see engagement as a verb, applied to the people you're addressing. And – this is important – we are not the actors. They are!

Sure, we need to have some content. We need to have a message. And it helps if we have style. But engagement doesn't happen because our story is so compelling. It happens when the people we’re addressing see themselves in the story. And it’s much easier for that to happen when we put them into the story from the get-go.

Below are three easy shifts you can make to start engaging your audience.

  1. Before you touch that slide deck or open up your PowerPoint, spend some time thinking about who is in the room. Why are they there? What would they being be doing if your presentation really hit the mark? (This thinking is way more valuable than thinking about what content you want to share. Think about your audience first, and keep coming back to them throughout your planning.)
  2. Define the Big Question you have for them and be sure to ask it. (Hint:  that question should not be "any questions?”) Once they are engaged in answering the question, they become the protagonists of your presentation. Yes, that cuts into your presenting time, but think about this:  if your goal is for this group to take some action or learn something specific, having them simply listen passively won’t help you achieve your goal.
  3. Be selective -- really selective -- about the content. In fact, just enough information to help them dig into the Big Question and no more. If they walked out remembering just three things (which is likely!), what would they be? How about one thing? You probably know a lot more about your topic. You may really love it. And most likely you have done a lot of thinking about it. You want people to understand everything you understand. But guess what? That's about you!

Your presentation needs to be about them.

Christine Little is a Partner at Global Learning Partners. You can work with Christine at the International Dialogue Education Institute - with Peter Perkins she's co-facilitating a 3-hour workshop entitled Your Self as an Instrument of Change. You can also sign up to work with Chris in a one-on-one private consultation at the Institute.



Dialogue Education Essentials: Laughter

Today begins a new series called Blogging Towards Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Because that's where we'll be learning together at the International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013. Each post will help to set the stage for the Institute.


Dialogue Education Essentials

Lately, Dr. Jane Vella, founder of  Dialogue Education has been thinking a great deal about the GPS that keeps Dialogue Educators on course as we design and lead learning events. She’s challenged herself and others with this question:

What are the ESSENTIALS  of Dialogue Education, without which it isn’t what it says it is?

“Suppose,” says Jane, “we speak of DEE:  Dialogue Education Essentials. And when I say essentials, I mean it isn’t apple pie without apples!”

Dialogue Education, says Jane, is a system - a somewhat mature system, but with all the chinks and weaknesses of any system. It is growing and developing – maturing, really – each time we do the solid research that manifests the usefulness and effectiveness of the system's components.

Over the coming months, Jane will be sharing with us her insights into the Dialogue Education Essentials, beginning today with laughter.

We invite you to offer evidence that these DEEs have worked in your diverse situations. Such precision, says Jane, can only shore up this beloved, demanding, sweet and successful-for-the-learners system we call Dialogue Education!

Dialogue Education Essentials:  LAUGHTER

A Dialogue Education event that did not ring with laughter would be suspect in my eyes.

  • Laughter is a physical, emotional, cognitive indicator of safety, engagement, and the relevance of the content.
  • Laughter is an indicator of the relationship at work in the small group, and of the group with the teacher!
  • Laughter is an indicator that the amygdala in the brain, which forces adrenaline into the bloodstream when a person is frightened or at risk, is at rest. A quiet amygdala is a physical, measurable sign of safety and of many of the other principles and practices of Dialogue Education!* (*Zull, James E., The Art of Changing the Brain 2002, From Brain to Mind 2011)

Laughter is an indicator to me that the human beings involved in learning together are not taking themselves too seriously. It is God's world. Isn't it great to have been invited along for the ride?

My friend Paula Berardinelli read a set of short stories I recently completed.

"Jane,” she said, “some of those stories were so funny. You have a future as a stand-up comic!"

I had to be honest.

"Paula,” I said, “at this stage in my life, I'm afraid it will have to be a sit-down comic!"

What do you think about laughter being a Dialogue Education Essential? How have you experienced laughter during learning events?

Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

What Do You Think Causes Malaria? Asking Questions Appropriately

The other day I had a conversation with an international DE practitioner who really got me thinking. She said: 

The GLP approach is great -- I believe in dialogue and open questions to make dialogue happen. But, people also need information! Especially in the fields of public health and financial literacy, there are right and wrong answers to questions. The dialogue approach I've seen poses questions to which any answer is correct and that's just not always the case. It's not useful to ask "what do you think causes malaria?" The people in our groups are busy trying to make ends meet -- they want to talk but they also came to learn something -- not just talk. I'm not sure the dialogue approach is right for that.

Well, I agree with her wholeheartedly -- and not at all.

Over the years, I've also seen many practitioners needlessly pose questions to which there is a correct answer. I think people understand that engaging learning involves asking questions and as a result they can become so intent on asking instead of telling that they can go too far and ask what could more easily be told. For instance:

  1. How does the pill work to prevent pregnancy?
  2. How do companies calculate credit score?
  3. What is official poverty rate in your city?

Any one of us could generate a zillion and one questions to which there is indeed a correct answer. But these are typically not the questions we want to pose to learners (unless, of course, our learners are taking a test to pass an exam as a public health nurse, a financial advisor, or a worker for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Dialogue Education practitioners need not feel shy about telling instead of asking. The trick – as described years ago by our very own Dr. Jane Vella – is this:

Don't tell what you can ask. Don't ask if you know the answer - tell in dialogue.

That's always been a tough axiom for folks to grasp in our introductory course. And, I dare say, it's a hard one for even some seasoned Dialogue Education practitioners to fully internalize. 

Here's how I might transform the three questions above from simple asking to telling in dialogue, with this axiom in mind.

  1. Watch this video clip that shows the action of a pill to prevent pregnancy. How does this alter your perspective about when life begins?
  2. Study this pie graphic showing six factors that contribute to credit score. Which of these factors do you imagine has most influenced your personal credit score?
  3. Examine this chart comparing poverty rates in 5 U.S. cities (adjusted for differences in the definition of poverty). What surprises or alarms you?

This was fun! It's much more rich, as a designer, to provoke dialogue around facts than to try and "fish" for information from people who came to you to learn that very information.

How might you transform the question "What Causes Malaria?" into a rich dialogue?


Valerie Uccellani is a Senior Partner with Global Learning Partners.

Naming the Work: Employing Verbs in Facilitation

I collect verbs. Until recently I assumed I was the only eccentric out there, engaged in doing so, but then I was introduced to Darlene Goetzman’s Voracious Verbs cards for facilitators. She, too, collects verbs. The verbs I collect come from resumés and strategic plans, well chosen in those contexts to convey strategic and/or innovative activity: achievements in the case of resumés; future goals in the case of planning documents.

I use my collection of verbs in my facilitation practice as a way of getting participants to think about the work that is before them. I encourage them to think hard and out loud, to discern together the true nature of what it is they are trying to achieve. Undoubtedly a cognitive learning task, the exercise can also have affective resonance. We sometimes feel differently when we reframe the work. Think for a minute, for example, about the difference between criticizing an employee’s work and clarifying performance expectations.              

I facilitate visioning and planning sessions with public library boards and staff, and in that context, a shared experience of landing on the right verb can shed important light on the true nature of the work required to realize the vision. Imagine the shift, for example, from thinking about organizational change as being that of building a new culture, to growing a new culture. Choosing the right verb for the strategy leads to a more expansive and more realistic understanding of the tasks involved. Naming the work as growing a new culture leads to understanding it as gradual and incremental, as a process requiring nourishment and nurturing conditions. Had it been named as building a new culture, important aspects of the work might be overlooked, as well as unrealistic expectations as to how quickly it can be achieved.

In addition to my role as facilitator, I also coordinate a leadership development program for public library staff. That work has led me to pull together a new collection of verbs – some overlap with my active, strategic verbs - but new candidates, as well. In this case, I am interested in verbs that describe the work of leadership, in particular, the people side of leadership:  awaken, empower, navigate, listen, inspire, choreograph. I believe it can be an important reflective exercise for emerging leaders to think carefully about what it means to be a leader in their given circumstance. I think it might be helpful, for example, to reframe the work of delegating to that of sharing the work, sharing ownership, and sharing responsibility for making success happen.

The verbs we choose hold connotations, sometimes metaphors. If we think of our work as that of orchestrating, for example, we consciously or unconsciously, see ourselves as arranging and coordinating diverse musicians to create a single piece of music. 

I’ve used verbs successfully as both ‘Anchor’ and ‘Apply’ activities, depending on what I am asking participants to ponder. I find it a useful way to cultivate discernment and sense making.    

How have you used verbs to enhance your work?

Anne Marie Madziak is a library development consultant with Southern Ontario Library Service (www.sols.org), an Agency of Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

8 Questions for Understanding Your Learners

When designing any learning event, the Dialogue Education 8 Steps of Design method demands that you develop in advance a deep understanding  of who will participate, taking into account their individual experience and needs so that you can tailor the design specifically for them; any learning event that makes too many assumptions about the participants is bound to disappoint.

In our foundational course, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, we use a simple tool called the ASO Triangle – Ask-Study-Observe – which provides you with a straightforward way of truly getting to know your participants so that you can develop an exceptional learning event.

This blog post gives you a snapshot of the first leg of the triangle:  ASK!

(What follows is excerpted from the new, downloadable book, Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events – the e-book covers the full ASO Triangle, with helpful examples and suggestions for work you can do with this tool).


In the ASK dimension, you will need to decide who you will ask, what you will ask, and how will you ask it.


Who can tell you about the situation, the learners, and what content is most important for this particular learning event? You want a range of opinions and insights, acknowledging that there are some decisions that will have been made for you and the learners. Here are a few examples of the types of people you might consider speaking to, depending, of course, on the field in which participants are working and the content you will be teaching : 

  • Clients
  • Former clients
  • Family members
  • Staff
  • Supervisors
  • Case counselors
  • Department directors
  • Lead trainers
  • The CEO
  • Nurses
  • Foremen . . .


Here are 8 suggested questions to ask your learners - what would you add?

  1. Which content is most important? Why?
  2. What is missing?
  3. What could be omitted?
  4. What information will help you make choices about the content you’ll be teaching?
  5. What are the expectations of the leadership, the learners, and the other stakeholders?
  6. What would make the greatest difference for this group of learners? Their lives? Their work? Their health?
  7. Who could be a resource to help you create relevant case studies or provide other types of examples to make the content real and engaging?
  8. For the more experienced people involved in the learning event, what challenges have they have seen or experienced when they were first learning how to (or learning about) ___________? What helped and would have helped their progress the most?


Consider how much time you have and how best to learn what is needed during that time by soliciting a range of views to give you the big picture. Even with very little time you can always take a sample that represents the full range of views. You can conduct surveys that ask a variety of questions (open, ranking, multiple choice) or conduct formal or informal interviews. Each of these methods can be completed face-to-face, by phone, e-mail, or mail.

What might you add to the task of asking? What’s worked for you?

If you’d like to learn more about the full ASO Triangle . . .

  1. Purchase a copy of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events and read Chapter 3.
  2. Sign up for Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. (No travel involved; work on your own from home and with other participants by phone in teleconferences - starts Oct 8, so register today!!)

4 Steps for Learning that Lasts

When you’re designing any kind of learning event – a workshop, seminar, class, meeting – one of the most important components of your design is your learning tasks, those elements of the event in which the learners do something with the content they've set out to learn. For learning that lasts, use the 4-A Model, a foolproof tool.

(What follows is excerpted from Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events, by Darlene M. Goetzman.)

The 4-A Model - ANCHOR  |  ADD  |  APPLY  |  AWAY

  • ANCHOR the content within the learner’s experience;
  • ADD new information;
  • Invite the learner to APPLY the content in a new way or situation;
  • Ask the learner to decide how or what he or she will take AWAY and use this learning in the future.

To design your learning tasks, it’s helpful to use the model in the order laid out above. It’s also helpful to view the 4As as though each ‘A’ is one of four components in a single learning task; these four parts – ANCHOR, ADD, APPLY and AWAY – complete a single learning cycle.


The ANCHOR part of the 4-A Model connects the topic you’re teaching to the learner’s experience. This component of a learning task ensures relevancy for your particular group of individuals and begins to indicate to them why this information is important to them right now. Through a well-crafted anchor question learners will be telling you and others in what way the content is relevant or connected to their experience.

The newest research on how the brain creates and stores information (creating memories) indicates that relevance, especially an affective (emotional) connection, enhances the likelihood of knowledge retention and of learners being more open to new learning.


In the ADD task, the emphasis is on adding new and vital information, and on inviting learners to do something with the new material to make it their own. One way to increase attention to important dimensions of the material is to preface a presentation with an instruction, such as:

  • As you watch this video clip, decide which features might be challenging and which may be easiest to implement at your site.
  • As you listen to the reader, circle what you see in the text box as most important for your work.
  • As you watch, decide which feature might be most useful to your clients.
  • As you study the diagram, write your questions about . . .

This provides a clear focus for the learners, makes them an active participant in the task, and reminds them of a meaningful reason for participating in this activity. (Notice that meaningful reasons come from what the learners decide in each of the above examples.)


Depending upon the content, the amount of time you have, and the level of proficiency the learners and you are aiming for, a variety of ways in which the learner works with the content are necessary for learning that sticks.

In the APPLY part of the 4-A Model you will create an additional meaningful opportunity for the learner to decide and do something with the content in order to cement his or her learning. Here are three APPLY examples:

  • Create a visual graphic of your responses to the questions; we’ll hear and consider these ideas.
  • At your table, share what you circled as important; together create a three-column poster, naming the important items, why you see each as important, and one way you could integrate this content into your daily schedule.
  • With your co-teacher, design a thirty-minute session that incorporates and reflects all you have learned about this topic while your taught it.


Research indicates that when learners make verbal and written commitments to new behaviors or practices, the likelihood that they will follow through on these commitments increases. What will help learners make their own unique decision to do something different or new later?  An ideal AWAY provides learners with an opportunity to:

  • Select a new behavior or practice;
  • Commit to it; and
  • Create a reminder that will hold them accountable to their commitment.

In others words, an AWAY task sets learners up to be more successful at practicing their learning when they’re back at home or at work. In reality, not every learning task has or even needs an AWAY, but every great design for a learning event has at least one! It is good practice for you to get into the habit of including an AWAY so that you are always considering what it is you hope the learner will do differently because of engaging with the content through the learning task you created.

How have you used the 4As in your work?

This is just an overview of the 4As. If you’d like to get into more depth, here are a couple of options:

  1. Purchase a copy of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events and read Chapter 11.
  2. Sign up for Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. (No travel involved; work on your own from home and with other participants by phone in teleconferences - starts Oct 8, so register today!!)

4 Simple Suggestions for Better Meetings

I’m the president of a non-profit board of trustees and before I took the helm our meetings were primarily show-and-tell sessions:  the director showed and told and we sat passively and listened, contributing ideas when we were asked. That was then. 

Fast-forward to now. I remember the moment when, after months spent introducing some SUREFire Meetings practices into our group, I realized our board culture had shifted for good – here’s what I saw:

  • Every single person was up from the table, posting ideas on the wall;
  • An enthusiastic and constructive dialogue was taking place as people worked;
  • As facilitator I completely disappeared from people’s consciousness – this was their meeting!

To be honest, I don’t use everything I learned in SUREFire Meetings, one of the courses offered by Global Learning Partners, but I use just enough to make a difference (and aspire to use even more – practice, practice!). Here are a couple of suggestions, based on small things I did that made a difference:

  1. Prepare & Seek Input – E-mail everyone in advance and ask for their input on the agenda (feedback on the draft and additional items to add).
  2. Plan for Reactions – Know that people have reactions when information is presented (whether it’s invited or not), so plan in advance a specific way to ask them to react – people feel more comfortable when they know their role, so spell it out for them and steer them in the right direction. Ask open questions!
  3. Engage – During the meeting, break up the usual round-table discussion with small groups or pairs work so everyone’s voice can be heard. For example:  In pairs, describe the new policy in your own words. Back in the larger group, what are your questions about the new policy?
  4. Be Respectful – Start and end on time, with periodic check-ins during the meeting; it sounds so simple but think how often it doesn’t happen – respect people’s time!

What have you done to make your meetings better?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:  There's only ONE SURE Fire Meetings course in 2013, and it's fast-approaching! March 21-22 in Stowe, VT (still good skiing at that time!). Check it out!

Ten Dialogue Education Tips for Camping

Camped at High House Tarn Bottom

I am so passionate about Dialogue Education and camping that I just couldn’t stop myself from bringing these two together while on a camping trip in northern Canada last week…

  1. Arrange your chairs, or whatever you sitting around the fire pit on, in a circle to ensure inclusion and safety. Yes, the circle is a shape and space that holds power and mystery in any situation, even camping. Many indigenous people use a ‘sacred circle’ where something is passed from person to person in a circle, giving each individual an opportunity to share whatever is on their heart/mind. It is not a time for dialogue, but is a time for deep and open sharing.
  2. Go for a ‘walk and talk’ in the forest. Although the ‘talk’ part is optional, the walking through woods and on beaten trails to discover hilltops, beaver dams, and open meadows is not. The outdoors can heal even the most wounded soul or stressed body. 
  3. Get a change of scenery from time to time during the day to keep you alert and appreciating your surroundings. Just as changing the environment can energize any group of learners, moving from a walk in the forest to a cool dip in the lake to a warm seat beside the campfire, can be refreshing and invigorating.
  4. Use the 4As:  ANCHOR your boat when you reach a good fishing spot, ADD marshmallows to your shopping list, APPLY bug repellant during bug season, and do AWAY with any unnecessary items on your trip. 
  5. Keep your campsite clean and well-organized. Just as your learning event space will lead to more learning if everything is intentionally arranged and present, so too your camping experience will be more enjoyable and relaxing if your site is well-organized and clean. Nobody likes to climb out of their tent in the morning to find their hiking boots soaking wet from a night rain; and, everyone likes to be able to find the toilet paper easily when they most need it. 
  6. Show respect to your neighbouring campers. As any good DE practitioner knows, respect leads to safety, which leads to engagement, which leads to inclusion, which leads to … well, a shared meal of freshly caught fish of course!
  7. Do your 8 steps of planning:
    • The people (WHO) – Think carefully about who you are going camping with (their expectations, needs, interests, past camping experiences), for they will impact the success of the experience.
    • The reason (WHY) – Remember why one goes camping: to relax. So, don’t take too many people, too many things or have too many expectations.
    • The desired change (SO THAT) – Your desired change should be obvious: to come back more relaxed. That’s enough.
    • The place (WHERE) – Well, it has to be in nature or it doesn’t qualify: forest, trees, water, and away from the daily grind.
    • The time (WHEN) – Go as often as possible really, but at least once a year. Summertime is obvious, but the other seasons are also wonderful. I only have 1 tip for those of you living in Canada: avoid black fly season!
    • The content (WHAT) – For me I guess there are a few things: forest hikes, long kayaking trips, food on the open fire, sleeping in the fresh air and warm sleeping bag, reading a good book, playing games, and sharing stories around the campfire.
    • The objectives (WHAT FOR) – Well, you will know you did it when you did it! Yes, it feels that good.
    • The plan (HOW) – Don’t sweat this step, because over-planning will not make for a better camping experience. Just go with the flow and see where the wind blows – and pray it doesn’t blow the smoke in your eyes!
  8. Be flexible. Since your #1 goal should be to relax and enjoy yourself, you don’t want to feel stress because something is not working out the way you planned or the weather is not what you had hoped or the ‘right’ food is not around for the dinner plan you had. Just go with the flow and you will feel … well, more relaxed.
  9. Always take an appropriately warm sleeping bag and clothes. Although in a learning event you want to always start with a ‘warm-up’, when you are camping you want to end the day feeling ‘warm enough’. There is nothing worse than feeling cold (or wet) when you are in the middle of nowhere and you have 7 more days of camping in front of you.
  10. Less is more. You decide what you need less of…

Red WinePOST NOTE: Our first evening on our camp site this year my husband Peter was bemoaning the fact that he had forgotten to take a bottle red wine to go along to go with a wonderful foil-covered meal he had simmering over the fire. Just then he noticed our neighbour camper was enjoying just that, a bottle of red wine … to which I replied, “I have a Tip for that!”. Just have a look at Tip 6 in the above list – that would do it!

Here it is again, with more feeling:

6. Show respect to your neighbouring campers. As any good DE practitioner knows, respect leads to safety, which leads to engagement, which leads to inclusion, which leads to … well, a shared bottle of red wine of course!

How are you using DE on your summer vacation?


5 Tips for Working With Small Groups

Dialogue Education™ can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with small groups.

  1. Continue to use smaller groups or pairs. Avoid the temptation to have all dialogue happen within the full group no matter how small. Learners may still feel reluctant to be the first to share with the whole group even when the group is small. If the group is quite small try splitting the group in two or using pairs for initial discussions and then hearing a sample as a whole group.
  2. Be prepared. Plan ahead if you know or suspect that the group may be small. Make sure that your “How” or your design will work with a small number of people. Adapt any tasks that rely on a larger number of learners.
  3. Use Energizers. Without the buzz of dialogue that comes with a large group it can be easy in a small group for the tone to become more subdued. Inject energy through music,  change,  movement and humour.
  4. Ensure all voices have space. In a small group,  strong personalities may become more overpowering and impact the safety of the group. Refer to the “10 Types of Learners” for strategies to respond to various learner personalities. Be sure to continue to invite,  not expect,  participation in group dialogue so that learners don’t feel pressured to speak up.
  5. Make it Safe. Small groups can tend to feel more intimate. This can be a great atmosphere for learning – if safety is adequately established. Be sure to create group guidelines together,  use a warm-up,  keep it relevant but light at the beginning,  and don’t get too personal too soon.

What tips do you have for working effectively in small groups? Share them below in the comments section. And if you missed it,  check out last week's post,  5 Tips for Working in Large Groups.


Want to deepen your learning even further? Explore our Advanced Learning Design workshops! It counts toward fulfilling the requirements towards becoming a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner.

5 Tips for Working in Large Groups

Dialogue Education can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with large groups.
  1. Match the WHERE with the WHO. When you know you have a large group coming to an event it is critical to find a space to allow everyone to sit and move around comfortably,  which enables you to easily work in groups. The learning environment has a direct impact on what types of tasks you can execute and how. If you have no control of the space,  limit the number of people. If you have no control of either,  find ways to have groups move to other nearby spaces for various tasks or portions of tasks.
  2. Sample. When work,  debate,  and engagement with new content has happened in groups,  there is no need to share everything again in the large group. The learning has already happened;  the time in the large group can be used to hear a summary of the work,  OR general observations about what happened,  OR pressing questions. This can be done by quantifying the responses (e.g. “Let’s hear one idea from each small group”) or hearing a few examples of what was discussed (e.g. “We’ll hear a few of your strategies”). Long periods of time talking in the large group can de-energize,  give select (often articulate and powerful) people time to talk, and exclude many voices.
  3. Use individual or reflective work. In addition to small group work,  time to work independently can help learners to individualize the learning by analyzing how it fits within their context and planning how they will use what they are learning. It can be helpful to follow up individual work by hearing a sample from the group.
  4. Ensure safety. Many learners do not feel comfortable sharing within a large group setting,  unless safety is well established. When facilitating dialogue or sampling within the large group,  invite participation but don’t require it (those who want to speak up will),  give lots of affirmation to those who do contribute without taking anything away from those who don’t,  have opportunities for learners to share in small groups or pairs before sharing in the large group and begin with open questions that invite dialogue about topics familiar to the learners.
  5. Use more pair,  trio and small group activities. The best way to raise all voices,  engage everyone at the same time,  and make all learners feel included is by using pair,  trio or small group work. Learning happens when new content is challenged,  debated and used. Reducing the size of a group by dividing it up is a great way to do this. It is also very energizing!

What has been helpful for you in working with large groups?


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Respecting Others in the Age of Distraction

Tom James the unicycling juggler. . .I have to confess that in a conference call meeting the other day I found myself multi-tasking instead of paying careful attention. I justified it to myself by only doing it during agenda items that didn’t completely involve me. Still, I was clearly distracted! After trying a few times to do more than one thing I took a breath, reminded myself how disrespectful I was being to the other participants, and focused again on the conversation at hand. In an earlier post I wrote about the difficulties we have with multi-tasking, about how switching from one task to another is wildly distracting. More and more I believe this is true. Jim Taylor from Computerworld says that “multitasking is a big fat lie:”

Multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that has been promulgated by the "technological-industrial complex" to make overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel productive and efficient.

 So how do we refrain from the temptations of multi-tasking when we’re in a virtual meeting? Eilene Zimmerman, in a New York Times article – Staying Professional in Virtual Meetings – suggests the following: 

  • prepare in advance for the meeting and actively participate just as you would in a face-to-face meeting;
  • use the mute button only to cut out distracting noises in the background (ie NOT to mute the sound of your keyboard as you check your e-mail!);
  • if you find yourself constantly asking for clarification or for questions to be repeated, take that as a sign that you’re not paying attention – focus;
  • there’s sometimes a delay on the line, so preface your remarks with an intro like “excuse me” or “question” and wait to be recognized.

If you have trouble focusing you might consider getting focus: a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction, the new free e-book by Leo Babauta. It’s full of great advice for minimizing distractions and staying focused on the moment. How many of you Dialogue Education practitioners have tossed the principle of respect right out the window by multi-tasking during virtual meetings? Come up, ‘fess up! I can’t possibly be alone! [This post was written with single-minded, laser-beam focus, without allowing any distractions . . . oh, except for the three times the phone rang and I checked caller ID to see who was phoning.]

You might also consider learning how to apply the principles and practices of Dialogue Education in an online setting by registering for Dialogue Education Online - hurry, though, it starts on January 24, 2013!!

The iPhone vs. Dialogue Education

How many of you facilitators want to frisk your participants before a learning event so you can strip them of their iPhones (or Blackberries or Palm Pilots or . . . )? No more sneaking peaks at e-mail during the warm-up tasks, no checking the weather while another team is practice teaching, no calling in for voice messages during the break . . . ah, wouldn’t that be fantastic?

People think that because they’ve spent years learning how to multi-task, they can easily pay attention to a facilitator, their iPhone, and their learning partner all at the same time. Guess what? They can’t. According to Dr. Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, you can only truly focus on one thing at a time. What we think of as multi-tasking is actually just switching our focus from one thing to the next, albeit with incredible speed. But what this means is that if someone is engaged in a group conversation while simultaneously texting a friend, they are really only able to pay attention to one thing – either they don’t hear all that’s said in the group or they send their friend a garbled text message. Dr. Miller says that one reason for this is that if our brains are trying to perform similar tasks at once – like communicating orally and in writing – our brain is competing with itself to use that brain function and it’s “nearly impossible to do [two similar things] at the same time.” And then, of course, the brain gets tired and overwhelmed.

Listen to this brief piece from NPR’s Morning Edition:  Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. Next time you frisk your students, tell them you’re simply trying to provide their brains with an oasis of focus – a welcome break for their weary minds – in their typically chaotic, multi-tasking world.

Have you forbidden mobile hand-held devices in your classroom? Do you turn off your own while you’re teaching (even on breaks)? See the comments section, below, too, for a link to Dwayne Hodgson's post about how TO use the iPhone in the classroom!