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

Posts tagged with "Training"

A Dialogue Approach Transforms Corporate Training: A Spectacular Example

Global Learning Partners-certified practitioner Margaret Bean recently reflected on her years as a leader in the Learning and Development department of 7-Eleven. From her reflections, we extracted Six Tips that are helpful for all of us as we bring dialogue-based learning principles into new settings.

#1. Expand your company’s understanding of what training is.

When Margaret first arrived at 7-Eleven, training, telling, and job aids were often seen as interchangeable. While patiently and effectively designing job aids as her first assignments, she also gradually transformed the view of training from that narrow definition to a broader understanding of training as a dialogue-based, hands-on learning experience.

#2. Build communication between training designers (developers) and training facilitators (deliverers).

As is often the case in corporations, those who developed 7-Eleven training and those who delivered it were two different groups of people who rarely communicated with each other. As lead developer for operations training (which takes place in training stores all across the US and Canada), Margaret knew how critical it was for her to understand what the deliverers experienced in the field and the importance of having continual dialogue with them. This change in communication led to a robust collaboration over the years with a core group of volunteer trainers. All facilitators and their supervisors felt a new ownership, which led to consistency in training across the US and Canada, and better-trained store operators and field leaders – resulting in reduced cost and increased profitability. It also resulted in Margaret being awarded the 2014 Gold Award by the international Brandon Hall Group for Best Learning Team.

#3. Expand the design skills of everyone involved in training.

Margaret thoughtfully strengthened the design capacity of deliverers so that they 1) could offer valuable input into the design of what they were teaching (consultative voice), and 2) could more effectively adapt the training materials to unique contexts without losing the integrity of the original design. [At GLP, we’ve found that the principles to practice framework is a great way to talk with both developers and deliverers about their distinct but complementary roles.]

#4. See every training program as a living thing.

As Margaret so wisely says, “a training program is living and breathing, so it always needs to be iterated and updated.” Margaret and her team took a 2-year-old operations training program that had been on its deathbed and revitalized it. They updated it every quarter by gathering feedback and analyzing indicators of participants’ learning, their transfer of their learning into practice, and the impact of this transfer upon the company. Examples of this impact were:

  • 75% reduction in required reading in favor of hands-on practice
  • 20% decrease in participants’ time to complete training, leading to over 70% decrease in training costs
  • 7% increase in sales
  • 2.5% improvement in operators’ performance.

Rather than push to create “finished” products, Global Learning Partners encourages companies to continually gather learner feedback as well as data about the results of your training efforts. It is important to create processes to periodically update to newer versions so that your training responds to patterns of feedback and to the current context.

#5. Embrace the axiom: Less is More.

When Margaret took over the design of the operations training, the materials consisted of two huge binders that users struggled to read, and then set on shelves. Through a thoughtful and collaborative process, Margaret’s team trimmed down the materials by 75% in favor of hands-on practice and application. Both trainers and users were much more satisfied with the training, and, as we’ve seen, it was much more effective.

#6. Keep your eyes on results.

As a for-proft corporation, 7-Eleven understandably needs hard financial data to evaluate the effectiveness of their operations training efforts. Not suprising to Margaret (or others of us who specialize in a learning-centered approach), the results of this new approach were convincing: training was more efficient, and graduates showed increased performance and profitability!

These are just a few of the many tips and insights that Margaret had to share from her years bringing a dialogue-learning approach to this corporate setting.

What tips and insights would you share?


Margaret Bean (margspiel@gmail.com) was a Senior Instructional Designer for 7-Eleven, working in the company’s corporate office in Dallas, Texas, where she was responsible for the design and content of their operations training. In 2014 she won the Brandon Hall Best Learning Team gold award for building and developing a cross-functional team to collaborate and consult in developing, implementing and continuously improving this training program. She also used to design trainings for leadership, employees, and national conferences. 

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

Meg Logue (meglogue25@gmail.com) is a freelance designer and communications specialist. She has worked closely as an assistant and consultant to Valerie and GLP since 2017.

Learning in Community: The Potential of Coactive Vicarious Learning

As the parent of a child with a developmental disability, I continue to experience the importance of “coactive vicarious learning”. I can explain things repeatedly, make detailed lists for how to do something, and even demonstrate whatever the task(s) may be. In the end, my daughter usually teaches me that what works best is to observe, ask questions, try it out, get feedback and then try again. Over time, she makes sense in her own way of what needs to be done and how she can best do it.

And that makes perfect sense! She is a different person than I am with different talents, challenges and ways of navigating the world. If I want her to really understand and “own” whatever I am trying to teach her, I need to acknowledge that my way is not the only way and to support her in bringing her skills, approaches and interests to the task.

It seems that what my daughter is slowly but surely teaching me could also be of some value to businesses and other organizations. In his recent synopsis of on-going research by Christopher Myers, Michael Blanding notes:

“Companies routinely expect employees to pick up new job knowledge through vicarious learning—through reading descriptions of tasks in knowledge-management databases or by observing colleagues from afar.”

Myers suggests this approach both ignores the critical importance of tacit knowledge and assumes “that the person undertaking the learning wants to duplicate exactly what the other person is doing—despite the fact that they may be perpetuating mistakes made by a predecessor or simply following procedures that may be a bad fit for a person of a different personality and skillset.” 

In what I suspect is not a revelation to Dialogue Education practitioners, Myers goes on to suggest that instead of seeking a more effective one-way transfer of pre-formed knowledge packets, we should be “talking about co-creation and building it together.”  What we need is coactive vicarious learning where “both the learner and the sharer of knowledge bring things to the table and together create something new.”

[Photo: "What is the best way to carve a turkey?" Coactive vicarious learning in the kitchen at a Paterson family gathering!]

Sounds great, but what might that look like in practice within organizational settings?

Myers observes that some of the best learning among co-workers occurs in more discursive settings in which colleagues are able to “dig in with each other” and ask “‘Why did you do it this way, and not that way?’” Managers can be more intentional about creating times, places and a culture that supports not just the sharing of stories, but also asking questions and creating shared meaning together through dialogue.

This is not the first time someone has suggested that more discursive forms of interaction can promote better learning and improved performance within organizations.  (For example, check this out.)  So why then do we continue to have organizations “stuck” in their traditional approaches to training, knowledge transfer and performance improvement? How can we shift our focus to creating supportive environments for these forms of interactions not just in workshops and “training settings,” but also in the day-to-day interactions of organizations and communities?

Myers points to one possible strategy for making progress in this area:

“Managers don’t have to redesign a building to engineer these encounters. Just by observing where employees naturally congregate and then tacitly condoning those conversations or actively participating in them can go a long way toward normalizing the kind of office culture that encourages employee interaction.”

I would really appreciate the opportunity to gather around the water cooler or in the lunchroom to share stories and learn with my colleagues. However, like a growing number of organizations I exist in a network that is spread across a wide geography. And as we have come to see more and more within the world of community change, the dialogue and learning that wants to happen is often between peers who are literally hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Our “water cooler” has become the internet and websites set up as places for virtual shared learning.

So how can we incorporate principles and practices of dialogue education more effectively into these virtual settings and processes?

I am looking forward to exploring these and related questions at Global Learning Partners’ upcoming Learning Design Retreat later this month. But for now, I need to go learn more from and with my daughter! 

What do you think?  How does this resonate with your experiences?


Chris Paterson is a Co-Founder and Senior Fellow with Community Initiatives. He has over 20 years of experience working with groups of leaders to develop effective collaborative planning efforts, use information-based tools as catalysts for shared learning, and engaging in local and national peer learning networks and events. Through his efforts, Chris seeks to create environments that foster dialogue, promote learning and bring a bit of joy to work that serves the well-being of all community members. To learn more about Chris and his work, please visit http://communityinitiatives.com 

Volunteers: Key Helpers in the Ebola Response

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a health emergency, many groups and individuals have volunteered to assist in the response, highlighting the importance of volunteers in combating the response.  In Liberia the volunteers, both national and international, are a critical component of efforts to stop the outbreak from spreading further.  In Liberia many communities have volunteers that are doing contact tracing, sharing information on Ebola prevention, keeping the community informed about the status in their communities and linking communities to assistance.

Realizing the fatality rate associated with this disease and the number of infections and deaths among health workers, it is essential that we continue to advocate for and support programs to build the capacity of these volunteers. It is important for us to help these volunteers to keep safe.  In keeping these volunteers safe as they serve it is important to include the following four interventions:

  1. Provide volunteers with proper training. They need correct information on Ebola, what it is (and isn’t), how it is spread, and how to prevent it.  Training must be interactive giving volunteers the opportunity to ask and answer questions, as well as, practice all actions that are essential in preventing Ebola.  More importantly it is essential that volunteers have time in the training to learn how to prevent themselves from getting infected. They need to learn through practice and feedback sharing – learning is truly in the doing! Too often information is not learned because adult learning principles were ignored. This crisis is too important for learning not to happen with volunteers!
  2. Provide volunteers with supplies.  They need proper materials during awareness-raising sessions to deepen the learning for everyone. Learning should not become a guessing game! Some of these materials include: chlorine, Clorox, and buckets. 
  3. Provide volunteers with psychosocial support.  The situation of massive loss of lives and the suddenness of it often causes psychosocial issues. These need to be taken seriously and acted upon instantly.
  4. Encourage volunteers to practice good self-care. This will include tips such as:
  • Be healthy: stay fit, eat well, and limit alcohol, drugs and tobacco intake.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if they feel sick.  Do not self-medicate.
  • Share insights and stories with other volunteers as often as possible. Talk about what you are experiencing.
  • Take time for themselves: sing, dance, exercise, meditate, have fun with friends and laugh. Taking a break from this work is critical for sustainability and personal health.


[Image from Internatinal Business Times]


Marion Subah is a Senior Technical Advisor at Jhpiego and a Certified Dialogue Education Teacher.  You can read more about Marion and her work here.   

Are You a Splitter or a Lumper?

Wednesday, October 2, 4:15 p.m. - Wrapping up Day 2 as a participant in Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, it struck me like a lightning bolt! I'm a lumper. Not to be confused with lumpy . . . that's a whole other blog.

You see, I am an animal trainer. I spend a great deal of time teaching animals behaviors that are compatible with human life. I teach dogs to walk on the loose leash and not pull their owner, to go potty outside and not on the wool rug, to chew specific toys and not Italian slingbacks, and to be sociable and comfortable with new people. Including the mailman.

When I create these training plans, I break them down into the smallest components possible. These thin slices, or “splits,” as animal trainers call them, help the animal be successful and build new criteria in a seamless fashion.

It's similar to a great novel. One page alone does not mean much; however, when the pages are read in order, each page builds the story and creates a wonderful fantasyland.

As I was working on my learning design, I realized that I was not using the same thoughtful process with my human learners as I do with my animal learners. I was lumping together too many broad concepts and asking people to absorb the information without giving them the opportunity to actually apply it. Dialogue Education - in particular the 8 Steps of Design -  sets you up to be a splitter! When designed well, learning events will be broken into component pieces that build from one another. Your content and tasks will sequence so seamlessly that participants will almost not recognize that they are learning complex skills or concepts.

So ask yourself, are you a splitter or a lumper? If you’re a splitter, congratulations!  The participants at your learning events will be grateful for the time you have spent in designing their materials and will have learned many things from you. If you're a lumper, consider the principles of Dialogue Education and if you haven't already, I highly recommend attending GLP’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach course.  

In the end, whether you're teaching companion animals or people, you want them to learn new skills, be engaged, feel safe, and feel that their voices were heard.

Natalie Zielinski is Behavior Program Manager at Wisconsin Humane Society, and a happy graduate of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (now called The Foundations of Dialogue Education).

Upping the Ante on Brainstorming: 5 tips to increase group creativity and productivity

Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path! ~ Michael Culliton

For years I have used “brainstorming” to help groups generate creative responses to important and challenging situations. Recently, I’ve run across several things that have led me to realize that if I really want to help groups cultivate and amplify creativity, then I need to do some things differently.

The journey began with reading James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain as preparation for Dr. Jane Vella’s plenary session, “The Biology of Learning,” at the October 2013 International Dialogue Education Institute. This has heightened my curiosity about learning, creativity and the brain and led me to, among other things, a fascinating interview with Rex Jung, a professor of neurosurgery and a clinical neuropsychologist talking about creativity and the everyday brain.

It was in the interview with Dr. Jung that I heard the bad news:  my beloved brainstorming was not a healthy host for creativity. The studies supporting this conclusion are presented in a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” (If you are interested in a thorough and nuanced explanation of the research mentioned below, I highly recommend the article.)

Based on the research presented in the article, here are five things I plan to do differently.

  1. STOP using the term “brainstorming.” As far back as 1958, a study at Yale University showed that the process doesn’t yield the best results within a group. So, I think it’s time to give it up. I’m not sure what to call the revised process of creative idea generation just yet (any ideas?).
  2. Ask people to engage in “solo” idea-generation first.  Subsequent research at Northwestern University confirmed the Yale study and also showed that a group produces a greater number and better quality of ideas when people generate a solo list of ideas first and then bring them to the group. (Sorry fellow extroverts!)
  3. When the solo ideas are brought to large group, introduce a “debate condition.” Studies done in 2003 at Berkeley found that ideas and actions are more effective when they are vetted via a process that allows for questioning and challenge. (Farewell my sweet brainstorming guideline of “No judging, analyzing, or evaluating of ideas!”) Given the principle of “safety,” as a Dialogue Education practitioner I’ll need to experiment with structures that allow ideas to be vetted while honoring this important principle.
  4. In group idea-generating conversations, experiment with ways to interject “errant responses” that have the potential to interrupt predictability and foster “aha’s.” The same Berkeley researcher mentioned above found that “unfamiliar perspectives,” as well as “unexpected” – even wacky – responses, can help groups think their way off of well-worn paths. Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path!
  5. Structure meeting and break-times in ways that foster more mixing and happenstance. Recent studies at Harvard University suggest that physical proximity and spontaneous interactions foster creativity. This has led me to wonder how I as a Dialogue Education practitioner can better structure meeting and break-time environments to increase the opportunity for people to interact with a greater number and variety of people. For starters, in designing meeting processes, perhaps I’ll make greater use of tasks that invite people to share “cocktail party style” or “speed-dating fashion.” Maybe I’ll put the beverages at one end of the room and the snacks at the other.

I’m looking forward to playing with these changes in the idea-generation process and to discovering how these revised practices help me and the groups of which I am a part to be even more creative and productive.

What ideas come to mind for you?

What might a Dialogue Education-based idea-generation process, one that puts the research outlined above into practice, look like?

How might a Dialogue Educator introduce such a practice to a group or in meeting?


Michael Culliton, GLP Partner, is co-facilitating a session entitled Educational Jujitsu for the 21st Century: Applying User Research and Design in Learning at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations.

You can also work with Michael is an upcoming workshop:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach   |   October 1-4, 2013   |   San Diego, California

Dialogue Education Essentials: Safety

The system that is Dialogue Education demands safety. Learners must feel safe with the content, with the teacher, with the environment, with their colleagues. The designer/teacher must feel safe with her partners, with her design, with the group of learners, with the environment. Safety is not merely a nice aspect of the system:  it is absolutely essential. The brain cannot work if you’re not safe; when the amygdala is churning out adrenaline because a person is scared, mad, or sad – at risk, in danger – then synapses shut down and new dendrites cannot grow.* No new learning.

Fear is never a tool or a condition for learning.

Safety throughout a learning design invites challenge:  Bring it on! Safety is seen in the beauty of the materials, the sequence of the learning tasks, the visible relationship between partnering teachers, the relationships developing in the small groups and in the large group, the setting up of the environment, the fragrance of good coffee or cinnamon buns, the sharing that took place before the event in the Learning Needs and Resources Assessment, the positive framing of feedback, the timing of learning tasks . . . in short, the whole design, the entire system.

Did you notice how these principles and practices cling together, and connect? The shin bone connected to the foot bone…We can dare to call this an organic system, the means congruent with the end:  learning.

*Thanks for the brain ideas, from James E. Zull’s, 2002 book, The Art of Changing the Brain.

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

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.

The Surprising Truth About Moving Others: An Interview with Author Dan Pink

Recently, bestselling author Daniel H. Pink took some time out of his wildly crazy schedule to answer GLP's burning questions about his compelling new book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. Why should you care about sales? You'd be surprised . . . read on!


GLP:  Your book – To Sell is Human – is all about sales. Our community is filled with trainers and consultants who think “sales” is conducted by the world’s used-car salespeople, not by trainers and consultants. Why should they care about sales?

Dan:  Well, like it or not, they're in sales, too. If they're independent trainers and consultants, they're selling their services all the time. If they're in-house, they're selling in a broader sense. That is, they're spending an enormous about of their time, persuading, influencing, and convincing others to make an exchange. They're trying to get the boss to free up resources, their colleagues to do different things in different ways, and so on. We have survey research showing that American workers are spending about 40 percent of their time on the job -- 24 minutes of every hour -- in what I call "non-sales selling."

It's understandable that some people in your community might not like that idea. Lots of folks think of sales as sleazy, cheesy, and slimy. But that view is outdated. Selling has a bad rap because most of what we know about it arose in a world of information asymmetry -- where the seller always had more information than the buyer and therefore could rip off the buyer. But today, information asymmetry is giving way to something at least close to information parity. That's changed the game in ways we've scarcely recognized. We now live in a world not just of "buyer beware" -- but also of "seller beware."

GLP:  One tenet central to our Dialogue Education approach to training and development is the power of the open question to ignite learning; in your book you hit upon the power of self-talk and self-questioning, which caught our interest. Tell us more!

Dan:  “Interrogative self-talk" was one of the most intriguing ideas I ran across in my research. The conventional view is that before an important pitch meeting or sales call, the smartest move is to pump ourselves up -- to tell ourselves, "You can do it." That's certainly better than doing nothing. But new research shows it's not nearly as effective as turning the declaration into a question -- and instead asking ourselves, "Can you do it?" The reason is that questions, by their very nature, elicit an active response. So when I ask myself "Can you do it?" I have to answer -- and I have to explain how I'm going to do it. In those answers, I rehearse and prepare in a way that's far more muscular than mere affirmation.

GLP:  We’re all familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert. In your book you introduce an intriguing new term—ambivert. What can you tell us about ambiverts?

Dan:  We have this notion that some people are "born" salespeople -- and, by extension, that certain types of people do it best. Many of us believe that extraverts make the best sales people. But new research from Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School calls that into question. In his research, which I write about here, he found that strong extraverts were only slightly better at sales than strong introverts. Why? Strong extraverts can talk too much and listen too little and overwhelm people with their forceful personalities. The people who did the best -- by far -- were the "ambiverts," those in the middle. These folks, who are somewhat introverted and somewhat extraverted, are the most attuned and therefore make the best salespeople. What ought to be heartening is that most of us are neither strong introverts nor strong extraverts. Most of us are ambiverts, which suggests that most of us are reasonably well-positioned to sell effectively.

GLP:  We love that your book includes sample cases at the end of each section! Imagine that you were opening the doors to Dan Pink’s One Day School of Business Thought. What are the top three exercises you would share with our trainers to help them increase their sales acumen (without feeling smarmy)?

Dan:  To Sell is Human contains about 70 tools, tips, and exercises that build on the social science to give people practical ways to get better at selling. Here are three that might help:

  1. Pull up a chair. This is a technique used by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. In any meeting, he includes an empty chair at the table, to remind those assembled who’s really the most important person in the room: the customer. Your empty chair might be a client, a trainee, or a company executive. Once you get used to including that person in your thinking, you’ll have gone a long way toward understand their thinking.
  2. Try a question pitch. Questions often pack a surprising punch – In 1980, Ronald Reagan made effective use of a very simple question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Yet questions are underused when we try to move others, despite a raft of social science that suggests we should deploy them more often. Beginning with research in the 1980s, several scholars have found that questions can outperform statements in persuading others. The reasons for the difference go to the core of how questions operate. When I make a statement, you can receive it passively. When I ask a question, you’re compelled to respond, either aloud if the question is direct or silently if the question is rhetorical. That requires at least a modicum of effort on your part. Can you come up with a great question pitch for your product or idea?
  3. Ask yourself the two most important questions. At every opportunity you have to move someone, be sure you can answer the two questions at the core of genuine service: (1) If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? and (2) When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you’re doing something wrong.

Daniel H. Pink is the author of five provocative books– including the long-running New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mind and Drive. His latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller, a #1 Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and a #1 Washington Post nonfiction bestseller. Dan’s books have been translated into 34 languages. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children.

10 Axioms for Learning Design (and just what IS an axiom, anyway?)

If you’ve been kicking around Dialogue Education circles long enough you’ll have heard a bunch of axioms bandied about. You might have read Dr. Jane Vella’s A Few New Axioms, about the new truths that have become apparent to her during her retirement years, or seen the results of the experiment Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant undertook as a result of an axiom.

But what is an axiom, really?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way:

  • A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim.
  • An established rule, principle, or law.
  • A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.

In the world of Dialogue Education learning designs, we have ten favorites that we explore in our Advanced Learning Design course and we invite you to ponder them for a moment as you read them here:

  1. Don’t tell what you can ask; don’t ask if you know the answer:  tell in dialogue.
  2. Even a group of 4 (or 400) can be broken down to pairs: let every voice be heard!
  3. A warm-up is a learning task related to the topic.  It is not an extra.
  4. A learning task is an open question, put to a small group with the resources they need to respond.  It is for the learners, not you, the teacher.
  5. A critical incident (case study posing a problem) needs to be far enough away to be safe, and close enough to be relevant.
  6. Pray for doubt!
  7. The more teaching (professing), the less learning.
  8. We should generally be teaching half as much in twice the time.
  9. Aim for the proper sequence or flow, from simple to more complex.
  10. The design bears the burden.

In Advanced Learning Design we do a task together towards the end of our three-day course that’s focused on the axioms:

Think about what you have found most stretching and provocative during the past three days. Create your own pearl of wisdom to express your learning in the form of an axiom!  Write or draw it on the paper provided and bring it to our axiom wall.


Take a Gallery Walk and express your reactions to what you see.

While we can't have a typical Gallery Walk here on our blog, we do have a comments section below that will suffice. A lot of you are very experienced teachers, facilitators and trainers – what are your favorite axioms related to learning designs? We invite you to share your comments below.

If you’d like to discover more pearls of wisdom for yourself, please join us in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 19-21 for Advanced Learning Design. This course is unique because only in Raleigh can you have dinner hosted by Dialogue Education founder Jane Vella on her back porch!

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.

10 Tips for Co-Facilitating

Teaching, training, or facilitating with someone else is very different from doing the same work on your own. Here are some tips to ensure you are successful:

  1. Check in with each other in advance. As soon as you know you will be working with each other, get together to plan. You need to agree on the timing, who will do which sessions and what roles and responsibilities you each have.
  2. Tell your co-trainer what you expect and need. The first time you meet, tell each other what you expect from a co-trainer and how you work best. Everyone has a different understanding of co-training and this needs to be shared before you work together.
  3. Check in with each other during the training. When possible and necessary during each session, check in with each other briefly. Sometimes, for example, you just need to tell the person you are going to end early or that you will need paper, but sharing this information can help the flow of the workshop and minimize frustration. The best time to check in with each other is during breaks. Avoid talking to one another when learners are working on their own rather than listening attentively to the dialogue.
  4. Check in with each other before and after the training. Before the training you need to check in with each other about what you are planning to do and if anything has changed since you last spoke. After the training you need to check in to share your thoughts on how the session went, what needs to change in the following session, and what could be done better next time. Because ‘the unexpected’ can always happen, checking in before and after a session is critical. This is also a great time to affirm each other.
  5. Support your co-trainer. While your co-trainer is leading an activity you should be fully attentive to what he or she needs and what the group may need that you can best do. Helping your co-trainer hand out paper, support a confused working group or tape something on the wall, can help him or her be more focused on the task at hand and keep up the energy of the group.
  6. Don’t interfere. While your co-trainer is leading an activity, don’t interfere or contradict him or her (unless it is critical to the learning). You need to stay focused on what is happening so that you can support your co-trainer without being an interference or burden.
  7. Set personal and team goals. Before you teach, name 1-2 things you want to remember and work on in the session. If you share these with your co-trainer, you can also get feedback on these goals at the end of the session. Setting team goals is also a great idea.
  8. Stay on time. Always try to stay within your delegated time frame. The sessions are often scheduled for a short amount of time, where every minute is valuable and accounted for. If you use more than your allotted time, it will impact your co-trainer’s activity and the learning that needs to happen.
  9. Affirm each other. Whenever possible and true, affirm your co-trainer. Everyone feels nervous about teaching, especially to peers. You need to take every opportunity to tell your co-trainer what he/she is doing well.
  10. Work as a team. At all times, you want the learners to see the two of you as “a team.” Support each other, affirm each other in front of the group, and weave the work your co-trainer did into your work. You want the learners to think “Wow, you work well together!”

What would you add?


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10 Tips for Using Guidelines

Guidelines in Life

Using guidelines during a learning or work event can be extremely helpful (and sometimes paramount to a successful session!). Below are a few things to keep in mind for ensuring they are relevant, needed, and meaningful.

  1. Use Guidelines for especially difficult groups or topics, multi-day events, or when you think issues around power may arise. Generally, shorter events don’t have Guidelines.
  2. Use Operational Guidelines that everyone understands will always be used for regular meetings. It would be healthy to create these with the group initially, and then check in again as needed. They can be read aloud and changed as needed.
  3. Always invite the group to suggest most of the guidelines. It’s good to start off with one or two that are important to you, but then the rest should come from the group.
  4. Always make sure that every individual agrees to the list generated. I sometimes ask people to raise their hands or nod their head if I know the guidelines are critical or were not easy to write. This should be done quickly, but then you really know everyone has agreed and you can hold them accountable.
  5. Post the guidelines somewhere visible to all. It is important that you be able to gesture to them as you read them, and that people can remind themselves, as needed what they promised.
  6. Take time agreeing on “the cellphone issue.” Everyone has different ideas about this and the issue can carry emotional “energy,” so it is best to really open it up to make sure there is true agreement.
  7. For a multi-day event, check in at the beginning of each day to see what needs to be added or changed, and to make sure everyone is still in agreement.
  8. On the first day of a multi-day event or even on a 1-day event, check in with the list (quickly) after lunch. Sometimes things change or something happens around which people realize they need a new guideline.
  9. If someone is not following the guidelines, it is best to first check in with them privately. Sometimes people forget or misunderstand guidelines and just need to be reminded. Sometimes they don’t really believe they are “serious,” in which case you will need to clarify this.
  10. I always include a guideline about personal needs:  “Attend to your personal needs.” This gives people “permission” to stand when needed, get a coffee or go to the bathroom without having to ask.

What would you add?


Blog post author Jeanette Romkema is teaching Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 13-16, 2012. Please join us!

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!!)

Goodbye TMI, Hello LIM (Less is More)


Too much information (TMI), or information overload, is a spot many curriculum designers find themselves in when preparing for a new workshop or course; even the most experienced person can hit TMI when he or she is taking on a new teaching topic. Sometimes before we are ready and able to narrow down the content we're using in a learning event, we need to gestate. And, there comes a time where we must make a decision, as painful as this can be; we must choose which content will stay and which will go.

If you have taken enough time to gestate, and are feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the amount of content you're facing, here is a strategy* to move on to the next step of streamlining your content.

  1. Number a page from 1 to 100, leaving room for a word or phrase next to each number.
  2. Title your page: What content is needed for ____________________? (Fill in the blank with the title of your workshop or course).
  3. Now, as quickly as possible, without thinking, list every piece of content (word, phrase or sentence) that is needed for this learning event. Do not stop until you have reached 100 (this is very important). Do repeat any item as often as needed to keep writing. This usually takes from 20 to 30 minutes, depending upon how fast you write.
  4. When you have finished your list of 100, read through and group your entries into categories or themes (you will usually find 4 to 7). A tip for categorizing: use abbreviations for the categories so that you can mark each entry easily.
  5. Now count the number of entries to determine how many pieces of content are within each theme. Calculate the percentage of each theme to the total, which gives you an idea of the percentage of time you'll need to spend on each theme. The entries themselves provide the sub-topics within each theme.
  6. A great way to wrap up your work is to take just five minutes and quickly write a summary paragraph that names what you noticed in completing this process.

Say goodbye to TMI and hello to LIM (Less is more!) Enjoy!

I would LOVE to hear what strategies you use when you are feeling stuck selecting the "right" content. How do you narrow down your content to avoid TMI


Darlene Goetzman is the author of the new book, Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide to Designing Exceptional Learning Events. You can download a sample chapter here. She's also teaching a 6 week course that starts on October 8, 2012:  Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design.


*This strategy is a variation of  "Lists of 100", one of eighteen different techniques taught in Journal to the Self workshops: a journal writing workshop based on the work of Kathleen Adams. www.journaltherapy.com. Darlene is a Certified Instructor.

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?


Deepen your Dialogue Education knowledge and skills. Explore our Advanced Learning Design workshop.

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!

Distance Learning - What Are Your Insights?

Isabelle on the phone

Distance learning ranges from totally self-directed to totally instructor-centered. From specific attention to dialogue amongst the participants to little or no dialogue of any type. From synchronous to asynchronous to a combination of both. And from no interaction outside of the computer screen to hybrids (face to face class[es] in combination with online work).

And, within every one of these different approaches there are many variations, including the technology and its limits. I've enjoyed trying on many different forms of distance learning, as a learner mostly, and as a teacher in several situations. What I love is that each experience teaches me new ways of integrating Dialogue Education principles and practices, if I let it.

Recently I was engaged in a course that combines telephone teaching, coaching, and accountability buddies along with recorded and written materials and immediate application actions. It was quite fun to release my need to decide what was right or wrong about the "teaching/learning" in order to learn and note what was working for me and where I needed to add actions or ask questions to support my learning.

I've taken some of what I've learned and poured it into a new distance learning opportunity, a Dialgoue Education course that GLP is excited to offer:  Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. I hope you'll check it out!

In the meantime, what new insights are coming your way about distance learning? Are you teaching from a distance? How do you feel about it?