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:
- How does the pill work to prevent pregnancy?
- How do companies calculate credit score?
- 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.
- Watch this video clip that shows the action of a pill to prevent pregnancy. How does this alter your perspective about when life begins?
- 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?
- 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.