Final Change Strategies Reflection

I began this course by writing a personal change credo where I asserted that all of humanity was created to be perfect, but is currently, but not permanently, broken. We are all therefore striving to improve, but must recognize both the brokenness in ourselves and others, as well as the original perfection in ourselves and others, in order to come together as one united body in order to help one another, individually and collectively, change and grow. After a semester of learning about the theoretical, historical, and practical aspects of organizational change, I am more committed to my credo than ever before, and believe that each of us is being called to be agents of change in any organization we encounter, but must approach our task with humility and respect for others. So many of the articles we read and major change strategies we studied support this approach, and have encouraged me to try to find that balance between having the courage to speak up and humility to shut up that has been a running theme throughout the entire Adult Learning program.

The first thing I learned this semester is that organizational development will not happen without intention, planning, management, and total system involvement (Beckhard, 2006). It also must be done with a goal of improving the health, sustainability, and effectiveness of the entire organization. This cannot take place without having multiple perspectives and whole-system thinking, for our own biases, silos, and subcultures can cause us to advocate for changes, or resist changes, based on inaccurate meaning schemes and incomplete data. While Beckhard (2006) outlined many conditions that call for organization development, I would posit that there is no time in which an organization does not need development, as there is a constant need to adapt to a new environment, if nothing else.

The concept of organizational development is nothing new, and its theoretical roots lie in many of the adult learning theorists we have encountered in our program, including Lewin, Maslow, Skinner, Argyris, and McGregor. While I had already learned of T-Groups, Need Theory, positive reinforcement, force field analysis, Type A and B behavior, and Theory X and Y, and I had not thought about them in the context of how to collectively help organizations examine the meaning schemes and underlying assumptions different subcultures, individuals, or even macrocultures may have that can impede learning and make change initiatives difficult to futile. This is where taking this course in conjunction with my independent study on organizational learning was so beneficial – by recognizing that change cannot take place without learning, and creating opportunities to have “hallways of learning” (Dixon, 1999) where people share their meaning schemes can be invaluable.

I believe these “ hallways of learning” were best exemplified in the three large group change strategies we learned in class this semester. Open Space Technology (Owen, 2008), with its very decentralized approach through loose time frames, voluntary involvement, and grassroots leadership, allows people to literally create their own classrooms and take leadership on what matters most to them. Based in humanist theory, I love the premise that people are deeply emotionally invested in issues and are capable of self-organization. While Open Space Technology is not appropriate for all circumstances, and I believe should usually be combined with a other strategies that ultimately involve more management from the top to ensure intentionality and alignment to company goals, I believe it sets a wonderful example of giving people freedom to run with ideas, think outside the box, and capture real solutions in a short period of time.

I particularly liked Future Search (Weisbord & Janoff, 2010) for its focus on finding commonality and its timeline approach, which helps give issues more context than perhaps Open Space Technology would. As we’ve learned in this class, we all bring baggage and different perspectives into every issue, and by taking the time to address what has happened in the past without dwelling on it, I believe we build empathy. Appreciative Inquiry (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010) taught me the power of focusing on possibilities, which can be energizing and even fun, rather than problems, which is almost always draining. I can see using this approach in almost any problem-solving environment, even if it’s only between two people.

While I thoroughly enjoyed every single article we read in the Gallos reader and Blackboard assignments, a few stood out to me as almost life-changing. Bolman and Deal’s article on reframing change (2006) put almost everything I’ve learned in this program into a model that I could easily digest and act upon. Taking into consideration the people, the structure, the politics and, most surprisingly, the symbolism of each organization when attempting any change initiative is so incredibly powerful. As we learned in our reading from Choi and Ruona (2011), we cannot expect organizations to change until we determine that individual people are ready to change, and all of us exist on all four of these levels. As I wrote in a blog post, unpacking each of these frames can involve pulling in theory and best practices from our entire program.

The most practical model most of us in the class gravitated toward seemed to be Kotter’s change management framework (Kotter, 2006) consisting of eight overlapping steps. This model should be taped the wall of any change agent’s desk, as imbedded in each step are so many (now) obvious reasons most change efforts fail. Step 1 – creating a sense of urgency – should be coupled with the practice of making sure that a change is necessary to begin with. If our first step in initiating change is to have to articulate to others why change is needed, and why it is needed now, that may stop some of us before we embark on a change initiative that may not be necessary or prudent at the time. The one vital step that I believe is missing from Kotter’s model, however, is assessing an organization’s readiness to change, or the readiness of the individuals within the organization to change. This is where Choi and Ruona’s article was so helpful (2011), and where knowledge of organizational learning, knowledge transfer, and learner assessments is necessary. Bolman and Deal’s chapter on reframing change also addresses this by insisting that all change efforts must first involve training, for if the change happens first, it can make veteran employees feel like novices and cause people to lack confidence and therefore resist change.

Conclusion

Had I taken change strategies at the very beginning of my adult learning master’s program, I know that the information I learned this semester would have been revolutionary to my thinking about change. Before I began this program, I never would have taken into consideration the fact that change needed to involve total system involvement, take into account learner readiness, address and respect resistance as healthy and informative, and address the complex layers of culture and group dynamics within an organization. I still cringe when I think of a disastrous change initiative I attempted at an organization in 2012, before beginning this program, and how much pain and embarrassment I could have saved myself and others. Because I am taking this class at the end of my program, however, these concepts were less revolutionary to my thinking than they were empowering.

While the concepts and principles were familiar, I most appreciated the models of change that I can use like tools. Kotter’s eight steps to change can serve as a timeline of sorts for me whenever I embark on a change strategy. Bolman and Deal’s four frames of change (people, structure, politics, and symbols) and Sales’ four fundamental activities of an organization (tops, bottoms, middles, and environmental), and Schein’s operator, engineer, and executive subcultures I learned from organizational learning will serve as frameworks for all of the layers of culture I should consider before, during, and after a change initiative. Open Space Technology, Future Search, and Appreciative Inquiry will serve as actionable models that I can use in part, in full, or in combination, depending on the circumstances.

This class has been one of the most practical of the entire adult learning program, and one I believe anyone should take, as we are all change agents working within complex, open systems. I am very appreciative of this course, and know I will use the information regularly in both my professional and personal life.

 

RESOURCES

Beckard, Richard (2006). What is Organization Development? Gallos (Ed.),

Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 3-12.

Boaz, N. & Fox, E.A. (March 2014). Change leader, change thyself. McKinsey

            Quarterly.

Bolman, L.G. & Deal, T.E. (2006). Reframing Change: Training, realigning,

negotiating, grieving, and moving on. Gallos (Ed.), Organization Development.

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 447-469.

Burke, W.W. (2006). Where did OD come from? Gallos (Ed.),

Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 13-37..

Burnes, B. (2006). Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change. Gallos (Ed.),

Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 133-157.

Capra, B., Byars, F., & Capra, F. (1990). Mindwalk. United States: Atlas Leasing GmbH.

Choi and Ruona (2011) Individual readiness for organizational change and its

implications for human resources and organization development. Human

            Resource Development Review 10(1) 46-73.

Dixon, (1999). The Organizational Learning Cycle (2nd edition). Brookfield, Vermont:

Gower Publishing Limited.

Kotter, J.P. (2006). Leading Change: Why transformation efforts fail. Gallos (Ed.).

Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 239-251

Mirvis, P & Gunning, H. (2006). Creating a Community of Leaders. Gallos (Ed.),

Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 709-729.

Owen, H. (2008). Open space technology: A user’s guide (3rd edition). San Francisco,

CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Sales, M. J. (2006). Understanding the power of position: A diagnostic model. Gallos

(Ed.). Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 322-343.

Weisbord, M. & Janoff, S. (2010). Future search: Getting the whole system in the room

            for vision, commitment, and action (3rd edition). San Francisco: CA: Berrett-

Koehler.

Whitney, D. & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry: A

            practical guide to positive change (2nd edition). San Francisco: CA: Berrett-

Koehler.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Final Change Strategies Reflection

Reflections on “Creating a Community of Leaders”

Upon reading Philip H. Mirvis and Louis “Tex” Gunning’s contribution to the Gallos text, “Creating a Community of Leaders,” I was struck by one simple fact: that we should be creating leaders out of every employee or participant in an organization.  In the past, I believe I viewed “leadership” in the western sense described in the article- as an individualistic, charismatic, extroverted, superior person who ruled over the majority of those around her.  Rather, by reading about the “journeys” Unilever Asia took, it became more clear than ever that creating true leaders in an organization out of all participants is the key to a healthy learning organization at its foundation.

A Good [Tai Chi] Master must be aware of himself, his opponent (or partner) and the situation around him.” (Mirvis, P & Gunning, H, 2006, p.724).  

This single statement summarizes so much of what we have been learning in our program- of what makes groups and teams functional, employees engaged, and organizations able to survive in their environments.  While not all companies will have the finances to go on weeks-long service and learning journeys with 150 top executives, all can learn from Unilever’s approach to creating “good tai chi masters” out of their leaders and employees and therefore create an organization that fosters learning in its individuals and in its collective consciousness.

In order to create a common set of values and a common dream, an organization can create conditions where employees can develop the following:

Self-Knowledge – Before we can understand others, we must understand ourselves.  What Daniel Goleman (1995) popularized as “emotional intelligence” does truly matter.  Beyond personality tests and 360-feedback reviews, I believe engaging in whole-system change programs such as Future Search where people must share their own histories or “lifelines” can create the first step toward self-awareness that is crucial before one can connect to others.

Connecting to “Other”: Again harking back to Future Search, creating ways for people to find commonalities is key to creating a functioning and integrated organization that shares a common purpose.  After allowing employees to discover and articulate their own stories, we can create safe environments where they actively listen to the stories of others, inevitably finding their own experiences and beliefs reflected in them.  Ideally, this will involve connecting to people outside one’s own department or organization.  This can be achieved through “field trip”-type retreats or inviting others into the room, including clients, community members, children, and other outside stakeholders.

Developing “Us”: After participating in one of Unilever’s journeys, one leaders said, “I cannot overstate the power of common values.” Developing a sense of a collective “us” involves the same dialogue, trust-building, and safe space-creation that we have been learning about throughout our program.  Any of our large-scale change initiatives may create the conditions for this to happen, but managers and learning specialists who facilitate authenticity, active listening, and reflection can be catalysts to this effort.

Connecting to the larger world: So many good things can happen when an organization becomes more intimately aware of the lives, perspectives, and stories of others.  This is the heart of “systems theory,” the underlying principle of metaphysics, and arguably the most important survival tactic for any organization that must remain competitive in an ever-changing environment.  As the article mentioned, however, it is also a key strategy for self-reflection, as seeing how others live and what they value can hold a mirror up to our own culture, mission, and values.

 

 

 

Reflections on “Creating a Community of Leaders”

Open Space Technology, Future Search, & Appreciative Inquiry

Our class just finished three weeks of presenting and simulating three popular large group intervention change strategies: Open Space Technology (OST), Future Search, and Appreciative Inquiry.  Each group did a fabulous job presenting, and every strategy had things in common with the others, things unique to itself, particular strengths that made it especially useful is certain situations, and noteworthy limitations that made it less helpful in other situations:

Open Space Technology (OST) 

  • Summary: a methodological tool developed by Harrison Owen and in use since 1983 that enables self-organizing groups of all sizes to deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time.  This very open-ended and loosely managed strategy involves presenting an issue and allowing participants to self-organize into groups let by participants who volunteer to propose a topic, lead the discussion, and create a summary of the session to be shared with the groups.
  • Unique Aspects: OST operates under the assumption that people are willing and able to organize themselves and solve problems on their own, so is the least organized and facilitated strategy of the three.  It also follows “the law of two feet,” allowing all participation to be voluntary.  Whoever shows up, shows up, whenever the sessions start, they start, whenever they end, they end, and whatever happens, happens.  Period.
  • Strengths: OST is ideal for addressing a highly emotional, highly complex urgent conflict or issue.  Due to its voluntary nature, this method can quickly identify who is most passionate, dedicated, and capable of leading the change initiative.  Its flexibility and open-ended structure allows that talent the freedom to run with ideas, think outside the box, and capture real solutions in a short period of time.
  • Limitations: If the change that needs to happen is mandated from the top, not particularly popular, or requires strict alignment or compliance, OST may not be the best method.  Its “wait and see” mentality may not be comfortable or appropriate for some leadership positions, and its mandate of remaining voluntary may not work if certain perspectives, skills, or leadership positions must be in the room for real change to take place.

Future Search

  • Summary: Developed by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, Future Search aims to “bring the whole system into one space” to bring about change. The whole system involves all stakeholders possible, and ideally takes place over 3 days, with 2 nights of much-needed sleep and reflection time. The focus of Future Space is on commonalities rather than differences, and follows four core principles: get the whole system in the room, global context for local action, focus on the future and common ground, not problems and conflicts, and self-management and responsibility (much like OST).
  • Unique Aspects: Future Search stands out from the other two change strategies in two ways: the requirement of full attendance (versus OST’s voluntary nature), and the focus on commonality. It also follows a linear timeline approach, beginning with focusing on the past, then moving to the present, then the future and common ground. It is much more rigid in observing timelines than OST, also.
  • Strengths: Like OST, Future Search is flexible enough to allow some freedom of thought in its leaders and encourages leadership from any level in the organization. Its focus on common ground creates a much more positive atmosphere than a purely problem-solving focus. It may work better than OST when full attendance is needed, or when initial enthusiasm about a topic may be lacking. Its methodology of starting with the past and then changing the focus to present, then future may be more helpful in giving a fuller context to the issue than OST, which just throws a topic out and lets people run with it in their own directions.
  • Limitations: This change strategy must have full buy-in from top management in the organization, both in the time dedicated to the task (3 days), the breadth of who must be there (pretty much everyone), and the democratic nature of the discussion process (managers must “take their hats off at the door.”) Prematurely prescribing a Future Search could lead to less than transformational results, and process dysfunction.

Appreciative Inquiry

  • Summary: Appreciative Inquiry is a large-group change process that focuses on existing strengths of an organization or situation, and follows the “4-D” cycle of Discovery (appreciate the best of what IS), Dream (imagine what could be), Design (determine what should be), and Destiny (create what will be). The approach assumes that focusing on strength and the future creates passion, energy, and problem-solving, while focusing on the past and problems drains energy and motivation. It also assumes that people and organizations are by nature full of assets, capabilities, and strengths that are just waiting to be captured and utilized, if only given the freedom to do so.
  • Unique Aspects: It’s focus on the positive
  • Strengths: The focus on the positive really works, and can instantly change what could be a very negative, unpleasant conversation into something energetic, hopeful, and productive. It can be particularly useful where there is skepticism, fear, hostility, criticism, and damaged relationships.
  • Limitations: If done incorrectly, it could possibly gloss over real problems. When the “devil is in the details,” another strategy may need to supplement or eventually take over from Appreciative Inquiry.

All three change strategies had some things in common. All believed in the power of getting as many different perspectives and talents into one room. All believe in the power of dialogue. All assume the best in people- that they are capable of being positive, of self-organizing, and of finding commonalities. All utilize brainstorming techniques (I think we used mind maps in all three class sessions- some with sticky notes, some without).

I have already found myself using parts of each strategy in other group brainstorming and problem-solving activities, and believe that each method can be incorporated in part in many different circumstances.  While I may never lead a three-day retreat completely adhering to one of these strategies, I know that I will be able to use elements of all of them in my daily life and work with group dynamics.

 

Open Space Technology, Future Search, & Appreciative Inquiry

Creating Hallways of Learning through Open Space Technology

Immediately after spring break, my group will be facilitating an Open Space Technology simulation. While I will leave the focus question of our session a surprise, we wanted to make sure it was something that would be instantly motivating and actionable – something every person in the room would have a stake in, opinion on, and knowledge about.

In short, it should be something people would naturally and passionately talk about around the water cooler, or, as Nancy Dixon calls it, in a “hallway of learning.” (Dixon, 1999, p. 53). I first came across this term when doing reading for my Organizational Learning class, and immediately saw the relevance in what we are trying to discuss in Change Strategies. We talk about things naturally and eagerly when we are free from structure and hierarchy. No one is telling us what we should be discussing, and we naturally share ideas in order to come to some shared agreement and understanding. Here, we don’t share our deepest secrets or give away our political advantages (that belongs in the realm of a “private meaning scheme,”) but nor do we tout the company line or reiterate everything we already agree upon – that belongs in the realm of a “collective meaning structure. ”Instead, we engage in the very process that Dixon defines as organizational learning itself- not the sum total of individual learning, but the collective use of individual learning.

In her book, Dixon posits that no change can take place without learning, for unless we change our meaning scheme, we will not change our behavior. Further, the only place learning really takes place in an organization is within as space that creates what Dixon calls accessible meaning schemes, where true dialogue can take place and where we can articulate our meaning schemes in a safe, supportive environment.

Dixon therefore recommends organizations creating spaces where the processes that have the positive characteristics of hallways, and actually mentions Open Space Technology as one strategy for doing just that. In this seemingly simple (even over-simplified) methodology, we can create an environment that contain what Dixon outlines as the six critical elements of hallways of learning:

  • Dialogue, not speeches – facilitators do as little speaking as possible, and groups self-select based on interest and ability to contribute. We will keep to this format, and by posing questions rather than giving answers, hopefully spark meaningful dialogue.
  • An egalitarian atmosphere – anyone can lead a breakout session, and no rank is recognized within Open Space
  • Multiple perspectives – hopefully this will occur with a group as small as ours, but by inviting others to participate in idea generation rather than typing up anything by one’s self, every breakout session should garner this
  • Non-expert based – This is where Open Space Technology really shines. This is an entirely a grass-roots movement, with anyone with an opinion able to take the lead on a subject and take ownership of it
  • Participant-generated database: At the end of an Open Space Technology session, participants capture their ideas in a single database, and share the data with all relevant stakeholders. We hope to accomplish this through a single Google doc folder shared with all class members and our instructor.
  • Shared Experience – again, this is where asking the right focus question is critical. In order for organizational learning to take place, and for an Open Space Technology session to be effective, it must be based around a shared experience that will help everyone reference meaning.

There are many things that Open Space Technology and hallways of learning are NOT- they are not places where important decisions are made, and they are not useful if one needs to control the outcome.

I am hopeful that through this exercise, our team and class will not just learn how to facilitate an official Open Space Technology retreat in the future, but also create the informal hallways of learning within our organizations that can facilitate and capture the generation of ideas that can lead to the creation of new meaning schemes that will enable transformational change and learning.

 

Resources

 

Dixon, N. (1999) The Organizational Learning Cycle: How we can learn collectively, 2nd Ed. McGraw-Hill: Hampshire, England.

Creating Hallways of Learning through Open Space Technology

Framing Change

We are a few weeks into our course on Change Strategies- a class I take in tandem with my Capstone in Action Learning AND an Independent Study on Organizational Learning.  My head is spinning at times trying to integrate all of the various theories and best practices I am learning about how to effectively capture and transfer knowledge, how to learn as a group or organization through questioning, acting, and reflecting, and how to strategically manage change within an organization.  To be honest, I sometimes forget which class I’m in, which readings apply to the assignment I’m doing, and what theories I need to be using.

This entire phenomenon was very frustrating with me at first – trying to keep these classes separate- until I recognized that keeping these theories siloed to each class was not only futile, it was unhelpful.  All theories apply to all classes, and integrating all of them together as I tackle each issue is going to be the most effective, efficient, and powerful way to get through this last semester AND emerge as an effective HRD practitioner.  The key will be in how I can frame the theories to apply to each issue.

One theory led to my seemingly obvious epiphany – the article by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal on Reframing Change found on page 447 in Organizational Development text (Gallos, 2006) positing that all change efforts must take into consideration the people, the politics, the structure, and the symbols & culture of an organization.  Through the reading and the spirited class discussion that followed, I recognized that this one theory tied together something so simple yet so profound and complex that I could spend my entire career integrating every experience and bit of knowledge I gained into it.

All of adult education involves change.  Trying to encourage individuals, companies, governments, and societies that we need to change in order to stay relevant, react to our environment, or deal with dysfunction can be an overwhelming, uphill battle.  It is here that we could insert all of the theories for why we stay mired in our own meaning schemes, biases, and forms of resistance to change, and how leaders could employ tactics like Kotter’s steps for creating urgency, Maslow’s identification of people’s needs, Lawler & Vrooms expectancy theory, Skinner’s positive reinforcement, or Lewin’s force field analysis to try to overcome these resistances and “unfreeze, move, and refreeze” toward change.

But one of the most holistic approaches that, for me, will be most effective, is to always consider four frames when initiating change, rather than approaching it as a rational process that involves “getting everyone on board” with your great idea.  In everything we do, if we learn to consider the people, structure, politics, and symbols simultaneously, we can incorporate all of these other theories without leaving out something vitally important that could explain why our change efforts are failing. These four frames can incorporate everything we’ve learned from our program, and may be my approach to synthesizing all of what I’ve learned.  Here is an example:

PEOPLE – consider the needs and skills of the people involved in a change.   Do a learning needs and resources analysis (Vella, from Design and Delivery).  Determine where in your culture people are in their needs hierarchy (Maslow, ADLT 601 and onward).  Assume everyone has something to bring to the table and listen to all voices (Argyris & Schön, everything we learned from Groups & Teams).  Consider how your change might be adversely affecting others, how it could be perceived negatively, misunderstood, or be paternalistic in nature (critical theory, domination theory, Friere, Janks, Gee, Foucault – Adult Literacy & Diversity themes). Consider the personal reasons why people may resist change and lean into that discussion, don’t shy away from it (Peter Block, Consulting Skills). This list could go on an on, and will soon.

STRUCTURE – How can you create alignment and clarity.  Appropriately capture and transfer learning with the receiver in mind (Organizational Learning, Dixon). Make sure everything we do is in alignment with the ultimate mission of the organization, and all learning is meeting the bottom line (Organizational Development). Ensure all stakeholders and decision-makers are in the room and part of the discussion (Block, Consulting Skills). Create teams and reward systems that support, don’t compete, against the ideals of the change effort (Groups and Teams, Organizational Development). Slow down enough to facilitate true dialogue, address concerns through facilitated discussions (Vella, Design & Delivery; Schwartz, Groups & Teams). Once a change has been made, “refreeze” it through policies, reinforcement, realignment, and reeducation (Lewin, Change Strategies). Appropriately hire and reeducate people in their new roles so everyone doesn’t feel like a novice, isn’t afraid for their job security, and has confidence (Bolman & Deal, this very article for Change Strategies). Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

POLITICAL FRAME- Address the internal and external politics, power structures, conflicting agendas, group dynamics, causes of resistance, and macroculture in which your organization exists. Recognize and address the fact that your organization is an open system that must adapt to its environment to survive (Burke, Change Strategies). Identify the stakeholders, primary clients, ultimate clients, and secondary clients of any consulting project (Block, Consulting Skills). Identify power structures exist outside of your organization that can impede or augment your change efforts (Critical Theory, Adult Literacy & Diversity, Burke, Change Strategies, many more theorists). Create an open and safe arena with rules, referees, and spectators to uncover and address the differences (Burke, but also many theorists from Groups & Teams, Consulting Skills, HRD).

SYMBOLIC FRAME – calling this “symbolic” rather than “culture” was incredibly clarifying to me. Here is where we could dive into the incredibly deep and rich definition and characteristics of culture, and will in due time, but by simply focusing on symbols, I was able to see how vitally important it is in any change movement to address what is sacred for individuals and groups about what they have NOW, and what must be preserved. This is the frame that inspired this post, and this entire approach. What symbolizes what is valuable and sacred to your employees? Managers? Customers? What is the underlying reason for why your exist as an organization to begin with? What rituals, relationships, and values do you hold most dear? We cannot be effective agents of change without honoring these and working with all stakeholders to ensure that if a symbol is destroyed in a change, an adequate new symbol will take its place. It will take me a while to dive back into the Adult Education program to find other theories that support this, but I know they are there. This single point has helped me in a change effort I am undergoing right now in an organization, and clarified why we are encountering so much resistance from one stakeholder in particular.

Four frames, capturing so much. These frames have given me the frame in which I may view our entire Adult Learning Program, and I look forward to unpacking this in the weeks and months to come!

Jennifer

Framing Change

Final Reflections on Design & Delivery of Adult Programming

I began this semester believing that I already knew how to design adult programming. I have designed countless lesson plans over the past 22 years, delivered thousands of hours of instruction, and, for the most part, received very positive feedback on my teaching style. My learning goals this semester were to learn some extra tricks for content delivery, discover better ways to market classes, and add to my legitimacy as an adult instructor by being able to link myself to respected theory and best practices. What I was not intending to do was rethink the entire way I plan programs, assess myself as an effective instructor, or structure content delivery. By having to plan and deliver a program using Vella’s Seven Steps of Design, Learning Needs and Resources Assessments, program goals, achievement-based objectives, learning tasks, and measurable evaluations, I have changed my entire process and perspective in regards to adult program planning and delivery, and learned many things about myself as an instructor and program designer.

I first realized this program design was going to go very differently than others in the past when I was introduced to Vella’s Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) and Cafferella’s advice on discerning program context and prioritizing needs. In the past, I have skipped these steps entirely and first focused on what content I wanted to share with the world. By taking the time to meet with the key stakeholders at the church hiring me to deliver “Methodism 101” and creating a pre-test questionnaire for the program participants, I was so much better able to ensure that my program was appropriate for my audience and valued by the organization. It helped streamline my content planning by allowing me to prioritize what was essential to learn, nice to learn, or not needed to learn. This was honestly a pretty humbling experience, and required me to relinquish a significant degree of power from the very beginning while still maintaining enough authority to be an effective designer and instructor– a skill I would soon learn I would need throughout the entire process.

In order to follow Vella’s Seven Steps of Design, I needed to create and clarify the “why” behind my program, which forced me to collaborate early and often with the director of adult ministries at the church where I delivered the program, Lauren. This turned out to be a deeply meaningful experience for both of us, as it required Lauren to communicate with her program staff, which, in turn, led them to consider larger issues and goals in their organization’s programming. This seemingly simple step turned out to be a powerful intervention in the organization itself, and one I am not likely to skip in the future. The questions, “why” and “why now” should guide every new program or initiative individuals or organizations make, and can save countless wasted time and resources.

When I first learned I would have to write achievement-based objectives worded like, “Learners will have…” I knew my traditional form of program delivery was never going to work. Suddenly, the participants were going to have to do something, not just listen. I was actually pretty annoyed by this fact at first because I couldn’t get past how much content I thought I needed to deliver in such as short amount of time. I also believed, foolishly, that the participants would resent having to work and present deliverables on a Saturday morning at a completely optional program. By going through this process in our Design and Delivery class, however, and using peer review, I got some great feedback on how I could replace some of my lecture-based input such as explaining why Methodism is called “the extreme center” with learning tasks like the learners coming up with their own answers. This was challenging and did not always mean that the class received the same content, or as much content, had I presented it myself, but it resulted in more “sticky” learning, greater interaction, and more opportunities to assess learning throughout the program.

The learning tasks themselves were surprisingly hard for me to use at first. I had not realized how much I had relegated learning tasks to non-adult learning, such as my old high school classes, and relied on lecture or discussion facilitation for most of my adult programming. Coming up with actual tasks that had measurable outcomes was difficult. Having to tie the learning tasks to the objectives, which were tied to the program objectives, which were tied to the goals helped immensely, and made the learning tasks central to the entire process, rather than an afterthought. I still have much work to do this area, however, and will be continually searching for tips and tools for creating meaningful learning tasks.

The way I approach evaluation and assessment of learning is now significantly different, thanks to both Vella’s Accountability Planner and Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. During my years of teaching high school, I was often up late the night before a test, trying to decide how I would create an assessment that was a fair, appropriate, and motivating instrument to ensure student learning. I never considered planning assessments as I was creating my program goals, and did not think of linking together achievement-based goals, learning tasks, and assessment strategies around cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains, as I now know to do. The seemingly redundant accountability planner ensured a continuity of design and focus that I know will only be stronger once I am able to truly use it at the beginning of a program’s design, which we were unable to do this semester.

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation drastically changed how I will evaluate my programs, design my programs, and evaluate myself as an educator. As a high school teacher, I focused only on what Kirkpatrick would call Level II evaluations. As an adult educator, I utilized only Level I. Drawing on transformational learning theory by Maslow, critical theory by Friere, and Kirkpatrick’s evaluation models highlighting the necessity of measuring impact, I no longer evaluate the strength of the program based on my own knowledge and abilities, but on how all learners value the learning, how much they learn, and how much impact the program has on their lives and the organization. This requires turning power over to the learner, the organization, and the learning process itself. It requires turning the focus away from me as an instructor and toward the learners themselves as empowered, capable agents of their own learning.

I am very grateful for the theories and practices I learned this semester, and while I cannot say that I was able to execute them flawlessly in the program I delivered in November, I can say with confidence that the learning from this course was greatly appreciated (level I), successfully transferred (level II), has been used and will continue to be used (level III), and left enough of an impression on the church where I delivered the program that they are creating additional programming, received donations from a women’s study group to purchase all resources used for the church library, and intend to offer the course annually (level V). If this much of a difference can be made with one person, in one three-hour program delivered to fifteen participants, over only three months, I cannot wait to see the difference these principles can make to myself, my future learners, and my future partnering organizations.

Final Reflections on Design & Delivery of Adult Programming

Using Learning Tasks and Level 2 Evaluations to reduce instructor-centered programming

In my last blog post, I shared how participant evaluations of my “wonderful” Bible Boot Camp retreat revealed a weakness in my program and my approach: I had maintained too much power in the program and, as a result, did not give the learners enough agency and voice.  I am happy to write today that I made great strides in rectifying this issue in my latest program, Methodism 101, which I delivered on November 5th.  What’s the secret? Two things: Learning Tasks and Level 2 Evaluations.

This semester in Design and Delivery of Adult Programming, all of us in the class had to design a program according to certain methodologies outlined by adult education and training icons such as Rosemary Cafferella, Jane Vella, and Donald Kirkpatrick. Against my will, I was forced to create a three-hour program that did not center on “covering everything,” my default focus, having been a history teacher who had to FLY through material in order to simply cover the content. Rather, I had to build my program around learner-based objectives which stated what the learners would DO to prove they had learned information, and how I would evaluate this learning.

Suddenly, I had to shut up and let the learners take the mic.

My revered content delivery was relegated to one single step, “input,”  in Vella’s four-step process involving induction, input, implementation, and integration.  I had to write objectives phrased like, “Learners will…” and I couldn’t very well put down, “listen to a fabulous speaker.” Learning tasks occurred in each step of these processes, and instructor delivery was in only ONE of them!

Power had shifted.

Instead my qualifications and background dominating the beginning of the seminar, now the first powerpoint slides were about the learners in the room who had filled out a pre-questionnaire to asses needs and interests.  Who were they? What gifts and knowledge did they bring to the program?

Yes, we had an input section in which I was able to use my knowledge and expertise as a speaker and teacher, but after each program objective was addressed, we stopped and allowed the learners to demonstrate their knowledge, ask questions, and process in the information by putting it into their words, implementing it by creating original definitions of Methodism, creating visuals capturing complex concepts, and analyzing worship services for evidence of Wesleyan principles.  The focus was no longer on how much I knew, but how much they had learned.  Duh!

The learners controlled this process and articulated truths I never would have been able to touch.  This was the type of learning that gets people out of bed on a Saturday morning to attend a class, not a lecture one could watch on YouTube.

But the learning didn’t stop there.  Because it was required for my class, I included a section where learners were challenged to demonstrate how they would use this information after the class ended.  I asked the participants questions like , “What will you do now to learn the additional information you need to know in order to feel confident teaching this material to others?” Rather than simply hoping learners would use learned material to change behaviors, I was now forcing them to come up with a plan of action.

At the end of three hours, I got many of the familiar and very-nice-to-hear compliments about how much the learners enjoyed the class.  In the past, this would have been as far as any feedback would have gone (after all, it’s “just” a voluntary church class, right?) with the possible exception of what Kirkpatrick called a “level one” evaluation consisting of questions centered around how much learners enjoyed the course, how much they liked the instructor, and whether or not the time, pacing, and atmosphere was to their liking.  All important things to learn in offering the same course again, but nothing that gives any indication of how much the participants learned or if they will do anything with it.

Again, because I had to do it for my course, I wrote a different kind of evaluation this time- one that held me accountable for incorporating learning tasks into the curriculum, and one that shifted power and attention away from me and back onto the learner.  I used level 2, and mini-level 3 evaluation questions in my questionnaire.

Instead of asking, “I liked this class” on a Likert scale, I asked, “After having taken this class, I am more engaged in Methodist worship services.”  Instead of, “the instructor was helpful and informative”, I asked, “After this class, I am more likely to teach others about Methodism.”  Rather than only ask affective questions, I required learners to write out their own definition of Methodism.

On first glance, the evaluation form looked the same as any other- a google form comprised of less than 10 questions taking less than 10 minutes to complete.  But the information gained was so much deeper, and none of it had to do with ME.

Yes, the power has shifted, and I couldn’t be more happy, because by giving over power to the learner rather than holding onto it as the instructor, I have allowed myself to become a learner, too, sharing in the powerful process of transformational learning.

 

 

 

 

 

Using Learning Tasks and Level 2 Evaluations to reduce instructor-centered programming