Dwayne Hodgson

A Portfolio

The work and adventures of Dwayne Hodgson,
+ Learning Designer & Facilitator at learningcycle.ca
+ Storyteller & Photographer @ thataway.ca

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Note to Trainers: You can't "deliver" learning!

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone talk about "delivering" a training, I'd be.....well, let's just say that I could buy a lot of pizza!

As in any field, language matters, and enthusiasts in dialogue education circles are no exception. We can have long debates over the relative merits of "teacher-centred vs. learner-centred vs. learning-centred", never quite agree with each other, but walk away richer for having had a respectful dialogue. 

But when it comes to "delivering training", I draw the line. "Delivering" is a term that we use for: 

  • flowers (good),  
  • pizza (mmmm!)
  • books from Amazon or Chapters (convenient, if bad for independent bookstores)
  • parcels by UPS (handy, but I'm not sure about all that brown in one place...)
  • ordinance (Military Orewellian newspeak for "bombs")

But good or bad, using the term "delivery" to describe training or teaching really bugs me for 4 reasons:

1. "Deliver" implies that the learners are passive.

Sure they might have dialed a 1-800 number or surfed to a website, and chosen their toppings, but then all they have to do is sit there with their mouth open and receive the new knowledge and skills that we impart. Delivery, to me, implies passivity: they have no agency, they don't need to make decisions and we certainly don't expect them to engage in any critical reflection on the learning (e.g. What is the significance of anchovies in your community?).

The delivery mindset reflects the old paradigm in which because the authority figure says something, it must be true. Because I taught it, you must have received, understood and accepted it. But it has never worked that way. Sure students may have dutifully "absorbed" what the teacher said and regurgitated back on the exam, but if it stuck more than three days after the end of term, it was probably because they made some meaning of it because they wanted to. Learning is an act of the will; I cannot "learn" anyone; it is up to them to be actively involved in the process. 

In reality, learners ARE the active Subjects (Decision makers) of their own learning. They make thousands of almost unconscious decisions in every learning situation to "triage" the barrage of information that is firing at them by criteria like: how does that make me feel? what is useful here? what new insights does that provide me? how is the teacher acting towards me? what of this resonates with what I've heard before? what sounds or looks preposterous? 

Like or not, learners are always engaging in this "internal" dialogue whenever they are in a class or workshop or reading a book. (In fact, you're doing it right now as you read this: "Hey, good point, Dwayne! No! That's a load of ....!).  So why not celebrate their agency and make it an explicit part of their learning process? 

2. "Deliver" commodifies the learning as a product

Just like a book that can be sent in the mail, "delivering" learning suggests that the new Knowledge, Skills or Attitudes is a pre-fabricated, complete, generic package of facts, images and PowerPoint slides that you can just pull off the shelf and send to someone. No customization is required; just sign here and take it with lots of water. 

But in my experience, the best learning occurs in groups -- whether online or in person -- where people can wrestle with a topic, debate with one another and engage in some sort of hands-on interaction with the content that engages all their senses. This kind of dynamic learning is never the same no matter how often you teach it because it draws on the life experiences, energy and expertise of the learners. 

3. "Deliver" diminishes your role as the teacher or trainer

If all you have to do as a teacher or trainer is "deliver" a course, you might as well hire any robot to stand there, click through the PowerPoint slides and mumble the words out loud. 

But training and teaching can be -- should be -- so much more than that. As a learning facilitator, I see my role as providing a safe yet flexible structure of time, space and tasks in which learners can bring out their voices, actively engage in the process and create something new. But this requires extensive preparation, building relationships and being responsive throughout the event. It takes far more work than pressing "next slide". 

And in most cases, I'm not the only "expert" in the room. In fact, I see my role as being a co-learner who helps draw out the expertise, experience and energy of all the participants, while offering my own perspectives for their consideration. 

4. "Deliver" is only 1-part of the learning process

As Jane Vella and others have pointed out, conveying new knowledge, skills and attitudes works best when it is supported by other steps of the learning cycle. 

Anchor: Look backward to activate and affirm your learners' prior experience with the topic.

(e.g. With a partner, share an example of when your child has struggled with reading. We'll hear a sample. )

Add: Provide new information, or concepts or demonstrate a new skill

(e.g. Listen to this theory on how children read. What resonates with your experience?)

Apply: Invite them to use this new learning in a hands-on way

(e.g. In groups of 4, analyze this case study of a child who is learning to read. What can she, her teacher and her parents do better in light of the theory we reviewed?)

Away: Look forward and ask them to name how this new learning will be significant or challenging to apply and what supports they may need.

(e.g.  What did you learn today that will help you work with your child to improve her / his reading? What new questions do you want to explore?

(See Jane's book, Taking Learning to Task for more details). Of course, you don't need to follow this template rigidly, and there are other experiential learning cycles that can work equally as well. But the main point here is that conveying data is only a small (but important) step of the process. We also need to help the learners connect that new information to their lives -- past, present and future.

To Sum Up: 

Our challenge as teachers, trainers and facilitators of learning is to move....

  from delivery....

from delivery....

 ....to engagement!

....to engagement!