Friday 27 May 2022

Flipping dilemma

I had a really interesting and thought-provoking conversation, the other week, with a participant at the end of an Influencing Skills workshop.  He was an academic, and was interested in - and challenging - the fact that the workshop was a training session, whereas he and his colleagues have all had to learn to be facilitators of learning.

I had to work hard on my listening skills, to overcome my initial defensiveness. After all, I had 'flipped the classroom' by providing all the theoretical material - the models of influencing that were the basis of the workshop - in advance, via videos, podcasts and written handouts.  The idea being that the online workshop could then be about exploring and practicing those models in a highly participative way.

But he was right: for example, I encouraged participants to pick one of the influential behaviours suggested by the model (one which they were less comfortable with using) and practice that in small groups and get feedback from colleagues. (It's quite a neat exercise, in fact: I get people just to practice one moment of behaviour, and stop - no role playing etc - and get immediate feedback both on the words, but also on the use of voice and non-verbals etc - and then try it again, get feedback and try it again.  People often report dramatic improvement in both themselves and colleagues). However, it is clearly a very directed process; and my participant's point was that it took no account of people's prior levels of knowledge and experience, nor of the questions or issues that they might want to explore and so on.

Reflecting on that, I realise that I could change that exercise, and have much more of a discussion-based task: sharing experiences, learnings, questions and so forth. But my reluctance is that I think that they would lose something: after all, the practice sessions are often very useful; and they are unlikely to do them elsewhere, whereas talking about this stuff is something they could easily do outwith the session; and further, such conversations are sometimes useful, but sometimes of little value.

So reflecting further, I thought, I could offer them a choice: it's as easy on Zoom as in real life to offer a choice of activities: if you wish to do the skills practice, go to Room A; if you want to discuss and share learning etc, go to Room B.  But I notice that I am reluctant to do that, too; and the reason is that I suspect people will always opt for Room B, as it is easier and less frightening in prospect; yet I remain convinced, from years of experience, that many people benefit if pushed a little out of their comfort zone so that they do in fact practice and get feedback on their behaviour. It is a skills session, after all.

So the dilemma remains - and I will continue to ponder it.  Is it my job to support learner autonomy etc and give them what they want? Or do I have a responsibility to, as I say, push them a little out of their comfort zone and do something which I know many have found extremely beneficial, but which they are unlikely to choose?  

I could of course offer them a choice, but seek to influence the choice by explaining my views; but again that doesn't feel as though it would be a neutral option, so I wonder if it's just a way of letting myself off the hook...

As so often, this post is my thinking-out-loud about the issue. I think I will ponder it further, and also have a further conversation with the commissioning clients about this issue and see what they think (though even as I write that, I am aware of thinking that I know more about the issue than they do, because of my experience etc... and wonder if that's just another way of letting myself off the hook...)

So I am grateful to the participant who raised this, as it is giving me lots to think about: and that work is clearly unfinished at this stage.


With thanks to Pizieno and Quang Nguyen vinh for sharing their images on Pixabay 

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