Tip #266: Creating a Learning Community #1

In a recent workshop, Wanda Sloan, HR Diversity/Staff Development Specialist at Blackhawk Technical College, asked an intriguing question: How can we create a learning community in a workshop?Our excellent group came up with five techniques that we have used. My task is to share them with you. (And I know if I forget something important, Shirley, David, Wanda or Anna will let me know!)

There are three simple ways to build and reinforce connections among learners. I call them simple because they don’t require any real planning, preparation, or materials. We’ll discuss those in today’s Tip.

There are two other ways that are very colorful and do require some planning, preparation, and materials. We’ll discuss those in the next Tip.

The three simple ways to create community include: (1) common ground questions; (2) pair shares; and (3) job associations. We have previously discussed the first two techniques, so I will only give a brief synopsis and example for them. Please keep in mind that the intention of these techniques is to create both a psychological and physical sense of belonging among the participants.

(1) Common Ground Questions. At the very beginning of a workshop, you can prime the group to respond, get useful information, and create a sense of a learning community by asking inclusive questions related to the workshop content. The intention of common ground questions is to identify the participants’ shared interests, experiences, or concerns.

For example, in a learning design workshop, you might ask: How many of you have ever designed a learning program? As you ask the question, you model raising your hand so the participants know how to signal their response.

You will want to continue to ask questions until everyone has ultimately raised their hand at least once. So, you might ask as a second question: How many of you need to design a learning program in the future? Given the workshop content, this question should give everyone an opportunity to raise their hands.

Common ground questions provide a general sense of belonging.

(2) Pair Shares. This is a good way to take advantage of the range of participant expertise on the workshop topic and to mix up the seating arrangements so people end up with folks they do not know. One of my favorite approaches is to ask: How many of you consider yourselves pretty seasoned (experienced, knowledgeable) in this topic area? Please think about something you wish someone had told you when you were first working in this area (using this technique, working with this equipment). Once you have that in mind, please stand up and walk to the left side of the room.

Then ask: How many of you consider yourselves less seasoned (pretty new, less experienced)? Please think about something you have always wanted to ask someone more seasoned (experienced, knowledgeable). Once you have that in mind, please stand up and walk to the right side of the room.

You then give the instruction for the two groups to walk toward the middle of the room, forming small groups of both seasoned and unseasoned folks. Give them time to discuss their tips and questions. Then tell them that this will be their new “expert” group for the day or for the morning, so they should move what is necessary so that they can sit together.

Pair shares create small learning communities.

(3) Job Associations. As each participant gives an introduction, make sure they include information about their job: the job title; the location of the job (division, department, company); and a brief general description of what they do in the job. After this description, other participants who perform work that relates to the speaker’s job can speak up and describe their association.

Job associations create a sense of relationship that extends beyond the classroom.

Next week, we will continue our discussion about how to create a learning community in a workshop. If you have other techniques that you have used, please write in and we’ll print them in the next Tip.

This week, we conclude our discussion about how to create a learning community in a workshop.

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