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As many questions as answers: How do we design and facilitate for 'learning'?

Something I have been meaning to share since January, and it has remained on my 'to do' list, is a super session facilitated by the wonderful Ewan McIntosh at the ICOT conference. I live-blogged the session (Creative and Critical thinking: Creating space for innovation), but it was the follow up that I also wanted to share.

After the session I was really energised, so emailed Ewan as follows:

While I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation, which was polished and thought-provoking (loved the visuals), I was 100% inspired by the Creating space for innovation session you facilitated!! Loved it - and two of the reasons were - it was hands on, and you provided us with an accessible tool to scaffold the process. And the result (please excuse me while I do a virtual jig here)...I was working with a lovely teacher from Christchurch, who is desperate to set up spaces for dance for her students (their usual spaces have been destroyed by the earthquake, or the prices have been put up so much to be prohibitive).
We worked on her project; she identified the aspects that were relatively immutable, and some of the issues her teachers were facing, as well as key challenges such as money - and the tool helped us then frame up innovative ways of addressing some of the issues...we came up with ideas such as involving the student 'army' (she knows the leader, and there are heaps of art students involved); perhaps involving the university and getting their marketing students involved to help approach companies for sponsorship; maybe getting the design students involved in developing modular spaces that could be light / portable and cheap enough to be erected by the community; asking the young students to put together a video that would be part of the pitch to companies / the community / and maybe as part of an online crowd-funding 'push'...the ideas flourished, and the more we thought, the more the jigsaw fitted together in a way that wouldn't overburden the already exhausted teachers.
We didn't quite complete the final step but hey! I'm not sure what the lady I was working with will do next, but she looked as though a load had been lifted from her shoulders as she envisaged a space that could be used for an arts festival (dance, music and visual arts...we kept expanding the scope ;-p). I'll keep my fingers crossed, and will watch the Christchurch school arts scene with interest. So - thank you.

I have been reflecting on meaningful learning experiences; I didn't go to Ewan's session because I was looking for anything specific, but did feel that what he shared was likely to be of value. However, while Ewan had worked really hard behind the scenes (for years) developing the concepts, tools...and his own expertise, he actually only spoke for about 10 minutes in total. The learning occurred as we worked with other people in the 'audience', chose things that were meaningful to us, and applied the concepts and ideas that Ewan had introduced, guided and supported by the tools he had developed.

Personally, I remember more from this session that from Ewan's excellent keynote (blogged here). I can visualise the person with whom I was working, see the words on the page that we wrote, and can think through many of the things we talked about. Being engaged enough to then reflect about it afterwards also played an important part in working out what had happened, and now the whole session is in my long-term memory...and I'm still thinking about it. That was my experience, though, and I wonder what other folk took away.

My questions for myself - and for you if you are involved in facilitation / teaching - how can we design sessions with enough choice and enough room for meaningful personalisation, while also ensuring learners are supported? Is it possible, or desirable even, to do this for every session? What about learners who are in the session whose head space is just not in the right place for learning? Or who are hungry? Or tired? And why does a session work one time with a diverse group of learners, but not with another? (Those days when it all falls flat)

Learning is such a complex, organic process that I'm fairly convinced that designing a session is as much about being willing and able to abandon it if things aren't working out, and to recognise that no matter what some learners on that day and in that place cannot engage - and to support them accordingly.

As a P.S. Ewan very kindly responded to my email, and also shared some links to some of the tools and concepts that he covered in his session. I have included them below (with many thanks to Ewan).

General links
Ewan's blog: 
Ewan's company projects:
Ewan's online bookmarks:
The Design Thinking School
Ewan's 7-minute TEDxLondon Talk: The Problem Finders:
The Design Thinking School: Overview and videos:
Ewan's design thinking blog posts:
Our design thinking projects at NoTosh:
Ewan's bookmarks on design thinking:
Formative Assessment
Dylan Wiliam's seminal (short) research paper on formative assessment:
Ewan's (formative) assessment blog posts:
Technology-enhanced formative assessment: tagging the learning journey on iPad:
Ewan's online bookmarks on formative assessment:

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