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Did Malcolm Knowles Have It Wrong?

Every once in a while, I’ll look at a post-training evaluation form and see glowing praise for a PowerPoint-based lecture.  Lecture receives a 5 out of 5 on evaluation forms?!  With feedback like that, I sometimes wonder if Malcolm Knowles knew what he was talking about.  Is the effort that goes into interactive, engaging sessions really worthwhile?

The other night, I had a 3-minute interaction with a co-worker that re-affirmed for me that Malcolm Knowles, John Dewey, Jane Vella and the rest of the adult/experiential/dialogue education crowd indeed knew a thing or two about effective educational experiences.

As we were finishing our call, she mentioned that her staff was wondering when I would be returning to facilitate another workshop.  The comment surprised me a bit.  The last time I was in India I had designed the session but it was mostly facilitated by my Indian colleagues in Hindi.  I understood little of the conversations that took place.

“Yeah, well, they want you to come back.  They still remember the towel activity.  It transcended language.”

Several months ago, I had been asked to help put together a teambuilding session for a team in India that was transitioning from a workplace culture that valued individual efforts to our workplace culture which required a substantial degree of teamwork.  We didn’t want to just talk about teamwork but we weren’t going to take everyone out to a ropes course, either.

I worked with my India-based colleagues to design a half-day workshop as a kick-off to a series of monthly sessions we would offer to this new team.  We began with an activity that required smuggling a few towels out of my hotel (the aforementioned “towel activity”).  The team had an hour-long conversation about our mission, vision and core values.  To wrap up, we gave each team member a small stick.  We asked them to break it in half.  Then we asked them to break the two halves in half.  Holding the four quarters of the stick in one hand, the team members could no longer break the sticks.  Four small pieces together were much stronger, less breakable than one individual stick.

It was flattering that they wanted me back, but I asked my co-worker for specific examples of anything that’s changed since this workshop.

“Brian, they communicate now.  They cover for each other.  In the past, if someone was working with a family in the hospital, I wouldn’t know about it for hours… if I ever found out.  Now, if someone is working with a family, someone else gives me a call and a third person sends me a text.  They’re truly working as a team.  And that’s very different.  They put your session into practice.  If it hadn’t been so interactive, I don’t think they’d have remembered.  They still have their sticks!”

Sticks2 Sticks3 Sticks1

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