Designers of Learning Experiences

September 14, 2021 by Natasha Ilijeva Acevska, Ajda Turk, Polona Sirnik

Learning practitioners (trainer, facilitator, lecturer) need to be mindful of various aspects that are important in organizing and delivering the learning process, be it online or offline. In this blog, we are presenting different examples and focuses of how we at the CEF work as designers of learning experiences.

Participatory approach in an online environment (by Polona Sirnik)

When designing a workshop, I always think about how to better include participants, as active participation improves the learning experience. In an online environment, this becomes a big challenge because people tend to “hide” behind the screen, not to mention technical obstacles. Here is what I did in two recent online courses. In the Policy writing and negotiations course, we included an online negotiation exercise. Participants had to negotiate about the allocation of budget resources, each representing line and finance ministries. We gave them instructions for role-play and a chance to prepare beforehand. And it turned out really well. I believe that the time to prepare is the key and makes participation more meaningful.

In another online course, Role of Communications in reform processes, we invited participants to prepare cases on how communication affects creating reforms. We prepared an example with detailed instructions. They had the liberty to work on it in groups outside the webinars. Eventually, there was a webinar dedicated to presenting their cases. Again, they had time to prepare and we also planned time for technical testing, as this is crucial in an online environment.

All in all, I believe that including participatory exercises in online courses gives added value to the learning experience, because we learn more if we are actively included in the process. To avoid “hiding” behind the screen, it is wise to allow participants to prepare in advance. This together with proper technical testing enables them to be more confident in their inputs.


Tackling abstract topics (by Natasha Ilijeva Acevska)

One of the most challenging designs for me was the internal knowledge sharing event Stereotypes at Work and How to Overcome Them. How to tackle such a subtle topic with a group of experienced trainers and professional facilitators?

I set a few starting points: to accommodate as many learning styles as possible; to bring out the personal experiences of the colleagues; to facilitate exploratory discussions; to shock and move, so as to present the elusiveness of the stereotypes in action; and not to be prescriptive but leave the conclusions open. We started with co-creating a list of synonyms to the word stereotype and came up with a joint definition of the term. We then worked on the question why do stereotypes exist and are they even necessary? We did this through a blinded-guessing game: the stereotypes of a cup or basket helped us identify the mysterious objects in our hands. We also had a guessing game with photos of people with an unusual combination of looks and profession. Many verbal quotes helped us, some joking about stereotypes, others showing us how we can embrace them.

We ended the session with a discussion on what to do with the stereotypes at work, how to benefit from them, and how to recognize them when they lead to discrimination and stigmatization. The energy was high and each of us got food for thought. It was one of the best training sessions I have ever delivered.

Accepting differences (by Ajda Turk)

Acknowledging that we are all different is easier to say than to put into practice. With the help of colleagues, I managed to organize and facilitate the training-of-trainings Facilitation and Presentation Techniques for Financial Market Supervisors, which, among other things, helped the participants realize that we all learn differently. We emphasized details in the classroom and the CEF lobby (arranging flowers, papers, tables, setting a break area with a sunshade, etc.), created a puzzle for the agenda, and established a balance between lecture sessions, group work and walking sessions that were delivered by different experts and facilitators. Throughout the training, we engaged participants in discussions and asking questions, offered them to practice presentation skills, and, at the same time, receive useful feedback from a professional trainer in public speaking.

By selecting different tools and facilitation techniques, settings and arrangements, we focused on various elements that were crucial to consider if we wanted to deliver a highly engaging event. It was not only about addressing participants' names, professional background and expectations but also how they learn and how they are motivated to gain new knowledge throughout the learning initiative, and also who they are and how they behave in person and a group of others.

We had high expectations and so did our learners. By accepting our differences, we succeeded well. We all learned from each other, and also about ourselves. We gained technical skills, but also a new understanding of how we communicate and learn.

When designing a learning experience, we need to have clear answers to four questions: Why? Who? What? and How? In this blog, we have presented different examples of what it means to know who is the learner and what is their motivation, aspiration, learning style, etc. Even the most challenging (abstract) topics can be addressed with ease, if we carefully design and deliver the learning process. Sometimes ad hoc adjustments need to be made. Once knowing the reason for designing the learning initiative, we can find the right learning approach and methodology.

It can happen that all four answers are not that clear. Then the skills and competencies of the facilitators play an important role. With their experience and knowledge, they can navigate and sail smoothly. For this reason, we at CEF constantly invest in our own learning and upskilling to be able to design the most meaningful learning experiences for our beneficiaries. What learning event inspired you the most? Share with us in the comment.

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