In a recent workshop I heard some exasperated environmental leaders say, “People have to change but no one is hearing our message. We need to say it over and over again until they get it!” I’ve heard this many times in many forms – from advocates, educators, scientists, policymakers, funders, and communicators doing the good work of supporting healthy communities and a healthy planet.
I still cringe every time I hear it.
Change requires learning, but we don’t learn by being told what to think. The key to our learning is to be engaged in the thinking and the doing, instead of being told what to think and do.
The patterns of our Western style of learning – where we are “taught” through one-sided lectures in quiet classrooms – spills over into the way we do our work for the environment, conservation, and environmental justice. Interestingly, even those in higher education are beginning to see the need for learner-centered engaged learning processes, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article about medical school.
In all of ICL’s offerings, we are guided by the principles of adult learning and engagement. We’ve recently dug back into the work of Jane Vella, a renowned adult education expert. Below are a couple of her principles from her book, Taking Learning to Task, that are especially relevant to those of us seeking to shift our audiences’ thinking in a meaningful way:
- Telling is not teaching: Vella encourages the use of “learning tasks” that allow the participant to grow through application, testing, re-construction, and examination of the content through their own experience. This is in stark contrast to the telling, where the content is merely heard, not examined or personalized.
- Engagement: Without the engagement of the learners, there is no lasting learning. Vella cites the example of the film, The Dead Poets Society, where the students were so fired up by their class that they took it upon themselves to creep out of their dorms in the night to recite poetry to one another.
- Learner as subject, not object: Vella cites the German philosopher Hegel, who observed that people want to be in charge of their own lives and not be objects to be used by others. Open questions and applied learning support this principle and allows for learners to recognize themselves as the architects of their own learning.
Now is an opportunity to reflect on how you are “changing” minds. Pick one of these principles that makes the most sense in your leadership context and then answer the following question: How might applying that principle change your leadership approach, workshop design, or meeting agenda?
As we engage those we need to reach, we must remember how change really happens. To change our opinion or the knowledge that informs our actions requires us to change.
Take the next step: get a certificate in training, facilitation, and consulting!
Are you interested in kicking your outreach and engagement skills into high gear? ICL recently began a partnership with Marlboro College to create a certificate program around the principles listed above to support those who lead learning processes such as training, facilitation, and consulting. Apply before the 15th of August for an early bird discount!