Don't make my mistakes about learner preferences!

My very first day of working safely at home was March 17, 2020. I think it's very symmetrical 🤓 that my very first (limited-staff) day "back" in the office is August 17, 2020. During the past 5 months, I know most educators have been working non-stop, so I'm grateful to take time this morning to reflect on a few things I've learned during our time of emergency remote teaching and learning.

What I've learned about my own learning preferences...

  • A typical webinar is not my preferred way to learn. If I'm not engaged in activities, connecting with others, or at least utilizing the chat, then just send the recording for me to watch at my own convenience (and possibly speed up the presentation and pause as needed.)
  • I have participated in large-ish online, asynchronous courses where the instructor designed the class so we became a collaborative community of learners. My summer MOOC experience with thousands of participants is not collaborative, so in the future, I must create that community myself.
  • It takes a lot of effort and intentionality to design an effective online course. (h/t to my favorite instructional designer, Julianna!) Watch a 3- to 5- minute video, post a reflection on a discussion board and repeat 50 times does not work for me.
  • I'm obsessed with ideas in the book The Art of Gathering, so if we gather, I want a purpose, an agenda, and a plan.

And what that means about others' preferences...

At one point during the summer, I was hesitant to offer a series of tool-based webinars. Show-and-tell presentations are my least favorite ways to learn; however, as my colleagues reminded me, others benefit from this type of live stand-and-deliver type of presentation. Some educators appreciate the anonymity of courses with thousands of participants, and/or they find ways to connect with smaller cohorts within the larger group. I realize many colleagues prefer the casual, organic conversations that arise when you hold a meeting for open discussions.

I allowed my own preferences to dictate how I designed professional development sessions and meetings. I limited myself because of my limited preferences. And I can't believe I fell for that mistake!

I've written about learning profiles, I've presented about differentiation and learning profiles, and I've shared extensively about learner preferences, as explained in The New Pillars of Modern Teaching. (Here's one post about that subject, and it explains preferences in terms of time, place, medium, and socialness.) 

Bottom line: I need to remember to design for other people's preferences, not just my own. Just because I prefer reading the text, doesn't mean everyone enjoys that same style. I want collaboration and connections, but others may prefer independent work. Not everyone is comfortable being a fearless clicker, so how can I include a bit more scaffolding within my PD sessions? 

One small solution.

Last week, these tweets inspired me, and I had the pleasure of working with a former colleague on her first lesson plans, so I'm putting all of these fabulous ideas together, and I'm relating everything to learner preferences: 

My friend wanted to give her students options for content input. She had a video ready to share, but the session had to be synchronous. I shared the first tweet about all of the different possibilities for breakout rooms by learner preference, and she loved that idea! This lesson will be her first "official" lesson, after several other introductory and community building meetings, but she considered limiting the breakout rooms to two choices, rather than three or more. (The second tweet about the importance of routines and practice applies to juniors and seniors, too!) 

1 Teacher Led: Teacher walks through process with students; 2 Independent - Students watch video, etc. on their own (headphones);3 Collaborative - Students work together, explore the resources together

She's fortunate because she is allowed to use Zoom and breakout rooms, and all of her students have the same device, so they can practice together changing their names to include a 1, 2, or 3, all based on their room preference. She will stay in the main Zoom room, and others who want to stay with her do not move to a breakout room. I know there are a lot of ifs in place for this activity, but I think it's a great start and a way to recognize how we can manage our preferences in remote settings. 

The same idea can kind of apply to face-to-face and hybrid models, too. When we're back to a face-to-face environment (that allows a bit of movement in the classroom) if the content is curated and designed for students to access it independently, they could have the same options within one class: small groups and workshops that are teacher-led; students learning and exploring resources independently; students discovering ideas by collaborating, or at least chatting while they worked. 

Side note: In our region, I'm suggesting that educators prepare for remote experiences because I foresee the remote learning dates to be extended, plus it allows planning for student absences, teacher absences, tech troubles, etc. So if the plan is for remote and asynchronous learning, I feel it will be easier to transition to other formats. 

I think this strategy will definitely work for PD sessions, and I can't wait to see what adult learners think about this addition of some choice in how they access the content.

A little more about learning preferences.

Last spring, a teammate and I created a podcast series called From Triage to Transformation, and we considered what learning might look like in the fall. Here's one episode where the focus is learning design for students, which is really all about learner preferences.

We recorded these episodes in April - May 2020, and I wonder how many of these transformational ideas can work in our current realities? 

During our summer of 2020, what did you discover about your own learning preferences? How can this information apply to your own classrooms, teams, or PD sessions? 

Always learning, even remotely. 
Wishing educators all the best for this new school year.