Learning How to Learn – Episode 7

In this episode, Beth talks with guest Taruna Goel about the facilitator’s role in helping participants become expert learners, and how facilitators can strive to become  expert learners themselves.

Beth and Taruna also explore:

  • Being strategic and taking more active roles as facilitators
  • What it means to be an expert learner
  • How we can use the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines to make learning inclusive and transformative for everyone
  • Investing in our own personal learning, including formal and informal learning
  • Expecting and designing for learner variability

Engage with Taruna Goel

Other Resources and Links from the Episode

Connect with Beth

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth
Hello, thank you so much for deciding to listen to this podcast episode today. This is Episode 7. In today’s episode, I interview Taruna Goel. Taruna is a learning and development professional, she has been doing this work for over twenty years. One of the things that Taruna believes is that a teacher and a learner reside within each of us. It’s a great comment which actually helps me sort of succinctly say what this episode is about: Learning How to Learn. How do we do that for ourselves as the people who are facilitating learning? What does it look like for us to become an expert learner? What does that even mean? And then how do we actually help our learners become more expert learners themselves? Taruna helps us think about a framework called Universal Design for Learning and how it can really support us in our design and facilitation practice. And if you’ve been using UDL then you’re going to appreciate this episode because you’ll probably be able to round out your experience and your knowledge of the framework with a few tips and strategies that Taruna is going to talk about. But if you have never heard of the framework then this is going to be a great episode for you as well, because UDL is something that you can absolutely start to look into and to take strategies from it in order to be able to design more inclusive learning. And actually learning that helps your learners become more savvy in terms of knowing how they particularly like to learn and what works for them. And so that’s what we’re going to be talking about today, learning how to learn both for ourselves as facilitators and helping our participants do the same. Enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Hi, Taruna, it’s so nice to see you. Thank you for being here on the show.

Taruna Goel
Hello, Beth. And I’m so happy to be on this show. And hello to all the listeners of this podcast.

Beth
I know you’ve been a learning and development professional for many years. When did you become passionate about this topic? Do you remember that? Maybe there was one particular thing? Or was it something that evolved for you over time? How did your passion grow around learning how to learn?

Taruna
That’s a very interesting question. And I’m not sure if there was one moment or is it you know, more a part of my nature and also nurture? I definitely saw my parents always being lifelong learners. My mother, you know, at the age of 50, was actually pursuing a computer certificate and she was one of the first batches of women who were doing that back in India at the time. And my father did his PhD when he was in his 60s, late 60s. I think I had a lot of inspiration in my house itself that kind of made me want to keep learning, and just be be a continuous learner and a lifelong learner. And then, of course, choosing this profession, which is everything to do with instructional design, learning design, adult learning, workplace training. It’s difficult not to be a learner yourself when you’re attempting to help others learn.

Beth
Absolutely, I think it for me, I’ve always said it’s one of the things that really I get joy out of, and it’s why I’m in the field, because I love to learn. I feel very similar to you. My parents were a big, you know, were big role models for me in terms of being teachers, and you know, showing the way, and it’s just a great field to be in when you want to be a lifelong learner, isn’t it?

Taruna
Absolutely. And I don’t know if I’ve said this to you already. But I think what we’re going to be talking about today, it kind of gels so well, with the title of your podcast, Facilitating on Purpose, because I feel that that’s what is really about. You know, being an expert learner or being a continuous learner. It’s all about doing it purposefully. So I’m glad that we chose the topic that we did.

Beth
It’s great that you mentioned that now because I’ve started to ask people at the end of the episode, what facilitating on purpose means to them. Do you want to say a little bit more about that now, and, you know, because obviously, it’s tweaked your interest, just the title of the podcast.

Tara
[Laughs] And as I was thinking about our conversation today, I thought, well, this podcast is all about what we’re going to be talking this morning. So I think you will hear a lot of my response in how we, you know, chat about the theme for today. But I would say like, in short, I would say that yes, it just makes me a want to put myself in the shoes of an active facilitator. Somebody who is more strategic, somebody who’s doing it with a sense of a goal in mind. And not not just because you’re standing in a classroom and are expected to facilitate a session, but because you want to do it. You know, you want to facilitate that learning with that group. So more active role for facilitators, I believe. That’s what I’m thinking of at this time. But by the end of the podcast, I’m sure we have lots of other things to say about it.

Beth
You’ll probably have a million other ideas for sure. But that sounds great to me. And I like that you’re saying that, you know, someone can be an active and should be an active facilitator. That they’re really coming to it caring about the work in that sense, maybe it says to me as well. Yeah.

Taruna.
Yeah, it’s about making a choice and and taking responsibility. And that’s what the title said to me.

Beth
If we think about, you know, learning how to learn as our topic today, who do you want to talk about first? Because I know that you think about the idea or the concept of, you know, being an expert learner, both for the participant or the student side, but also the facilitator or the instructor side. Who do you want to talk about first, and we’ll go to the other after?

Taruna
Okay, well, before we start to talk about both the facilitator as well as the learners, maybe we should start by defining what an expert learner really is. There are lots of technical definitions, and I’m not gonna attempt to bore you and your listeners with the scientific definitions. And there are lots of learning theories that support the idea of an expert learner. But the way I define it for myself is learners who know how to learn. And they know what their goals are, they know how to achieve those goals. And along the way, they kind of monitor their progress, they reflect on and then they evaluate their learning. When we’re talking about expert learners, we’re not kind of seeking expertise in the subject area being taught. Instead, it’s the expertise that is associated with learning how to learn, doing it strategically, doing it purposely. As some would say, it’s more about expert learnings, the learners wanting to pursue the mastery of learning rather than the mastery of knowledge. Does that kind of resonate with what you think about expert learners?

Beth
I think so. And it’s this additional stream or, I don’t know what you would call it, that kind of runs alongside the learner learning the subject or the content that they’re there to learn. You know, let’s say they’re trying to learn accounting or something like that. So there’s the the accounting concept or the content of accounting. But then there’s the how do you learn accounting best for yourself and, and in that group, perhaps, that you’re learning in and so on? Is that how you think about it, kind of these parallel tracks or something going on at the same time?

Taruna
Absolutely. I mean, the learners are sitting in our sessions to learn that content. But our goal as facilitators cannot be limited to just teaching them that content, we also have to take an active step to help them learn and become better learners along the way, so that whenever they attend the next session by any other facilitators, they are better learners and more primed to absorb both the content knowledge, but also the skills of learning in a more efficient and effective way. Our conversation is reminding me of one of the statements that I read in a book on Universal Design for Learning by Anne Meyer. And and she said that, essentially the goal of education, it has shifted from acquiring knowledge to becoming expert learners. And looking at it that way, being an expert learner is a process. It’s not a fixed goal. So you only improve with each opportunity to become an expert learner.

Beth
And it’s probably never finished either, is it? Research is coming out all the time on, you know, subjects like neuroscience, and educational psychologists are helping us out and there’s so many more things that we can learn as the years go on, aren’t there about how to learn?

Taruna
Oh, absolutely. And it’s a topic that has been explored and written about for many, many years. I think, probably, you know, more than 50-60 years. A lot of research has gone into this area. So yes, I look at it as a continuum. I look at all of us kind of being somewhere on the continuum, some further ahead than others. And when I look at my role and responsibility, as a facilitator, I’m looking at moving my learners along that continuum to be better learners.

Beth
What do you say about the whole thing where, when we’re learning how to facilitate learning, or how to teach, we sometimes mimic those who have come before us, I suppose. Like maybe teachers we had or instructors we had, when we were in school, or, you know, higher education, or whatever it was. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me how to learn. And so is this a foreign concept for some people who facilitate learning, because they never really saw examples of this, or were taught those strategies themselves?

Taruna
Yes. And I think you hit an important point here, because somehow there can be an understanding or an assumption that all facilitators are, you know, expert learners themselves, but it’s really not true. They may be experts in the knowledge, or the subject area that they are teaching. But if we want to guide our participants to develop their skills and an expert learner, we must also become expert learners ourself. And I think this makes a good segue into talking about the facilitator side of expert learners. And I’m talking a lot about UDL because it’s been top of my mind. I’ve been exploring UDL for a few years now. And for your listeners who are new to UDL, so, CAST is a nonprofit education, research and development organization that created the UDL framework and the UDL guidelines, which are the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. And their goal with doing that is to make learning inclusive and transformative for everyone. And UDL guidelines defines expert learners as learners who are resourceful and knowledgeable. They are strategic and goal directed, and they are purposeful and motivated. UDL has these three main principles: engagement, representation, and action and expression. And there are specific guidelines under each of these principles. The goal of implementing and applying these guidelines is to actually get to expert learners. And the reason why – and I’m sure we can do a whole new podcast on just UDL itself – but the reason why I bring UDL into this picture is that in a book called Universal Design for Learning: A Theory and Practice, it’s by Meyer, Rose and Gordon, they said that expert learners, they’re not created in vacuum. And they argue that actually expert learners require expert facilitators, or teachers, who are themselves expert learners. And they go a step further and they highlight that you know, learning environments, they need to support, encourage, and nurture this goal of learning expertise for everyone. So as facilitators, we have to consciously choose to become expert learners ourselves. There is a long answer to how do we do that? And there is a short answer. I guess both are long in some ways. But if I had to say a short answer, I would say by consistently kind of applying the model of self regulated learning, which again, boils down to the same four aspects. You know, planning your learning, so having goals, monitoring your progress, when you’re implementing that plan, evaluating how it’s going for you, or once it’s completed, and then ongoing, you know, continuous reflection. So those are some of the things that I would encourage, you know, facilitators to participate and engage in, which is more self regulated learning.

Beth
That’s a great way to put it. Is that something that I’m trying to think, am I a self regulated learner? Like, I’m trying to think of examples of things that I do to be able to plan and manage and kind of evaluate my learning, as you were saying. I’m thinking of examples coming to mind. But I want to hear from you first, do you have things that you’re doing to be a self regulated learner for yourself?

Taruna
Yes, I would say so. And I know that you will relate to relate to these examples as will your listeners. Let’s start with some of the basic ones. So we’re all investing in our own personal learning at all times. For example, when the listeners are coming to your podcast, they want to learn more about how to facilitate with purpose. You know how to do this well, how to get better. We have to establish, create and nurture this personal learning environment. Podcast, LinkedIn, Twitter…these are all elements of our learning environment and we have to consciously kind of build these and nurture them and go back to them, and create our own community of those nodes that we can learn from. Which includes even taking courses yourself. You know, if, for example, people who are new to the idea of facilitation, they may want to take workshops that are meant to train facilitators to become better facilitators, teach them the principles of instructional design, so that they can design their sessions in a more effective way. So there are those formal routes of learning, you know, courses, and workshops. And then there are these other informal methods where you connect with other people using social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcast, and so on. The second example that I would say for myself, is, of course, as a part of my day job, I end up facilitating a lot of sessions for my clients and to meet the business outcomes that we’ve set ourselves to achieve. But I also like to kind of go beyond my subject matter, either attend or facilitate sessions by other facilitators that have nothing to do with my day job. It allows me to kind of look at different audiences, different age groups, different subject matters. And it helps me get away from focusing too much on what I call the procedural skills, you know, how to teach a subject, and take me towards more conditional skills about you know, how to teach well in different scenarios and different contexts. So I do a lot of volunteer work with an immigrant serving organization. I serve on the board. And as a part of that, I’m expected to facilitate sessions for the board, but also for all the committees that I’m serving on. And the subject matter is totally different from my day job. It’s all about governance and business. And so I get a chance to kind of step away from worrying about the “how” of the subject and focus more on the “what” and “why” and “where” and “when” I can use this technique to get everybody on board so that we can arrive at a decision. I guess I can swing between the focus mode and the diffused mode in those meetings. And it allows me to learn more about facilitation that way. Similarly, you know, I do volunteer with my community centre, so one of the audience groups that I had, for one of my classes on teaching information technology was a group of seniors all 70 years and over. It’s very different to facilitate a session on how to use a mouse and Word to kind of draft an email to your children, and then send it. I mean, you and I would probably do it in 30 seconds. And then the whole session took about two hours, at the end of which they were able to send that email to their kids. Just different subject matter in different contexts allows me to focus on developing my skills because planning my learning is going on using these tools, you know, by volunteering, by taking courses myself, and focusing on my learning, purely personal learning environment. And at the end of all of this, I do end up kind of consciously asking myself, What did I learn today?

And that is a habit that I picked up from one of the learning chats that I participate in on Twitter, and with the hashtag #lrnchat, that happens every Thursday, I think, yes. And the first question that they ask in the chat is, what did you learn today? And when you start to answer that question, for the first few times, you’re quite focused on, you know, concrete things that you learned, maybe you learn how to troubleshoot something on the computer, and maybe your audio wasn’t working in a zoom call. Yeah. And you figured a quick way to kind of set that right or whatever else. And then over time, when you start asking that question to yourself, the answers go deeper. Because then you’re not focused on these things. You’re focused on What was the big picture view or what I learned today? Or what I learned this week? So just consciously asking yourself and reflecting on what you learned today, or in that week.

Beth
I do see you doing so much of this. You know, we don’t actually know each other in person, you and I do we? [Both laugh.]  But it doesn’t matter. But I’m trying to think okay, how did I you know, first learn of you, it was through I think you using your, your personal learning network on social media. And I felt like I am like, do I know Taruna? Like, I feel like I know her. But really, I was knowing you through social media, because you were so good at sharing your learning. You are pretty active. Especially on LinkedIn, I think you’d probably show up there. For me, I’m not on Twitter as much. But you’re very conscientious I think about showing your learning. You’re intentional about using social media, to further your own learning and connect with your community and to do the same, I think, right?

Taruna
Yes, very much so. And it’s funny, you mentioned that, because my blog is called Designed for Learning, because that’s how I started and I started it back in 2008. It was more around creating a diary for myself about my learning, and capturing that and reflecting on what I’ve learned and, you know, making sense of things. And I continue to blog even till today. And it allows me or gives me that space that I need to kind of sit back and think about what did I do this month? What do I want to blog about? What is on top of my mind? Just having that activity to do intentionally allows me to kind of take a step back and think about it more deeply. But it also, you know, gives me space and time to unlearn. We’re talking a lot about expert learners, you know, learning how to learn. But I think we should also be constantly unlearning. And I think sometimes it becomes even more important to the process of learning than learning itself. And I remember blogging about this at one point, and I went into the dictionary to see what’s the definition of unlearning? And it’s actually a transitive verb, which basically means to put out of one’s knowledge or memory, or to undo the effect of or discard. So it’s an active thing that we need to do, it doesn’t happen on its own. We have to choose to empty our own cup. I think it’s more difficult and challenging to unlearn. It’s uncomfortable, because we have to let go of knowledge that has actually served us well.

Beth
That’s right. And it was handed down to us from people or culture or whatever it was, and it feels maybe like a part of us in some ways.

Taruna
It does.

Beth
I agree. It’s an essential part of kind of being in the world today. Especially with, you know, all the learning that’s coming at us from a cultural perspective and more, gender perspective, you know, all the intersectionalities I’m thinking of in this way that there’s a big amount of unlearning the way we thought, you know, we and other people were in the world. We have to constantly challenge that, don’t we? And say, do I really know what this is? Or do I need to open myself up a little bit more to others and learning from them?

Taruna
Absolutely. I mean, even even in technical areas. I know this whole debate about learning styles, and you know, I kind of want to bust that myth and, and maybe use this podcast to say it again, you know, that has been debunked, and there are no learning styles. But when I started working in the industry back, you know, 23-24 years ago, it was something that my role models used. My mentors were always talking about learning styles. And then over the years, I read and researched and learned and I realized, hmm, there there is nothing like that. We all have preferences, but we don’t unnecessarily need to subscribe to this learning styles idea. And so it was difficult to and uncomfortable to let go of that knowledge, especially when we had sold that to our own clients [laughs]. But it was important that, you know, for me as a facilitator to unlearn that, and let go. And then help others unlearn that in their own way. And I think you’re right, in today’s very rapidly changing environment, I think our success depends on not only on how quickly we learn, but also how quickly we unlearn and let go of some of those biases or assumptions that we’ve been holding on to for many years.

Beth
I’m glad you mentioned learning styles, because I do in my role as a learning designer, I come up against that, or, you know, that comes up for me with clients who still believe that quite often. And so it’s a process I work through with people as well. So it’s a pretty common example, in our field when we’re working with people to develop training opportunities, isn’t it?

Taruna

Yes. [Laughs].

Beth
One thing…you mentioned your blog, and I did go back and, you know, look at some of your posts there and enjoyed kind of, you know, reading and rereading some of them. One of the things you talked about there was the variability of learners. And I know that comes, you know, into and from the Universal Design for Learning framework as well. Can you tell us more about…to help us understand what that means, to think about the variability of learners?

Taruna
Yes, I think philosophically, the UDL framework is a mindset more than anything. It’s not like a model, it’s not a prescriptive model to do things. It’s about a way to think about things. Given that learner variability is more like the fact of life. The idea that there is no average learner. That we all learn in different ways and we all are looking at different things that can help us stay engaged or with a learning environment that is more suited to how we absorb information, absorb the knowledge, and also gives us multiple ways to present what we’ve learned. And those are essentially those three UDL principles that I spoke about earlier. So it’s the principle of engagement, which is all about our own motivation, the why of learning. Why are we sitting in that classroom? Why do we want to learn this topic? What is it that recruits our interest in that area? And what are our goals about, you know, from participating in that activity? And then the second principle, which is about representation, or the what of learning. How can I, for example, in an elearning course, how can I display the information that allows people to absorb it in different ways? Can I have an option for both an on screen text as well as an audio file that they can listen to? Or can I have other alternatives for both auditory, visual, as well as text based information – which allows them to kind of comprehend the knowledge in their own ways. And the third principle is about the how of learning, which is all about action and expression. So how do I allow or create multiple ways for my learners to use different communication tools? What kind of assignments can I give them, that allows them or gives them the flexibility to share their learning in different ways? I remember one of the courses that I’m teaching with UVic [University of Victoria] where I kind of implemented UDL principles. And I always say that it’s an evolution, not a revolution. I do not prescribe people to kind of start looking at every principle, every guideline, every strategy and implement that in their courseware. So start with the low hanging fruit. Start with the challenges and struggles that you’re having in your course and start making the changes there. So one of the areas where I made a change was to give an option to my participants to submit their final assignments in any form. So they could create a vlog and talk about their final assignments, they could actually create a Word document, they could put it in a PowerPoint slideshow, and they could use Articulate and present it in that way. And I’m happy to say that there was a good uptake on all of that. And that was all to be mindful of the variability that was in my classroom. That was all to be mindful about the idea that there was no average learner and there was no one way that I could actually speak to all of their underlying motivations about enrolling for that program.

Beth
I’m so glad you brought up that example of giving those options and, you know, allowing for the variability of learners…the learners to create something that worked for them. Because it’s an easy thing to do or maybe one of the first things someone could do when they’re creating a course, isn’t it, to think about do we really have to have this product of the learning as an essay?

Taruna
Exactly!

Beth
Or, you know, can it be something else? And you mentioned the book, Universal Design for Learning, I actually have it too. I have it sitting right in front of me, because I’ve also found it a valuable book. And I’m gonna just pull out a quote from that book, because I think it relates to what we’re talking about here. They were talking about separating the means from the goals. And I know when I started learning about UDL, that, that concept alone was so powerful to me. The quote is from the could be the former US Secretary of Education, it says in the book, “Tight on goals, loose on means.” So can you tell us more about that? What does that mean to you, because for me, it was very illuminating around my learning design work.

Taruna
It’s a great takeaway for your listeners as well, because I think it allows us to focus on the process more than the outcome. And, as facilitators, we are kind of tuned to focus a lot on the outcome. You know, what’s the outcome of the session that we’re about to facilitate today? And that’s where as facilitators sometimes we tend to lose focus on the process itself, and also tend to forget that we want to guide the learners to, you know, keep paying attention to the full process. And that’s what that statement means to me. When it when it says that we think about the means and not so much the outcomes or the products that we are generating. And so the three principles actually encourage us to provide multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression. And that’s where that one is coming from. And I spoke a little bit about, you know, as facilitators, how, sometimes when we sit in other sessions that are being facilitated by others, or when we’re taking sessions ourselves, which have nothing to do with the content area where we are experts, it allows us to kind of move from procedural knowledge to conditional knowledge, or move from you know, focused thinking to diffuse thinking, and that’s what allows us to focus on the process and not the outcome. So, in our classrooms, how do we highlight that learning process, you know, for our participants? And how do we give them these opportunities where they can do this metacognitive reflection about their own learning process? And one of the ways to do that is to actually give mastery oriented feedback. When I say mastery, it’s not the mastery in the subject. Again, it’s more about being becoming better learners. And how do we support that? I think it’s important to know that participants who are mastery oriented, they think about learning, they don’t necessarily think about proving how smart they are and how much they’ve learned. So when these participants succeed as facilitators, we need to praise their efforts, or their strategies, or the way they got to the outcome, and not necessarily their intelligence and the product that they created. And that’s one way to allow for that to happen.

Beth
It makes me think of the parenting process, right?

Taruna
Very much so.

Beth
It’s very, that’s something I learned as a parent to say, okay, great effort. Not, you’re so smart. Yet again, you’ve done well, or whatever, you know, like I can kind of be funny about it. But yes, to say you worked hard, or this takes work to do this thing well, and that’s yeah. So we can use it at work but we can use it at home as well, these kind of concepts.

Taruna
Yeah. And I think somewhere when we talk about variability and and this directly relates to kind of nurturing expert learners, and I know that we wanted to talk about that side of the coin. So let’s just do that. Now that we’ve reached that point. You spoke about recognizing variability. And given that I think if we want to nurture expert learners in our classrooms, or courses, or whatever means of communication we are using to facilitate sessions, we need to communicate those high expectations for all learners, but also recognize that each of them will progress in their own way, in a unique way to achieve that goal. So as a facilitator, what we can do is we can actually use feedback, which lets them all know that they are capable of achieving those high expectations. So you know, sometimes when I have a wide range of participants in my session, some with a lot of prior knowledge in that area and some with not so much information that they already are coming in with, some of those activities that I’ve set out for them to do I recognize that those may be challenging for the ones that are new to the subject area.

And one of the things that I often say to them is that, you know, I realize that this is a challenge. But I’m confident that you know, you have the resources that you can use to reach that goal. When I say that, I say that because a part of communicating these consistent high expectations for all learners, is to also support them to kind of meet those objectives. So the question that I have to ask as a facilitator is, what are those resources that I can make available in my learning environment that recognizes this variability, but can help each of them meet the expectations that they’ve set for themselves?

Beth
I think that’s a such a crucial concept, because sometimes when I’m working with people, and they say, but we have so many different people in the room, and they all have different levels of knowledge around the subject, and that’s really challenging. And so you’re helping us remember that we as facilitators, as designers of that learning, and facilitators of that learning experience, maybe have a responsibility and, you know, it’s something that can help us along the way, help our learners, to provide resources…because we walk into it knowing well, every single group we work with actually has a variability in terms of people’s knowledge and experience and what not. And so can we provide, should we provide, the resources for people to kind of take charge of their own learning as much as they’re able to and, and give them that efficacy, I suppose.

Taruna
Absolutely. And it’s important that we kind of remember that. That there is no homogenous group. There is no average learner, there is no average class that we have. And each of them comes with their own unique set of experiences, prior knowledge and motivations to kind of join us that day. And it’s important that we recognize that by doing our bit, that’s the way to recognize it, not just by creating an opening statement about, you know, accessibility and recognizing the range of audience we have, but actually doing the task, creating strategies that speak to a range of learners. For example, if there are people in our classroom that come with a lot of prior knowledge, maybe you want to give them a pretest and allow them to skip some content, because they already are aware of that, instead of mandating everybody to go through 16 modules of learning. Maybe if you are already aware, do this pretest. And know for yourself where your strengths and opportunities lie. And take it that way. So it does involve moving away from a teacher-centred or facilitator-centred environment, to a more learner driven environment. And that’s also a continuum in its own way.

Beth
Yes, I’m thinking about how…so there are things we can do as facilitators to kind of bring these concepts forward to our learners. And it’s making me think about, can I say the responsibility of learners? Is there a responsibility on the part of the learner to, once they’re kind of attuned to the fact that they can learn about learning how to learn, do they have a responsibility there? It’s kind of twofold, isn’t it? On the learner and on the facilitator. And if everyone knows about learning how to learn concepts and strategies, there’s kind of both sides are working together, then to a great end, maybe?

Taruna
Absolutely. There isn’t a better way to say this than what you’ve just said. Because learning is a two-way street. Both the facilitator and the learner has a role to play in reaching that goal of becoming expert learners. And when I say, you know, moving away from that teacher-centred or facilitator-centred to a learner driven environment, it’s not a fixed kind of scale. A lot of our classrooms can also…may need a more facilitator-centred environment, because those are the goals of that training. We need more directive learning, maybe the audience profile needs that much of direction. But we need to be able to recognize that in the same classroom, we may need the three different types of environments for different types of learners. And yes, the learner definitely has an equal responsibility to kind of self direct, you know, themselves, have some goals for themselves, identify what kind of challenging experiences they’re going through and reach out to the facilitator to talk about those experiences. And on the other side, the facilitator has to create the right environment where the learner feels that accountability responsibility and feels free to come and kind of speak to the facilitator about how their learning process is unfolding for themselves. So yeah, there is definitely a role to play for both the learner as well as the facilitator. And I guess every time I am talking about this, I’m thinking in terms of a continuum because there are no absolutes. There is no wrong or right here. And maybe a very directive learning environment might be needed in one context and a very constructive learning environment maybe required in a different context.

But at all times I feel that we are talking about, what the core theme of being an expert learner is learner agency. You know, to give them the ability to set their own goals. To think about their own…and UDL does that very well. UDL talks about giving learner voice and giving learner choice. And there are many other instructional approaches and strategies that talk about creating, you know, a range of engagement, motivation and ownership for learners to believe that they have the agency to kind of self direct their learning.

Beth
It’s such a hopeful thing for me. And as you I liked the idea that you’re saying it’s kind of a continuum, because when these concepts are new to either a facilitator or a learner, maybe they can only go so far, because it’s so new to them, it may be overwhelming. But as they grow in their knowledge and skill, and just comfort level with, you know, being able to, I guess, ask for what they want, or, you know, say the things they need to say as the facilitator, then it just hopefully gets easier over time. But it will never kind of reach…we are all individuals, aren’t we? I’m thinking some learners may never feel the comfort to go to an instructor and say what they need. And so we just have to keep trying, don’t we, as facilitators?

Taruna
Absolutely. And not everything is for everyone. Maybe some of us like to set our own goals, and others like to be supported. To each their own, as long as we recognize that that’s where it’s coming from. In my courses and in my sessions I do invite learners to kind of reflect on a learning goal for themselves, you know, and you said that using a lens of their own personal experience, or whatever they want to accomplish. If I feel that that learning goal is kind of too easy for them, or maybe too out of scope, then that allows us an opportunity to discuss together. But the idea behind inviting them to set their own learning goals is I want to be able to make relevant connections for them. I want the goal to be purposeful and meaningful for them, for that day, for that opportunity. And that allows them to kind of maximize whatever they’ve learned, and transfer it to the real work.

Beth
Which is such the key for me when people say, but how do we engage this group? Relevance and meaning is one of the biggest ways we can do that, would you agree?

Taruna
Absolutely. So one of the techniques to do that is to actually allow them to set their own goals. Because there is nothing more meaningful than sitting in a classroom and identifying for yourself, why am I here? Am I just taking a day off today from work and sitting in this classroom? Or do I really want to accomplish something? And why is it that I want to accomplish that? What is the challenge that I’m having at my work that is not allowing me to bring my, you know, full self to work? Not allowing me to be efficient and effective at work. And which is why this is my goal from the session today. And as soon as we kind of present it in that problem, challenge, lens, it becomes meaningful, and the learners start to take responsibility for wanting to achieve that goal.

Beth
Absolutely. There was something that you said earlier, which I feel we should touch on, which was something about, you know, the learner in that day. And I just want to note that when we talk about creating learning spaces for all learners to be successful in, we’re not just talking about learners with disabilities or that kind of thing, are we? We’re talking about maybe how a learner feels that day, they maybe they don’t want to talk with other people in the learning group that day. Maybe they’d prefer to work alone. It’s not it’s not how do I say this? You’re gonna say it better than me. It’s not a formal disabilities thing we’re talking about here in terms of inclusion. It’s broader than that. Can you help us? Be more eloquent than I am right now! [Laughs]

Taruna
[Laughs] I don’t know how I’m gonna do a good job at it, but I understand where you’re going and I agree with you. I think we have to think about learners. When I say “on that day”, I mean, whatever ideas, thoughts, challenges, motivations, that they’re feeling at that particular point in their life. And the reason why I say that is because learning and expertise, they’re not static. We are a different learner every day. And that’s why I kind of like UDL because it encourages us to use multiple means. And so today I might be feeling you know, feeling like creating a video because I’m looking really happy and peppy and wearing a bright t-shirt…

Beth:
You are!

Taruna
Yes, and it’s a Friday mood. So for my course final assignment I’m going to make a video today because I’m up for it. And then in the second assignment I don’t so feel like myself today I, I tried, I’m feeling very thoughtful and pensive, and I want to reflect a little bit more. And I want to put my words on paper today. So I’m the same learner. It’s just that whatever are my motivations, or stimulations or our thoughts and challenges, they are kind of leading me into a different, or wanting me to choose a different option. But if my facilitator didn’t set up those options for me, I am forced to use a video as all my final assignments, even when I’m not up for it. And that might reflect on the kinds of work that are produced eventually.

Beth
Absolutely. Or you’re forced to have to go talk to the facilitator about what you need, and you might not do that. And so yeah, you’re kind of stuck, aren’t you?

Taruna
Yeah, like in some of the Zoom workshops, you know, where we have breakout rooms and I’ve realized that because of the pandemic, because of how isolated we’ve been, and then how into each other’s faces we’ve been with all the Zoom meetings, some of us are just not comfortable with breakout rooms. You know, we’d rather do a little bit of self reflection than get chatting with a group. And that’s okay. So in, in a Zoom webinar where I’m doing some activities where everybody’s expected to kind of join a group. But there are various approaches, I can ask the group, would you like us to set the groups and then you can just automatically join them? Or would you, or if they already are working with each other, giving them the option to make their own groups, and also having an option for people not to join a breakout group and giving them a supporting document, or a job aid. Some way to scaffold their attempt to do a bit of self reflection and discussion with their own self. And so allowing them the opportunity to stay in the main room, or use the self reflection, and come back to the session in 15 minutes. So just having all of these options to allow for and recognize that variability that exists in that room that day.

Beth
Yeah, and you know, I had learning around that to this year, because I blogged about it. You know, just like you I do a few blog posts here and there and talked about someone leaving my workshop because I put them in a breakout room to discuss something with another person. And I was very thankful for that feedback and made changes from that point forward. And so, you know, it goes back to maybe the facilitator side of things that you were talking about before, to unlearn some of the…you know, there was an assumption that I was making that everybody loves breakout rooms. So just a small thing but to make a change like that, that could accommodate more learners to make the choice for themselves in the future that has felt pretty powerful.

Taruna
Yeah, it is empowering. For for both us as facilitators, but also for learners. Because giving them that choice, or the option to do what, what they think is best for them. But every time that we are giving choice and voice to our learners, we are recognizing and supporting their ability to become better learners. So it’s only learners who want to become better learners, that want the choice and voice, right? Because for everybody else, let’s go with the flow. Let’s do what our instructor is telling us to do. But if you really want to become better at learning, you want to exercise your right to have a choice, and your right to have a voice in your own learning.

Beth
And we don’t even have to say, Listen, I’m giving you this choice because I want you to take charge of your own learning. We don’t really have to be that meta about it, do we? But we just do the things and then maybe they learn through being a part of our groups and seeing what we’re doing and they can maybe, you know, learn along the way and ask for more things with other people in the future when they’re in their classes instead.

Taruna
Yeah. And I think, you know, generally speaking, yes, I don’t think every learner will find a value in us making our designs transparent to them. Because we are the experts, we know about human learning, we know about learning design, and they may not appreciate some of the nuances associated with why we did something. But I found that with some learners, I do like to kind of get meta about it. Where at the end of the learning process, where I am guiding this self reflection, but I’m also secretly looking at ways to improve myself as a facilitator. I’m asking them, so how was the learning process for you? So in this assignment, you were given a choice of three? Was it useful to have a choice? Or did you really not care for it and the most logical option was always submitting it in a Word document. So as I’m taking or encouraging my learners to kind of take risk and stretch beyond the typical choices and allow for that reflection on their success and challenges, I’m also using all of the information that they share with me as a facilitator and think about so did I do enough, you know, to foster that collaboration that I’ve wanted the learners to have. Did they talk about their learning experience? What did they really enjoy? And how did I model being an expert learner to them?

Beth
Which brings us full circle, doesn’t it from where we started the conversation.

Taruna
Absolutely.

Beth
If we’re in this business because we like, you know and love the idea of being a lifelong learner, then that reflective practice piece has to be part of our existence as a designer and facilitator of learning.

Taruna
Absolutely. And I think it’s probably the most important piece of it all. As much as we want the learners to take responsibility for their learning, we also want to take responsibility for the efficacy of our own facilitation and our skills as a facilitator. And that involves thinking about, you know, what am I expecting the learners to kind of go in, in their learning? Or how do I persevere in my work as a facilitator? What are some of my underlying philosophies about learning? What kind of enables me as that facilitator or that leader of learning to recognize my own success and challenges in the program? So there’s a lot of self reflection, which becomes a key component of becoming an expert learner.

Beth
Well, I really want to keep talking, but we really should close this episode at some point Taruna. I’ll circle back to the Facilitating on Purpose piece? Is anything else coming up for you, you know, do you want to final word on what it means for you to be facilitating on purpose in this way, as an expert learner who is helping our learners also be the same?

Taruna
Oh, well, I think I only have, you know, a few parting words, which is to stay humble, and stay curious, because I think those are some of the important traits of being an expert learner. And if you’re not curious, we cannot continue to learn. So stay curious.

Beth
Thank you so much. That’s fantastic. That’s just great advice for life in general, but absolutely, in the field that we’re both in. Thank you so much for being with us.

Taruna
Thank you so much for having me on this podcast, Beth, it was so much fun talking to you today.

[Upbeat music playing]

[Episode outro]
Beth
For the next episode of the podcast I’m doing something a little bit different. I’m not just interviewing one person, I’m interviewing three. And who they are is pretty special to me. I’m interviewing my parents, Ron and Elaine Cougler, and my older brother, Kevin Cougler. Why am I interviewing my family? Well, my parents were teachers, and I’ve mentioned this before. My brother and I never became teachers but we did end up in careers that are related to education. I own my own business as a learning designer and a facilitator and Kevin started and runs STEM Camp in Ontario, a science, technology, engineering and math summer camp for kids. So, did mom and dad do something to grow us into people who wanted to be in education careers or did they just somehow instill lifelong learning-type things in us as they raised us to make us want to do this for the rest of our life? How did we become curious people who are lifelong learners? What do people do when they are lifelong learners? What does that look like? So, if you want to meet the Cougler Family, come along for the next episode. Maybe it will spark some thinking for you as to how you are a lifelong learner yourself, and maybe how you’re doing it with your children, with other people in your family, or even direct reports that may work with you. What does it mean to be a lifelong learner and how do we help foster that in other people? I hope you’ll join us for the next episode.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

Follow and listen for free on your favourite podcast listening app!

Join our newsletter

Sign up for updates about learning design and facilitation about every 6-8 weeks.

Check your inbox for the link!

Join Waitlist We will inform you if a space becomes available in this session. Please leave your valid email address below.