Engagement for Generative Learning

The other day I received an email about “exciting ways” for trainers to engage their learners. It was brightly colored with pictures of happy faces. As I glanced down the tips that were offered, I didn’t really see anything that was particularly new. Suggestions for increasing learner engagement have always focused on separate “tasks” that the leader should engage in:

  • Setting conditions for learningMake sure there are lots of relevant activities
  • Use humor
  • Design your presentation in an orderly and logical way
  • Pay attention to the environmental conditions

These and other suggestions are helpful, but what they don’t take into account is that learner engagement is a pattern that emerges in the room as a result of multiple forces and tensions. You could attend to all the tasks on some magical checklist and still miss the mark because of the diversity of the learners in the room. No one set of answers is going to fit each individual learner. In HSD, because we think of engagement as a pattern, we recognize that all we can do is set the conditions for the learners to step into the conversation with us. This month’s Change the World model/method is a “work in progress” that represents our current learning about how to engage learners of any age.

HSD Professionals find ways to shape learner engagement as they consider three conditions:

  • Learner Engagement
    Instructional Perspective
  • Individuals Learner’s Response
  • Instructional Tactics

Instructional perspective creates the container for the pattern. It is the conceptual framework upon which all instructional decisions are shaped. Teachers who engage learners deeply stand in inquiry with them as they explore the world to learn more. They value authentic assessment because they know that snapshots of performance based on external standards may or may not fully represent what the learner knows. They also recognize that authentic assessment is just another aspect of the deep inquiry. Day-to-day observations and feedback about a student’s performance and needs shape the instructional decisions and focus at any given moment. Finally, these teachers see learning as an emergent pattern shaped by dynamical forces. They recognize that learning is continuous, emerging from the multiple, highly diverse forces that vie for learners’ attention and action every moment. Students are learning; the question is whether they are learning what the teacher would have them learn.

Individual learner response refers to the changes in interest and behavior that inform teacher decisions. They watch for the degree to which students take accountability for their own learning as well as for the learning ecology of the greater whole. How are the learners engaged with the materials and assignments? How do the learners engage with each other? To what levels are individual learners contributing to the learning experiences of others and of the whole. The answers to these questions inform teacher decision making in continuous cycles of Adaptive Action throughout their time together.

Instructional tactics are the multiple and varied ways the teacher and learner engage with each other. If they are standing in inquiry together, they have the information they need for shared decision making about the day-to-day specifics in the overall learning curriculum. They engage in shared iterations of Adaptive Action on multiple levels. They ask “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” as they observe and respond to others’ actions and reactions. They ask “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” as they explore new ideas and generate and test new hypotheses. They ask “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” as they check their learning against usefulness and applications in real-world situations. These cycles of Adaptive Action inform their actions to shape conditions to ensure high levels of learner engagement.

We believe that when those are the conditions that are set, patterns of engagement will emerge:

  • Teachers who stand in inquiry with their students and understand and account for the day-to-day shifts and forces in a student’s life engage students in ways that support them in taking accountability, patterns of instructional empathy and relevance will emerge.
  • When the instructional tactics emerge from and are coherent with decisions about using inquiry-based Adaptive Action and real-world engagements to support learning, patterns of productivity and creativity will emerge.
  • When the instructional tactics support students and teachers alike in participating in ongoing assessment and improvement, patterns of continuous assessment and feedback will emerge.

Ultimately learner engagement is not about individual, disparate steps the teacher does. It is about setting the conditions for engagement through the moment-by-moment decisions in that learning environment. The model/method in this downloadable tool represents the interplay of these conditions as they shape learner engagement. It’s a picture we are working on, and we welcome your thoughts and feedback about what works for you and what does not. 

Put these ideas into practice with the Learner Engagement diagram and downloable worksheet. Click the link below to receive your free downloadable tool.

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