Brilliance by Design: Creating Learning Experiences That Connect, Inspire, and Engage

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Many subject matter experts are just that, subject matter experts--not experts in the art of teaching, facilitating, or designing. Thousands of authors, trainers, and speakers have great content, but they lack the skills required to convey their content in a way that inspires learners to unleash their brilliance and move the learning to practice.. They often spend 70% of their time on WHAT they are going to teach, and 30% of their time on HOW, when they should be spending 30% on WHAT, and 70% on HOW. Their instructional techniques often are at odds with their message of inclusivity, eagerness for people to learn, and hopes that their content will change lives and organizations. "Brilliance by Design" outlines how to design learning interactions (such as meetings and workshops) that enable people to do their best thinking. Using the tested, signature ENGAGE model, it helps anyone who brings people together for the purpose of learning, problem-solving, or innovating to develop a clear, high-impact training design that unleashes brilliance. It presents a model that enables teachers to analyze learner and teacher needs, create objectives that meet those needs, and incorporate interactive tools that "fire 'em up," ensuring all key outcomes are met. To help readers unleash the brilliance in others, this book provides the structure, tools, language, and models needed to create optimal learning experiences from their ideas, practices, models and books. In learning these techniques, readers will achieve powerful outcomes, building communities of learners who share best practices and communicate at a deep and profound level while doing real work.

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1 Fire Up the Synergy between Learners and Teachers

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Dale Chihuly is a renowned glass sculptor. His bold, colorful pieces come from a range of influences and include simple and exotic forms found in nature such as spheres and cylinders, sea creatures, and desert cacti. You can see them in museums, office buildings, hotels, and outdoor landscapes around the world. However, his most exciting contribution to the art glass world has to be his extraordinarily innovative idea of bringing together teams of artists with exceptional glassblowing abilities to create large-scale, spectacular glass sculptures. Led by Chihuly’s vision and direction, these casts of collaborators engage in highly physical, dramatic productions in which they create pieces that result from the synergy of all the artists’ specialized skills. By combining their talents, these teams collectively produce unique art pieces that would not otherwise come into being.1

This artistic collaboration is a powerful analogy to the synergy that evolves during the teaching and learning process that unleashes brilliance. Each of us brings our individual talents, skills, and knowledge to the process. Just as Chihuly does, the teacher leads with purpose and vision. But the outcome—the unique learning and results for each individual you influence—is completely dependent upon each learner’s willingness to join in as collaborator in the experience. Establishing this valuable teacher-learner relationship is an art and an essential ingredient to everyone’s success.

 

2 Craft Content That Sings

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When you craft the second component of the Brilliance Learning System, your Content, you focus on extreme clarity and activities that build your manageable nuggets of information and on models that integrate key themes.

Thanks to Professor Wilson, I graduated from UC Davis and got my teaching credentials. The first time I taught a full lesson, however, was during one of my education classes. My learners were my classmates and our popular but demanding professor. I wanted to do something that would knock their socks off and demonstrate what I believed, which was that every lesson could inspire a love of learning. I decided to pretend this lesson was the first in a literature program, and I would teach the poem “On Giving” by Kahlil Gibran as an introduction to teaching the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.1

I ran off copies of “On Giving” on parchment-like paper and wrapped each one in a package, making them as beautiful as possible. No two were exactly alike. I began the lesson by walking through the aisles with a basket, handing each student one of my gifts. As I offered each one, I smiled and said, “I have a gift for you.” I made a mental note that every one of my “students” met my eyes with their own as the gift left my hand and went into theirs. I asked everyone not to open the package yet, but to jot down immediately their first thoughts—words, phrases, or sentences—about the experience of receiving this gift. As I met each of their gazes and my basket emptied, my confidence was building. Then I asked everyone to get into small groups of four or five to share their notes on the gift-receiving experience, and stories about expectations in other gift giving/receiving experiences such as birthday and holiday rituals with their families or others. Someone in each group recorded notes and made a list of common themes. We came together as a whole group again and engaged in an energetic exchange of stories and ideas about how it feels to give and receive, as well as our intentions, expectations, and disappointments. They still hadn’t opened the little parcels. Finally, I asked everyone to pick a partner and take turns opening their gifts. While one person opened his or her gift, the other person acted as a witness, noticing and writing down observations. Then I asked the witnesses to share their observations with their partners. At last, we came together as a whole group to read the poem aloud. In small groups again, the students discussed the ideas in the poem. I asked them to think about their ideas in relationship to their personal experiences and to share memorable stories. The room was noisy with lively discussion, and I was excited. In the end, we came together as a whole group to share the great ideas that emerged.

 

3 The ENGAGE Model: An Overview

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The ENGAGE Model represents the third component of the Brilliance Learning System that teachers (who) can use to create a learning design to teach their content (what). Its purpose is to immerse or “engage” learners actively with the new information and concepts to unleash their brilliance over time and to inspire so much passion about their learning that they walk away zealous about putting it into practice and teaching it to others. ENGAGE is about designing learning that drives outcomes and gets people to commit to action (see Figure 3.1).

You are now at the bridge that leads to the ENGAGE Model, which will show you how to structure the total learning experience to achieve your objectives and create an optimal experience for your learners. This chapter gives you a preview of coming attractions. You will see how the six steps in the model fit together to create a powerful, multidimensional structure—the instructional design you can use to inspire deep understanding and meaning for your learners to enable them to integrate their new knowledge into their lives and work.

 

4 Step 1: Energize Learners

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Learning begins with powerful first impressions. One of the keys to successfully engaging people during a learning session is to ignite their passion and commitment about the topic ahead of time. How you connect with participants and engage them before they show up for the learning session, as well as during the session before you launch into your new content, will drive their overall motivation to learn. Your goal is to have them arrive with smiles on their faces, eager, thinking about the subject, and ready to enhance their preexisting knowledge.

This chapter is all about the prelaunch before getting into your topic or core content as well as what to do to focus and energize people to start the session. It has multiple parts that cover everything from materials sent to learners before the learning event to techniques for ensuring you make a positive first impression and capture attention once learners arrive. Most importantly, this section offers a variety of strategies for “priming the pump,” all of which are meant to pique the participant’s curiosity about the topic, awaken any preexisting knowledge they have on the subject, and enable you to focus their attention on the value of your new knowledge. Ultimately, you will link their curiosity and knowledge to build their competence and commitment—a powerful connection to drive learning into action and unlock brilliance. Research has shown that the degree to which people are committed to utilizing information directly correlates to the strength of their practice, as well as the degree to which change actually occurs.1

 

5 Step 2: Navigate Content

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When I was an assistant principal, we launched a life skills program. Every adult in the school worked with a small group of kids every morning for 15 to 20 minutes. In order to support the staff, I skimmed off all the most challenging kids so they wouldn’t negatively impact anyone else’s group interactions. I ended up with about 30 kids.

The only way I could get them to focus on their life skills lesson was to promise they could play a game show-style quiz the last half of the session. We divided the group into four teams, and each got a buzzer. I played Alex Trebek, the game show host, and in my revised Jeopardy, I asked a variety of questions from a range of fields. This gave everyone a chance to show their smarts: One kid may know a lot about combustion engines, another about geography, and another about the chemistry of making ice cream. One boy (let’s call him Randy) was a small, skinny sixth grader with glasses and a mouth like an actor in an R-rated movie. His language and behavior often triggered the other kids to pick on him. Despite all my efforts to protect him, there was still a bit of teasing when he was late or wasn’t paying attention. The kids—even these creative, divergent-thinking kids—in their own way had labeled him as semi-incompetent. Then, during one quiz, I asked, “What’s the common name for aspirin?” and Randy’s hand slammed the buzzer. He said, “Acetylsalicylic acid.” In that same quiz I asked, “What does DNA stand for?” Randy’s hand hit the buzzer again, and he answered, “Deoxyribonucleic acid.” For a long moment, there was an awed silence in the room. Then his team cheered and clapped him on the back. His opportunity to be brilliant had arrived—he had “shown up”—and it reshaped his middle school career. In Randy’s world, this was equivalent to making two hockey goals to win the game and trounce the opponent. With the utterance of his startling, brilliant answers, he earned the respect of every student present. The degrading comments ceased. Instead of treating him like a loser, the kids embraced him as their genius, their friend. He was one of them at last, and on his terms.

 

6 Step 3: Generate Meaning

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Learning is a relationship—a relationship between you, the learners, the content, and the meaning it has for people in their lives. This step of the instructional design is the trigger for confirming the relevancy and the desire to move the learning to action. Your goal is to help your learners articulate the compelling reason to choose to act on their learning and transfer it to long-term retention and behavior. This chapter will show you how to encourage people to commit to and clearly state the meaning of the new content in their lives.

In May 2010, I spent three days at the annual American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) International Conference, and I presented the ENGAGE Model during one of the learning sessions. A week after the conference, I received an e-mail from the dynamic Kevin Eikenberry, author of Remarkable Leadership, asking me to reflect on the importance of what I had learned from ASTD. Basically, he was helping me to reengage with all I had learned by reminding me of its importance. His message was a catalyst for me to take out my notes from my conference bag, reflect on their meaning in my day-to-day world, and get moving on the commitments I made when inspired by the speakers I had heard.

 

7 Step 4: Apply to Real World

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Congratulations! You’ve brought your learners through three big steps of the ENGAGE Model, including the crucial one, Generate Meaning. You’re not quite at the assessing and celebrating step yet, but it’s important to take the time to help your learners realize what they have accomplished and to determine how ready they are to apply the knowledge to the work they do (which is piling up while they are at your session).

Many teachers skimp on this step, do it too soon, or leave it out because they don’t realize the value of giving ample time for learners to practice using their knowledge in as close to a real-life simulation as possible while still feeling safe and supported by you, their new tools, and their learning community. This is the hard work that many facilitators or teachers know is important, but for sake of time, often expect the learners to do after they leave the event. Consequently, the learning seldom transfers into action. This step reverses that. In this step, you help the learner move from knowing to doing, and you move from teaching to helping participants apply their learning in the context of their work. In addition, watching learners apply the concepts gives you valuable information on how you can improve your content, design, and examples for future use.

 

8 Step 5: Gauge and Celebrate

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Many years ago, when I taught ninth grade physical science, I divided my students into groups, assigned each group a family of the periodic table of elements, and had them come up with a song for remembering that family. They embarked on the song project with relish, including not only the elements but also the characteristics of that family, referencing the number of valence electrons and other details. Fast forward to 2006, when I was at the mall with my sons. Three young men walked up to us and said, “Hey, it’s Halsey.” They huddled together and began whispering until suddenly, arms around each other’s shoulders, they burst into song. I recognized the tune as “California Girls.” The words, however, were “The family of alkaline metals really live reactive lives.” They cracked up, and so did I, all of us appreciating with amazement that after 20 years, they still remembered the components of the family of alkaline metals because they remembered the song.

When I taught statistics at Chapman University, I had my students come up with a song to remember the threats to internal and external validity. One day when they were taking an exam, I noticed heads bopping as if they were listening to music, and I realized they were using the song they’d made up to answer some of the test questions. Music is a powerful learning tool, and that is why it is also an excellent strategy for assessing learning of your content model.

 

9 Step 6: Extend Learning to Action

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In a 2009 article for Training and Development, Fort Hill Company made the provocative statement “The finish line has moved”—suggesting that we’re missing the boat if we think that a learning initiative stops when people walk out the door, hang up the phone, or leave their computer.1 In Brilliance Learning System language, that means the goal is moving brilliance to action, or getting the results. Therefore, the final “E” in the ENGAGE Model is Extend Learning to Action to attain those results.

Before I joined Blanchard full time, I took their Situational Self Leadership class from their Learning Center. I loved it, I learned a lot, and I zipped back to my job of running the teaching and administrative credential programs at Chapman University in San Diego with every intention of putting my learning into practice so I’d be an effective self leader who acted on her game plan. One of the self-leadership activities was setting clear goals and sharing your most important goal with a learning accountability partner from the class. One of my goals was to write an article on the art of disciplining to build character for Thrust for Educational Leadership, the magazine for California school administrators. I felt that too often people were disciplining to give consequences for behavior rather than to teach. When I shared this intention with my partner in class, I was highly motivated to write that article. I gave myself a deadline of two months from the day I left the leadership class, and my accountability partner from class wrote that date down. Two months went by, and just like he said he would, my partner called me and said, “Hey, how are you doing on that article?” Yikes! His reminder of my goal was a rude awakening. I had thought about the article a couple of times, but I never wrote a word. Before we hung up, I promised to get started with it and let him know my progress by the following Friday. Within two weeks, I had written my article, “Disciplining for Character,” and even shipped it off to the editor of the magazine. The editor liked it, said I had a “fresh, new voice,” and asked me to write a monthly column, which I did for three years. (Be careful what you wish for!) We all know what it is to have excellent intentions but not always do what we have to do to move from commitment to action. It’s amazing what happens when someone sets up a system of accountability to help you extend the learning into your day-to-day life.

 

10 Bringing Out Brilliance in the Virtual Classroom

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The principles that underlie teaching or training live in the virtual classroom are much the same as teaching or training in a physical classroom. Your goal is to connect people, at a deep level, to information and strategies that have the ability to transform their world. Learners often don’t have the same previous experience with virtual learning as they do with classroom learning. It might be new to them, or they may have had a negative experience with it. This is why aligning your intentions with learning design is so important. What does this mean? It means you need to structure learning in a virtual situation so that it is clear—even clearer than in a physical classroom—and more nurturing. Create a human connection, despite physical distance, and use the technology as an asset. You have to make your point quicker, use shorter introductions to content, and keep your learners’ attention through interactivity.

This chapter addresses the special considerations inherent in learning and teaching in the virtual environment. For a complete understanding of the Brilliance Learning System and the ENGAGE Model, read the introduction and Chapters 1 through 9. These chapters contain an abundance of information to help support you in the virtual classroom and to bring out brilliance in your learners.

 

A: Free Assessment—The Building Excellence Survey

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How do you best learn? How do you best take in information, process it, and retain it? This would be a great time to take an amazing assessment donated to this book from PCI Learn (www.learningstyles.net) called The Building Excellence Survey.

The authors of this instrument (which my university students have wondered how they lived their whole lives without) have identified 28 different elements that can affect each person uniquely. Thus, when you take The Building Excellence Survey and print your report, you will learn which of the 28 elements will trigger concentration, maintain it, and cause you to produce long-term memory and retention. It is important to know that your learning style, which often is your teaching style, is based on a complex set of reactions to varied stimuli, both biologically inherited traits and previously established behavioral patterns. The assessment will not only give you knowledge about your preferences, but will depict the range of preferences of the people you seek to influence. Have fun using this one-time only opportunity to learn how you learn. (If you want to give others the opportunity to take this great assessment, it is only $5.00 from the Web site.)

 

B: Getting Started Creating Brilliance by Design

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I am not a teacher, but an awakener.

—Robert Frost

So by now you’re probably ready to jump in and start creating your own sessions using the principles, strategies, and tips from Brilliance by Design. To get started, let’s think for a minute about your core purpose. Are you going to run a meeting or create a workshop? Let’s dive into each one of these.

1. People: Who are the people coming to the meeting? What do they hope to gain by attending this meeting? What do you know about them? What is going on in their world that might impact how they show up? Are the right decision makers invited to the meeting?

2. Content: What is your objective for the meeting? What agenda do you want to follow? When the people walk out the door, what are you hoping they will achieve? What do you want people to do first? What handouts will you be giving them?

3. Learning Design: The ENGAGE Model

1. People: Who are the people attending your workshop? Why are they there? What are they hoping for? What are their objectives for attending the class? What’s going on in their world right now that might impact their learning? What is their comfort level with the way you are teaching (virtual, face-to-face, or blended)? What is their willingness to learn this new content? How will you ready yourself for this learning? What else do you know about them that might be important as you seek to unleash their brilliance?

 

C: Do-It-Yourself Templates

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