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The System Thinking Playbook

Some Learning Approaches You Might Try:

Practical Tips for Designing Learning Experiences

Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows provide great practical advice about designing learning activities and environments in their guide The System Thinking Playbook. They suggest that when selecting learning activities, you ask yourself these key questions:

  • How do the activities support the concepts we are trying to convey (both in content and learning process)?

  • What activities best build on and further the insights gained in previous learning sessions?

  • How do the activities correspond with the learning styles of the participants?

Sweeney and Meadows further suggest the following practical tips regarding the learning environment:

  • Eight to twelve people is an ideal group size in order for everyone to participate. Break larger groups up into smaller groups, give them work to do, and then debrief in the larger group.

  • Share the intent of the learning activity up-front. Avoid the impression that you are playing with or manipulating participants.

  • Circles and half-moon seating arrangements optimize the level of engagement.

  • Encourage "whole speak;" that is, encourage people to slow down the pace of conversation and speak authentically, from the heart, mind, and spirit.

  • Use a "check-in." Give participants an opportunity to put other things aside and be fully present. A good question to go around the group with is: "What do you need to mentally put away or deal with in order to be fully here for what we are about to do?"

  • Encourage participation, but do not force it on anyone. Silence or "passing" should be acceptable and always an option. No one should feel pressured to talk or disclose more than they feel is appropriate for them.

The bottom line is that learning should be fun and action-oriented. Experiment. Be creative. Go with what works for you and your group. No apologies are necessary if an approach that someone else loves does not work for you and your group. Always remember that learning is a unique and context-specific experience.

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Copyright 2001, Paul E. Plsek & Associates,
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