Over the past few weeks I've been asked "how do you think of that?" about several of my projects, especially the Success Studio programme at Henley Business School. Honestly, it looks like a lot of additional work and creativity - but it's genuinely really easy. In my opinion, to really get your topic embedded in the learners' minds, you really need to put a spin on it. Something that will stand out and make them remember the session. It needs to be experiential and hands-on.
A quick way of coming up with a unique delivery method is taking the topic/skill area that you're trying to teach and think "where else does this skill get used?". The Success Studio uses this technique, and we have proof it really works. 99% of attendees in 2018 said they're more likely to take action on their career planning and 69% felt an increase in confidence in the taught skills - as a direct result of the programme. Presentation skills becomes Stand Up Comedy, decision making becomes Improv, problem solving is delivered by LEGO Serious Play... you catch my drift!
I LOVE using the Design Thinking process to design workshops and materials. It starts with the end user in mind (in this case, a student) and allows you to really step into their shoes and create something that is not only relevant but interesting and engaging for them.
I'll give you an example of how to use this process. Say I’m wanting to run a skills workshop on teamwork and collaboration for Undergraduate students... I would follow these steps;
Empathise: I’d think around the subject i.e If I were a student, what would I want? How would I feel? How would an international student feel/want to engage? I’d also ask a few key students that fit the “stereotypical” student groups we have i.e a keen engaged student, an international student, a MSc student etc.
Define: I’d look at the problem I’m trying to face – in this case, a workshop that has low attendance numbers. What are the challenges? What really doesn’t seem to work?
Ideate: This is my favourite part. Brainstorm the workshop and GO CRAZY. Seriously. No idea is a bad idea – trust me. Anything can spring from one idea. Get a few colleagues to do the same – get them to go crazy too.
If I were to quickly brainstorm this now I’d think “where else is this skill used?” – so for example, ideas could include; in a restaurant kitchen, in sports, in A&E, in an emergency, in gymnastics/dance, in theatre, in problem solving under pressure, in brainstorming/ideation, creating a start-up, going to space!
We love to do post-it brainstorms in our team, we have a wall or table quite literally FULL of post-it note ideas (and we do this for everything from naming of programmes to workshop ideas to internal problem-solving)
Prototype: Bring all your favourite ideas together and start to piece together a workshop – so OK, maybe going to Space can’t really be simulated (or can it?!) but definitely some of the others – can you hire a campus kitchen and someone to teach cookery? Can you get someone from the emergency services to run a mock emergency and get students to work out how to handle it? Can you create a problem-solving under pressure game?
Sometimes you have to go for a more “sensible” option – and that’s OK too. So as long as it’s delivered in a way that your target audience would appreciate or find relevant, in theory, this should work.
Test: Don’t be afraid. Just go for it! See what happens. We can’t learn or change anything unless we try. If you’re concerned, try just one session and see how it goes down.
Collect decent feedback, something useful. I like to do an impact analysis on confidence/skills increase; asking the same questions at the beginning of the session, and then at the end to see if it changes. You then also have decent data you can use to prove whether something works or not.
In addition to that, I love to make sure all learners' needs are met . I follow the VARK model (but to be honest, you could use Honey & Mumford, VAK etc.) to ensure that my sessions engage each type of learner. Example;
Gamification is also key, if you can add this in. There’s loads of awesome online resources to help you with this, but essentially, it’s taking your workshop delivery and really adding to it. A game – be it a physical game, board game or video game – is an arena that will enable the player to fail easily. The idea is: "what is the worst that can happen if you don’t win?" Learners can feel that it’s is safe to fail in the environment you’ve created and there’s no repercussions. Gamification leads to intrinsic reinforcement (rewarded by feeling of success), which is a really powerful engagement tool. The more learners succeed, the more they want to succeed, the more they want to engage in your workshop.
... so that was a very crude, quick few tips on how to create a more engaging and conducive learning environment - no matter what subject you are delivering.
I strongly believe that no idea is a bad idea, after all, it can really spark some other really awesome thought processes. Just go for it, give your idea a chance and fail fast. Nothing major is going to happen and whether your workshop is a success or not, you're going to really learn from the experience.