It is Black Friday, and I believe that is the perfect day to share my understanding of the concept “of “low time preference”, and how this principle can be used while building a community…or anything else, really.
What is time preference?
In economics, time preference is the current relative valuation placed on receiving a good or some cash at an earlier date compared with receiving it at a later date*1. In other words, it measures how patient you are to get results out of your efforts or your money.
A practical example: Jim and Bob go out for a drink but Jim has no money so Bob lends Jim $10. The next day Jim visits Bob and says, “Bob, you can have $10 now, or I will give you $15 when I get paid at the end of the month.” Bob’s time preference will change depending on his trust in Jim, whether he needs the money now, or if he thinks he can wait; or if he’d prefer to have $15 at the end of the month rather than $10 now.
Black Friday is peak high preference. Every business and individual is trying to maximise returns of their investments today. When the macroeconomic environment is unstable, the amount of high preference decisions increases. Everyone is trying to sell as much as possible and get profits, fast.
What is low time preference?
Low time preference, instead, is about building for the long run independently of the current circumstances. Instead of maximising the return of the investment today, it is about maximising the value generated in the future.
Yes, that is hard.
We can find examples of low time preference projects in all trades. One of my favourite low time preference projects is the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona. Construction started in 1882 led by Antonio Gaudí, and is still unfinished (!). “My client is not in a hurry.” he said about a project that he probably knew he would not see finished in his lifetime. This construction currently attracts 5 million visitors, generating 17M € in revenue annually.
Every day we face high time vs low time preference choices. Fast food or home cooked meals? Social media or reading a book? Going for a drink or going for a run? Your physical and mental health will be affected by each of those micro-decisions. Like it or not.
Not only our personal life is affected by high vs low time preference. At work, it is up to you to build long term relationships or quick transactional deals. We can build for an economy of hire fast and fire faster, or we can invest in growing something strong together. We can take strategic decisions looking at this quarter’s results, or at the company’s mission. It is always the same principle at play. Simon Sinek calls it The Infinite Game:
Low time preference education
Education doesn’t escape the high time preference vs low time preference principle. Studying the last day for an exam, trying to pass without thinking about absorbing knowledge or skills, is a high time preference decision.
However, when we look at it in depth, any valuable skill builds up on a low time preference process. You didn’t learn to read – a skill you practise every day- with a “0 to hero” course. It takes time. It requires a sustained effort. It meant you had to focus on a specific task repeatedly, many days, without noticing much progress each time. Low time preference at its best.
As a product, I believe education is one of the lowest time preference options you can choose in life. In buying a car, the benefits are perceived instantly. However, in purchasing a “second language course”, the benefits will be only felt after sustained effort, whenever we need to use that language in the future.
Low time preference at the Studio
At Minds Studio, I am determined to build a low time preference business with people who are aligned to this principle. This means we would like to invest in long lasting relationships with our clients and employees, build sustainable business models, and long lasting learning experiences.
When building a learning community, the temptation is to cut corners. Using money to artificially provide an illusion of engagement, “magical results” and hoping that big promises will generate an “explosion” of growth. On the contrary, the low time preference approach of growing a strong base of appreciated members who trust each other to grow together is generally seen as “not fast enough”. We work with businesses and individuals who understand that building for the long term means to grow slower but stronger.
If any of these principles resonate with you, please do not hesitate to leave your contact details here so we can have a -low time preference- chat about the community you are building.
HolonIQ is a global impact intelligence platform for innovative education technology companies. Started in 2018, the company has developed a brilliant tool to analyse and generate insights from a vast array of impact market data.
At Minds Studio we had the opportunity to review the platform in depth and our minds were blown away. We have suggested it to some of our clients for the analysis of business opportunities and potential partnerships or expansions.
But HolonIQ is not just willing to provide an outstanding technology, it is also heavily investing in building a strong global community. The company is hosting 12 in-person events (New York, Bengaluru, Berlin, Cairo, Jakarta, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Paris, Singapore and Stockholm) and 3 virtual summits (Africa, East Asia and Middle East) about the future of Education -recently adding Climate Tech and Healthcare-.
At Minds Studio, we are excited to be joining the “Future of education and workforce” track, happening in London, on the 16th of November, 2022. If you are interested in joining us, you can find more information here. This is the summit brief:
“Imagining a world where everyone of earth has equal access to the future.
Education, training and the world of work have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of digital will be core to the future of learning – from early childhood, K12, higher education through to workforce upskilling.
We are seeing full spectrum innovation from digital content, online learning, advanced technology from AI to robotics and, web3 to the metaverse into language learning, tutoring, assessment, up-skilling and beyond.
Capital for innovation is flowing into the sector as traditional education systems urgently seek digital solutions right across the learner lifecycle and new models, approaches and solutions emerge to build new competitive landscapes.”
If you are attending the London summit and you’d like to connect with us, please use the following form:
There are very few people in the world who have had the privilege of witnessing radical changes in the lives of other people thanks to the combination of education and technology at scale. I have been very lucky to be one of them.
The study, experimentation and data analysis that I went through during the last ten years has allowed me to witness hundreds of transformations which had previously seemed impossible. Learning and helping others to learn has been, is, and will be the main focus of my life.
The goal of this article is to share examples of good educational practices that I have had the opportunity to witness. On some occasions I was incredibly privileged to able to participate in their design, in collaboration with some of the most advanced and innovative institutions that exist today.
However, before we dig into it, please let me start this story by giving you some context about my personal story.
Ever since I was little my dad had to force me into going to school every morning. I think this was representative of how much the idea of school motivated me.
Despite having been through almost all levels of the European Education System, there has always been something about the school experience that I did not fully agree with. Like many passions in life, when they are involuntary and enforced by a third party in a standardised manner, they usually turn into suffering. Even the things that we love the most.
The American psychologist Dr. Peter Gray, author of numerous clinical trials and studies1 of learning in children, said: “We are so blinded by the idea that children must be forced to learn that we cannot imagine the possibility of children learning much more if we did not force them”.
After the classic “study to the test” school experience, I decided to enroll a the Electrical Engineering at the Polytechnical University of Madrid. Around that time this “degree” was known for only being accessible to bright students, who typically ended up at investment banks, in technology or at strategy consultancies. It was a combination of “dare at the reach of few” and the supposed high chances of being “socially valuable” that made me choose this path.
Following the mentality of “performing” I embarked on a five year journey in one of the most academically demanding engineering schools in the country. Despite not having much free time, I spent most of the little I did have on two things:
1. Teaching maths and physics to younger students
2. Learning to speak English, which enabled me to go to two of the places that radically changed my life: The University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard University in Boston.
In the classroom I was just another student, listening to an unending stream of information from teachers that, in general, repeated the same Fourier Transformations or Maxwell’s equations year after year, exam after exam.
When I taught, however, I relished the freedom to experiment. We proved Hooke’s law with weights and springs, and tested Archimedes’ principle in the kitchen. We observed the Doppler effect with two drops of water in the sink, exploring everything together, rather than being teacher and students. It was creative, fun, and in many cases, unforgettable for everyone involved. If it had not been for those students and the hundreds of hours of work in scientific-based experiments I would have never been able to become an engineer.
It was only once I finished my university education that I really became a learning machine. Having regained my independence, I rigorously studied everything I could find about the human learning process – from the most fundamental aspects (biology, physics, chemistry, and its emotional components) to the more external aspects (social factors, learning environment and accessibility).
I am not, however, a theorist in the matter. Since 2009 I have been part of the foundational process of multiple companies and organisations whose goal was to better the lives of people by helping them learn effectively. Some projects have been designed for adults, others for children and teenagers, but always in a variety of social circles of people from different backgrounds. Sometimes, it was the design of learning programmes for high earning technology companies in Silicon Valley, and others they were for refugee camps in Greece. I have treated them all with the same dedication and respect that they deserve – because the magic of a good education is that it can change lives, even in the most inhospitable places on earth.
Like any other person who has dedicated over a decade to the study and experimentation in a certain field I do not want to ignore the bias that my own opinions carry. During these years I have witnessed a lot of unsuccessful experiments. Other times they have been so transformational, that they have changed the learning paradigm I now use in the design of educational solutions across schools, universities and a breadth of companies. I am well aware that some of my conclusions may potentially be refuted by new scientific advances in the matter in the future. Everybody who works in this field is constantly experimenting, looking to be corrected by data -and the market- when we are wrong.
Towards a new way of learning
I would recommend reading in depth “The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux”2 by Cathy N. Davidson. In her book, Davidson provides a fantastic description of the evolution that the education system has undergone since Taylorism of the 20th century, to the world in the 21st century.
In sync with Cathy’s theory, I believe we are in a time of change of the productive paradigm from Taylorism to something else:
In Taylorism, the productive model that leads education is industrial and specialised. Teaching is used to standardise processes and generate efficiency in industrial production. For this purpose, it is necessary to train individuals in a disciplinary manner (lawyers, engineers, architects…) as engaged pieces of a larger machine. Individuals must, therefore, be specialised and replaceable, so that if one fails another “specialist” can step in and the system can continue working.
We can observe this legacy system in the majority of schools and universities all over the world. We are still training students in abilities that are evaluated by a test that determines their aptitude to receive a certificate or degree at the end.
On the other hand, in the tech-enabled world that we are working towards, the majority of functions that can be done as a standardised chain will be done by information technology. In this context, the individual stops being a piece in a machine, and becomes a unique part in an active network (similar to a neural structure). For this reason, instead of memorising, students participating in this new way of learning are taught to extract conclusions, integrate disciplines that allow them to make complex decisions helping to adapt interconnected systems to any unexpected changes.
New institutions recently created are building programs towards a completely different education system, although they are still a work in progress. Many of these new schools have less than a decade of trajectory, and their efficiency will only be evaluated with time. It is promising, however, to see that innovative schools like Minerva University in the US, LIS in The UK, or Tomorrow University in Germany receiving official awarding powers in the last couple years.
Under the Taylorist educational paradigm, the individuals’ objective is to reach the peak of knowledge through the construction of increasingly specialised degrees. However, in the new way of learning this objective transforms. The individual is more valuable to society if her connections in the network are active and strong in a relevant group or network. By “relevant”, I refer to a group of people, areas of knowledge or professional experience relevant to today’s society.
Please think about this fictitius example: who would you hire to develop your company’s Machine Learning/AI transformation?:
a) an engineer who graduated cum-laude and specialised in an academic institution without a relevant professional network
b) an engineer without an academic title who has worked 5 years with Tesla, been publicly recommended by Elon Musk and has had experience working with the team that developed navigation systems that the company will use in the future
While the market of advanced education in the world is increasing3, the students at institutions of advanced education in the USA have been decreasing around 7-8% over the period 2020 to 2022. The arrival of alternatives, and the lack of efficiency of traditional degrees, encourages students to try other routes.
In 2020, Minerva University, an institution that had not yet been fully accredited in the United States (later accredited in 2022) received over 25 000 applications, and admitted only 2% (a lower percentage than Ivy League universities). This is an institution without a campus, where the classes take place online through a tool called “Forum”. In 2022, the London Interdisciplinary School (LIS) opened its doors, and became the first interdisciplinary programme of problems and methods to receive recognition by the English regulator since the 1960s. Both institutions’ admissions were not based on the students’ academic records, but on their background, circumstances and talent4.
At Minds Studio I have had the pleasure of working with both universities (Minerva and LIS) in the design of a small part of their new programmes. Looking back across the last 10 years, considering the design of these and other various projects of this new way of Learning, I have put into practice two key principles:
Students should develop transferable skills. These abilities should allow them to resolve problems or complex situations that they have never seen before, independently of the moment in time in which they are tested (eliminating the “study to the test” mentality).
The learning experience should bring a substantial change in the students’ social environment, generating a community of people that they can turn to during any part of this process.
This new way of learning (and teaching) requires significant effort in redesign, and should be careful not to fall foul to the mistake of simply giving the old system a makeover. Educational institutions resistant to adapt to change will soon become irrelevant, as the latest figures of student enrollment show5.
However, just because the principles of construction are changing it does not mean that existing institutions lack them. They are, simply, different from the earlier ones.
Let me use another example to illustrate this concept, using a physical analogy. Gravity, physics and architectural principles apply the same way to build a small house in the countryside, than to build a cathedral in the heart of a city. When we talk about the architecture of learning, the same thing occurs. If the foundation is solid, the result will make everyone who passes by it feeling good, and what is being built will stay strong and useful for many years.
Unfortunately, the previous education paradigm is filled with “prefabricated programs”, and our students are looking for something much much better.
Materials to build a new way of learning
Following the example given earlier, and without wanting to excuse the lack of reflection and principles in many educational programmes, in some way this lack of technique is not unusual.
Historically, humans started building their homes with sticks, stones and everything in their reach. With time, advances in technology and science created a new field of specialised knowledge that allows us to build bridges and skyscrapers in diverse environments. I want to believe that we find ourselves in a prehistoric time when it comes to learning science. We should look to add our grain of sand in building this necessary evolution.
What are those materials that are being used to build this new way of learning then? Let me review some of those I am aware of so far:
1. Learning is an emotional activity. Therefore, its design needs to manage emotions and participation should be optional
Neuroscience has proven that the connections between neurons produced in the brain are stronger and longer lasting when there are emotions (positive or negative) involved in the creation of a new memory or fact6. It has been sufficiently proven that the prefrontal region of the brain plays a key role in decision making and short term memory. However it is the limbic system, the primary region of the brain controlling our emotions, that is associated with long term memory. This is where we want our students to store the skills and knowledge we are teaching them.
Therefore to achieve solid learning we must think about which emotions we want to provoke in the student from the primary emotions (surprise, sadness, fear, anger, happiness or disgust). Traditionally, fear (“the final exam” “the grades”), has been the leading factor on this learning journey.
However, when we make this experience optional, past experience has shown us that it is possible to reach a state that allows the student to “flow”7, transforming learning into something enjoyable. It can also cement itself into our memory through surprise, happiness and other secondary emotions like pleasure and pride.
When learning is a voluntary activity, the students are much more receptive to creating new connections in their brain than if they were forced to learn by memory. This is due to the fact that most students that are forced to go to class disconnect their limbic system and limit themselves to being present but not receptive.
2. Learning goals should be designed based on the science of learning and not to “go through content” or prepare an exam.
The following example was extracted from Dr. David Kohler’s Skills for Trainers course8. If we wanted a group of students to be able to start a fire in the case that they might need this knowledge at an emergency, we would have a few ways to do it:
Under the paradigm of individual learning, we would create a curriculum that could explain step by step the different phases that are necessary to create a fire with rocks, sticks and other materials. To finish we would prepare an individual exam that, once it is over, would give the student the credential that proves they are capable of starting a fire.
However, there are other ways to achieve complete and solid learning. Firstly, establishing a clear objective (“the students will be capable of successfully lighting a fire under adverse circumstances”). Then, defining what successful learning outcomes look like (for example, creating and maintaining a fire for 10 minutes in any weather). And finally, adjusting the difficulty of the assessment to the experience of the student based on the surrounding conditions (students will only have sticks and stones, for example).
With the second approach, the learning experience becomes a collaborative effort. It is likely that some students will master the skill faster than others, but all participants experienced the creation of fire first hand. Students are aware that this ability may need to be used in an unexpected situation, for example, when they get lost in the mountains and they need to keep warm on a rainy day. Not just on the test day.
Now imagine that the process is repeated multiple times during the life of the student with a community of people with whom they create trustworthy relationships. This will achieve, in a natural manner, an improvement in the student’s long term memory and the overall learning experience.
3. Solid learning requires learning how to collaborate with people from different backgrounds who join forces for a project or common goal
If we thought of learning as the construction of a building, we would not expect only one person to be in charge of all of the necessary activities for its construction. In the same manner, to learn a new skill it is necessary to know other meta skills that allow us to interact with people from different backgrounds, disciplines and experiences. This could be applied to building a house or learning something new (playing the piano, singing, etc.).
This is why it is fundamental to look at learning as a social process and not an individual one. We are continually adding experiences and connections throughout time that form a group of disciplines that the students combine in a unique manner. Following the earlier example, an engineer will learn how to play a piano in a very different manner to a writer, but doing it together will make it easier and more effective for both of them.
4. The speed and depth of the lesson should depend on the individuals and their circumstances, and it should not be forced but facilitated in a coherent manner.
In the same way each human body is different to any other, the mind is different as well. If a person has the ability to run 100 metres in 10 seconds we would not as that person to run the same length as someone who weights 140kg, or one that has an injury preventing them from walking.
However, it seems like mental agility is treated in a different manner than the purely physical, and this causes a lot of students to abandon their studies because of a lack of confidence in their capabilities. A good learning experience design will take this into consideration.
5. Learning is a muscle we need to use, not a finish line we need to cross.
The evaluation is just a component of the learning process, with the goal of informing the student on what they should work on or review. However, the most important thing is not to reach the end of a course but to never stop finding goals, keeping our learning journey going.
Staying in shape, therefore, is the main objective of any solid and sustainable learning programme. If this is not the case the individual will end up throwing away developed abilities into a metaphorical junk drawer.
From my personal point of view, qualifications that lack a continuous evaluation process do not have validity if they are not re-evaluated after certain periods of time.
The journey we have yet to go through
Even though it seems unbelievable, the great revolution of information and communication has changed the production models of the planet in less than 30 years.
The standardised education system as we know it is a little over 120 years old, originating from a need to supply workers during the industrial revolution due to a lack of qualified teachers. Therefore it makes sense that we find ourselves in a time of transition from one model of education to another, and the existence of changes in the paradigm that are not yet accepted by the majority of the population.
Those who have understood that learning is a muscle that we need to use often have become the biggest agents of change in the society that we live in, and are highly sought after.
I have seen with my own eyes the transformation of many people who had no job nor prospects, develop a new skill in just a few months thanks to this new paradigm. After just a few months they started receiving 15-20 weekly messages from headhunters and all sorts of business. I have also seen children who hated going to school suddenly develop a passion for learning. An exciting future awaits all of them.
I am aware that they are not the majority and that there is still a long way to go. But I also think that if we build a firm base with the right materials and we follow the principles that work well, we will build a better way of learning and a better society.
Our students will move us, surprise us, and will become our great teachers along the way.
At Minds Studio, we are in constant experimentation and sometimes new revelations appear along the way and change our world. One of the most transformative ones has been the following change of paradigm:
Learning is not a single player game, but a team sport.
This is not intuitive, as we have spent our lives in schools and universities who approached teaching as a “single player” game. We were assessed by our individual performance through tests and exams designed to measure our knowledge, skill, or how we can apply both to solve problems.
Do you want to learn to play an instrument? Take classes and practice to pass the exam.
Do you want to learn maths? Do your homework, go to class, get a tutor, pass the exam.
This approach leads to the “study to the test” we all know, whose effectiveness for long term skill development are far from ideal . The majority of people take the classes, pass the exam, do their homework and…
…They forget most of it fast.*1
At Minds Studio we realised that, in order for our learning experience designs to stand the test of time, we could not only look at this activity from the individual perspective, but we needed to add a new variable: the learning community.
Because we have all experienced what a team sport is. A group of individuals coming together regularly to contribute individual efforts towards an elevated goal (win the match, classify to the next round, etc.).
Sometimes, people just gather for practising their skills (like basketball training, or a tennis class). But other times, they gather in front of an audience to assess and test their skills (as we evaluate for the next karate belt, or we play a football tournament over the weekend). In those special moments, people usually invite their loved ones (friends, family, partners…) and they celebrate their successes -when they happen- together.
And this is important.
Do team sports generate knowledge and skills in each participant? YES
Do those skills stand the test of time? YES, much better than if we were playing alone.
Why don’t we do this when we learn a new skill at school?
Designing learning with the community in mind
After careful consideration, we realised that if we wanted to commit to designing the best learning experiences possible, we could not limit ourselves to the individual. We had to understand the learning environments as much as learning process or outcomes*2.
Going back to our earlier sports example, think about what needs to go right in order to become a karateka:
Find the right Dojo (‘Dojo’ is a Japanese word that means ‘place of the pursuit’ . The word ‘do’ meaning ‘the way’ or ‘the pursuit’ and ‘jo’ meaning ‘a place’) – The right learning environment
Find the right teacher and practice regularly throught the different levels during a sustained period of time (Apparently, around 5 years to reach the black belt) – The right learning process
Demonstrate certain skills that build up on top of each other every time you are assessed in order to “be awarded” the next belt. – The right learning outcomes
Generally, once you approach the mastering of a skill, the way to keep the “muscle of learning” active, is to continuously use it and start teaching it to others – as it usually happens in martial arts-.
What does “community learning” mean?
Education has been mostly focused on the learning outcomes (Generally crystallised by degrees or certificates) and the learning processes ( Which are mostly determined by the teachers). Little attention has been given to the learning environment, especially to the interactions of the learning community. This is actually the key element that keeps the learner coming back to continuously learn, even after the assessment (exam, test, etc.) has passed.
“Community” is a magic word that most projects aspire to have, but very few really dedicate the efforts and resources it deserves, given its importance on long-term effectiveness during the learning journey.
“Community” is hard, because it is complex. As any “environment”, it is a combination of little details that make you feelwelcome, or excited, or it could very easily turn into cold or too much for me.
“Community” is not just a network of people, although many people just refer to their network as such. Community is a group of people who keep coming together over what they care about*3. A course has an end date, if we really care about what we learned, we should continue to be connected after all the coursework is done.
A community uses technology, but it is not a tech tool.
The same way a cook will use different utensils to prepare a great dish, a great learning community will need a lot of tools, but the tools themselves won’t solve the problem. You would be going to bed hungry if nobody acted on the tools and the processes needed to enjoy a good meal. Learning communities need human minds to build the environment, the process and the outcomes so it evokes the feeling in the learner that the journey is seamless.
Many companies try to solve the “community” problem by just providing tools to their users, and waiting for them to engage with them. Our experience is that that it just won’t work.
Our commitment to building inspiring communities
We believe any company or institution that aims to educate people to acquire skills, tools or knowledge, are in the business of building a learning community. However, we also know many of them don’t know it yet.
We aim to become a reliable partner in the process of building and nurturing effective and inspiring learning communities, and we are changing our work focus at the Studio accordingly.
In order to do that, we know we need to find the best talent (learning designers, experience designers, tech experts, product managers, etc.) to work with us on that journey. We also need to find the companies daring to invest in an intangible but strategic asset for their businesses.
We will explain more about our community learning framework soon. If you’d like to know more about it, please register below:
*1 “Exploring Cramming: Student Behaviors, Beliefs, and Learning Retention in the Principles of Marketing”. Shelby H. McIntyre and J. Michael Munson.
*2 “Towards a generalised conceptual framework for learning: the Learning Environment, Learning Processes and Learning Outcomes (LEPO) framework”. Rob Phillips, Carmel McNaught, Gregor Kennedy.
*3 “Get together: How to build a community with your people” Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, Kai Elmer Sotto.
The amount of knowledge on meta skills (Learning how to learn) is growing exponentially. It is difficult to keep up with the speed of new techniques, experiences and tools developed to learn more effectively.
With the purpose of updating what I know -and what I don’t know- about learning new skills, I decided to join the course ideated by David Kohler, one of the most experienced learning specialists I know of.
In this 9-week training, the promise was to develop your skills as a trainer in a group of 6 people. Although it seemed a big commitment (4h/sessions was not something that I had done since uni), I was curious about it so I decided to give it a try.
The approach was clearly innovative, combining theoretical modules and practice environments where trainers could experiment with new approaches to facilitating learning. These were some of the goals showcased at the Metonomy website:
As many of the Minds Studio projects involve some kind of training, or design of learning environments, it seemed like a very good fit. Trained as an engineer, I felt this meta-skills training program could have a good impact on my theoretical knowledge about learning. It didn’t require any previous experience, so I enrolled in the next available cohort.
No matter how much experience you have training others, this experience showed me there is SO MUCH space to improve the way we design our programs. During the course, we had several opportunities to practice curriculum design, learning goals setting and delivering under time pressure. Having someone observing you, and giving you actionable feedback is a fantastic experience -if you are open to it-.
Nurture an effective learning environment
And that is not reading slides and thinking you are the smartest person in the room. Creating and nurturing an effective learning environment starts by having a clear set of learning objectives (That could be cognitive, but also psychomotor or affective). Once the goal is clear, using a proper lesson planning structure that matches the goals, combining 4 elements: conceptualizing, experimenting, experiencing and reflecting is the key to enable it.
What this means is that subject-matter expertise is not enough. You need pedagogical expertise too if you really want your students to walk out of the room having learned something for the long run.
Practice makes humble
During the course of 9 weeks, you design and implement 4 practical training sessions on different topics. All the other members of the group do it too, and you give feedback to each other. I can’t express the amount of lessons learned during the practice sessions. It is incredibly humbling to receive inputs again and again about your -probably outdated- ways of planning and implementing your course curriculum.
This is where I want to thank Gabi, Olivia, Soley, Helena, Sweta – and David, of course- for the valuable – and humbling- feedback provided. The course also provides a strong foundation on how to express performance-based feedback, which is incredibly useful inside or outside a training class.
Stop the guided tour and experience more
Measuring the time you talk while conducting training sessions is a very effective tool to keep track of how controlling you are as a trainer. If you are like me, you tend to design “guided tours, leaving little space for the learners to freely explore new areas of knowledge. By working on specific examples, one of my main take-aways has been to create learning experiences much more relaxed and exploratory.
An example could help capture this concept visually. If you were interested in learning about impressionism at a local museum, one approach would be to learn about it by buying a tour where someone would talk 90% of the time. You would hear about artists, dates, masterpieces, and we will probably forget the next day most of the information. That is the guided tour. There is a different way to approach this goal, by involving the audience in experiencing what impressionism is, reflecting on it, and applying it to their lives. Maybe that could involve exploring those artworks that inspired you, reflecting on why that happened and sharing it with a group. You could then attempt to draw your first impressionist piece. Receive feedback from an expert and your classmates. And so on.
Checking in and out
There is something softer, apart from the different tools and concepts shared during the sessions, that I bring with me from this course. I loved the way David checked in at the beginning and summarized what happened at the end of the sessions. It felt very cozy, warm, like catching up with a group of old friends before and after working hard. I think this is an important skill to master when you facilitate groups of people -especially online- as we tend to go directly to the subject that we need to discuss. People arrive to a training session in different states of mind, and before jumping on any task, it is worth listening and acknowledging them.
And yes, it’s worth it
As many great things in life, the course comes with a high price tag (Nearly $1,400 for corporate clients, and a cheaper options for non-profits, freelancers and students), but I definitely believe that it is a fantastic experience that empowers trainers to raise their game and provide a much more effective training. If you are currently a facilitator in a company, it is a perfect training for you. If you are a freelancer, I still believe it is worth the investment. David’s experience is gold and it will help you grow faster than any book or podcast.
The -longer- learning journey report
Since the beginning, the course is very different from any online learning course I have ever seen. The welcome email only asks you to create a Miro account, that is the central point where the course is going to take place. Instead of having endless videos to watch, there is no pre-recorded materials at Metonomy. Everything happens in a Zoom room with a group of 6 people.
After getting everyone up to speed on how to use this tool, it becomes really interactive to participate in the session. Although the content is well structured and there is always a clear goal, there is flexibility to explore whatever the group is interested in discovering. This is a key learning I take with me, as sometimes things are planned in a certain way, but opportunities appear to experience something differently. As a trainer, you are supposed to detect those opportunities and focus on the learning experience, not just following a lesson plan.
SESSION 1: Defining training, curriculum and learning objectives.
After a round of introductions, the course starts from the basics of defining what the purpose of training is, and what differentiates it from other forms of facilitation or coaching.
As we all come to training with a different set of expectations, I found it very interesting to have to define and explain why I was going to spend 9 weeks learning about this, and what were my expectations of what I was about to experience. This is what I came up with:
The first key learning of this session for me was to understand that trainers are supposed to design and nurture an effective learning environment, combining subject-matter expertise (know the subject), subject-pedagogy expertise (Know how to master the subject) , and pedagogical expertise (Know what it takes for someone to learn).
The second was to learn how to design an effective curriculum, including goals, activities and assessments that allow us to effectively train others into learning a new skill. It was mind-blowing to practice how to write proper learning objectives, as it is usually the source of problems in class when they are not well defined.
A good learning objective describes a resulting competency, the environment that will be available to the student, and the criteria to know what has been achieved. Practising with the group how to set up good learning objectives was one of the most useful concepts in the course.
And finally, we went into lesson planning, where we discovered that there are frameworks (Such as BOPPPS or COARDS) that can be used depending on the domain of the learning objectives that have been set (cognitive, psychomotor or affective).
SESSION 2: planning and executing a training experience from scratch.
With a new set of tools under our belt, we went straight into practising in session 2. But before we got started, we had an important conversation about feedback.
Feedback is one of those things that we all say we like to receive, but we struggle to take when it is given. Many times, because we mix judgement with actionable performance-based feedback, our comments to others are not as effective as they could be.
It was an incredible learning experience to practice performance-based feedback during the second session, with practical examples of what other colleagues were presenting. It was also very fulfilling to receive feedback based on performance, without making it personal.
As the time was limited for our training sessions, it was interesting to observe how most of us tried to squeeze many learning objectives in a short period of time, making the training session very ineffective. We also tend to talk way too much, and we do not encourage enough participation in the audience. Even having extensive experience in teaching and designing education programs, it was humbling to be back on the whiteboard and question some of the most basic assumptions of our training.
session 3: active learning and assessments
After our first hands-on activity, it was time to go back to the drawing board and analyse what was happening. Why did our sessions seem so passive and lacked interaction?
One of the Aha! moments of the whole course was the discussion about mental models, and how you need to deconstruct and break a mental model that is not working anymore, in order to be able to build a new one that works. (A fantastic example about this is the whole earth is flat vs earth is round experience)
After a fantastic discussion about mental models, we got into one of the beefiest concepts of the course: The Active Learning Cycle.
Although the concept is not new to many of us, it was the practice of that cycle in different situations that made it stick with me. In order to update our mental models, it is not enough to “tell people” a new way to think. It is the process of conceptualizing, experimenting, experiencing and reflecting that achieves that goal.
But what about assessment? It is so common to assess students using tests and exams, that we forget the actual purpose of assessing people. During this session, we explored 3 different kinds of assessment (assessment of learning, assessment as learning, and assessment for learning) and we committed to use the new tools we acquired in the next practice session.
session 4: implementing a training session using active learning and assessment
The second time preparing a lesson plan from scratch was interesting. We definitely became less ambitious about the material we will include, and we started introducing ways of assessing our participants’ knowledge in the topic we were about to discuss beforehand. I decided to use a tool called Mentimeter in order to get quick feedback from the audience instead of having to speak all the time.
The change was quite dramatic. All the training sessions on the second round were much more interactive, and although time was still an issue, we generally managed to complete our lesson plan within the timeframe. The feedback received from the participants was much more encouraging:
“Loved it, it’s so interactive right away.”
“Was engaged throughout. Not having to speak gave it more of a pace.”
However there were still challenges that participants brought up, that kept pointing towards some of the tendencies detected in the first training session. “The slides were too small”. “There was too much data to absorb”.”The post-testing activity didn’t match the learning goal”, were some of the inputs that I got from other participants and the trainer.
Overall, I felt progress. It was clear that it was far from perfect, but engagement was way higher and the whole experience was more enjoyable for the participants. Some of them expressed they would like to continue learning about it after the class!
SESSION 5: I HAD TO DROP
Something I realised during the course of the 9 weeks, is that committing to 4 hours of training could become really challenging on top of the work-week. I managed to juggle things during the first month, but at the beginning of the 2nd month it became too much, and I had to skip a session. I would say that at some point, all the participants needed a break, and this might be a good piece of feedback for Metonomy. Maybe a week of rest between the first month and the rest of the course could have helped us to breathe a bit between the sessions.
This also made me realise how challenging adult learning is. Even if you are interested, committed and motivated to participate in a learning activity, sometimes life is just too much. And that is ok, you should design programs with that in mind.
SESSION 6: PRACTICE ROUND 3, THINGS STARTED TO FLOW!
The third time I approached the exercise of preparing a training session from scratch, I felt I had experience in it, and I think this was my best session. As I had been quite controlling on my approach in the first 2 rounds, now I tried to play with the format to give more space to the participants, so they could explore more freely.
I designed the session so they could learn about each other’s passions. With a very simple game, the group had to write down things they are passionate about and try to guess who wrote what. The session was playful, simple and the flow was very smooth. The feedback was much shorter this time, and sweeter:
“It was fun, engaging and interesting topics, we are naturally drawn towards learning about this stuff.””It was great to learn more about each other”. There were comments related to the time, but not due to the lack of planning, but the willingness to continue playing the game. The environment of learning was there, and they enjoyed it.
By this time, I felt the entire group had already mastered how to prepare a good learning plan, with a clear and achievable learning objective, and an assessment that helped the group strengthen what was learned. We have definitely gone a long way in just 6 weeks.
As we all were getting better at it, David started helping us improve our questioning during the session, and helping us understand how we could improve our way of interacting with our audience (Saying “Any questions?” is not the best way to keep people engaged and inspired!). These are some of the pointers given during that day:
Session 7: other formats that we can use in our trainings.
As we got better in creating our training and making sure our participants were engaged in the process of learning, it was time to get inspired and increase our “vocabulary” on the training formats.
One of the greatest toolboxes shared during the course was liberating structures, a collection of interaction formats that can help facilitate groups of people to work together. We didn’t go through the 100s of potential formats that can be used, but we explored some of them. The Samoan circle or the Troika consulting were very interesting activities to participate in, and they provided a fresh new approach to interactivity with the audience.
By this point, the group knew each other really well, and we focused on feedback to keep increasing the effectiveness of our training. I felt like the group took over and David was simply facilitating us giving each other feedback to improve, and that felt really great. Now he was just challenging us to go further and crazier in our last training practice. Pushing us out of our comfort zone already!
SESSION 8: EXPLORING THE LIMITS
In the last practice session I felt like driving a fast car, exploring the limits that can be reached without breaking the engine. I started the session asking the participants to close their eyes, and imagine their last holiday. The goal was helping them experience something, before starting even to discuss what the learning goal was.
The approach was completely exploratory. The goal was to create the environment where the participants could learn about how others prepare and plan their yearly time off. However, the approach to reach the learning goal through an active learning cycle had completely transformed the learning plan. Now it was less of a guided tour, and more of a learning experience. Something had happened in the last 8 weeks! Maybe that “something” is called learning 🙂
As with any experimental sesion, some things didn’t go as expected. But that was totally fine at this point. We had a strong “safe” approach to planning our training sessions, and we were just given space to play and explore other approaches to generate and nurture learning environments.
Session 9: wrapping up
The last session was mostly reflection about what we have learned in the last 8 weeks. It was also time to wish each other well and keep the connections for future opportunities. It did feel like a sweet and sour moment, because by this time the group was comfortable with each other and the pace of learning had accelerated towards the end.
Something I would have added to the course is some sort of peer to peer credit, that could help each other showcase our experience as trainers to third parties. At the end of the course I expected a credential that could allow others to verify the skills that have been acquired. Probably something like Accredible or Credly is something that could be added to the product in the future.
All in all, the experience has been fantastic and has opened my eyes to keep exploring ways to improve the way we learn and facilitate learning. I am very grateful to David, whose patience and leadership during the entire training has been incredibly inspiring to me.