Calvinball and The 10/5 Rule of CLE

The 10/5 RuleI’d like to talk briefly about Calvinball. Calvinball (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) has no set rules, except that you can’t use the same rule twice. It’s chaos, yet it seems to make sense. For those unacquainted with the venerable sport, an example of Calvinball can be found here.

Today’s post has a certain Calvinball flavor. I couldn’t find a principle that illustrates the point I’d like to make, so I created one based on my experience in educational design: The 10/5 Rule of CLE.

Simply put, The 10/5 Rule of CLE says that a CLE presenter should speak for no more than 10 minutes before letting the audience speak for five. Ideally, 5 minutes of the presenter speaking followed by 5 minutes of the audience would be the goal, but I think baby steps are in order.

The Joy of Lecture

As I travel across Illinois, I get to see a lot of in-person CLE being delivered by a range of presenters and facilitators (more about the difference between those two later). Virtually all are educated, knowledgeable and experienced in the field on which they’re presenting, as befits a profession that prides itself on its academic chops.

However – and I’m sure you’ve experienced this too – a good deal of the CLEs are essentially lectures. Whether they’re 30 minutes or 90 minutes, the structure is remarkably similar: a brief introduction and biography to establish credentials, an overview of the topic (with data!), some strategies, a couple of war stories and a final “I think we have a couple of minutes left for questions.”

There are several factors that contribute to the lecture = learning mindset.

  1. It’s the format we’ve experienced throughout our education, and we turned out OK, right?
  2. CLE rules can often seem inflexible regarding materials. Sixty minutes of CLE can appear to mean 60 minutes of content.
  3. Inside our own head is a warm comfortable place, and lecturing allows us to stay right there. It shields us from the mess that other people’s views, opinions and disagreements may bring.

What is CLE trying to do?

“But what’s wrong with lecture?” I hear you ask. The answer is nothing, in the same way that there’s nothing wrong with a hammer. It’s all about context. Using a hammer to fix a garage door = good. Using the same hammer to fix a laptop = not so good.

A lecture is a pretty blunt tool. If you need to convey a clear viewpoint or transfer information to a large group of people with similar backgrounds, a lecture works great. (However, research suggests that audience concentration peaks around 15 minutes and falls off the cliff after 30).

But is that what CLE should be? Can the issues that CLE is trying to address be attributed to a lack of audience knowledge? Do the lawyers not have access to the content elsewhere?

I contend that CLE should be more than a blunt tool, with the focus shifting to the continuous. Continuous CLE suggests that the audience has been there before and brings knowledge, experience and, dare I say it, content to the table. Which brings us to the adult learner.

What adult learners like (and don’t like)

At this point, it may be worth looking at the generally agreed-upon principles of adult learning theory. The key principles can be summed up as follows:

  1. Adults bring experience and knowledge to a session. They respond well when invited to reflect and share those experiences and knowledge.
  2. Adults are self-aware learners and prefer to have agency in their own learning.
  3. Adults prefer problem-centered learning that can be transferred to issues they’re facing.
  4. Adults prefer collaborative learning, where there’s less hierarchy/gatekeeping between the facilitator and the content.
  5. Adults are motivated by many factors. They prefer the opportunity to link their motivation to learning outcomes.

If lecture is your go-to method of CLE and your reaction isn’t “Uh-oh,” then you may not be paying attention. Because lecture rarely ticks any of those boxes.

The 10/5 Rule of CLE

So, how does The 10/5 Rule of CLE work? How can it help adult learners?

Well, we’re back to the hammer analogy. Asking your audience to talk for 5 minutes because Dan said so probably isn’t the way to go. You’re still smashing the laptop.

Instead, think of it as a structural element while developing your session. By limiting yourself to 10 minutes, you can succinctly summarize a concept or topic and then turn the attention back to the audience, essentially asking them, “Do you agree with what I said?”, “What experience/knowledge do you have that will expand the learning?” and “What does this mean for you?”

This can be done in several ways, like Think-Pair-Share, hypothesis-based discussion, scenarios, problem-solving cases, teach backs, brainstorming, etc. Additionally, if the audience can be encouraged to direct solutions to what would be effective in their own professional environment, all the better.

10 minutes of sanity, 5 minutes of chaos

Right now, it may appear that I’m advocating for 10 minutes of sanity followed by 5 minutes of chaos. On paper, I’d agree with you.

But this is where the previously referenced presenter vs. facilitator comes in. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, although they require slightly different skill sets. A great presenter puts forth a compelling case and is the focus of the room. A great facilitator makes the audience the focus and helps them build their own case.

The reality lies, as with all things, somewhere in the middle. An engaging CLE consists of compelling content delivered by a presenter, who then allows the audience to build on that content. That isn’t easy. It takes a certain mix of humility and confidence to stand in front of a room and admit you don’t have all the answers, and then invite others to help you discover them. But it can be done.

So, next time you’re designing a CLE, lunch and learn, presentation or learning experience, consider Calvinball and The 10/5 Rule of CLE. Sometimes chaos leads to the greatest developments.

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Dan Davies
Dan Davies is the Education Manager at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He manages the Commission’s educational programming aimed at promoting a more professional, civil and inclusive legal profession. Prior to joining the Commission, Dan was a learning manager at the YMCA of the USA, where he designed learning solutions across topics including diversity and inclusion, achievement-gap programming and data-based decisions, and fiscal management. In his free time, Dan can be found spending time with his wife and two teenage sons, coaching travel soccer and riding a motorcycle, when he has the chance.

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Dan Davies
Dan Davies is the Education Manager at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. He manages the Commission’s educational programming aimed at promoting a more professional, civil and inclusive legal profession. Prior to joining the Commission, Dan was a learning manager at the YMCA of the USA, where he designed learning solutions across topics including diversity and inclusion, achievement-gap programming and data-based decisions, and fiscal management. In his free time, Dan can be found spending time with his wife and two teenage sons, coaching travel soccer and riding a motorcycle, when he has the chance.

4 thoughts on “Calvinball and The 10/5 Rule of CLE

  1. This is a fascinating pov Dan. I like it and will work to incorporate in future CLE’s. BUT, what do you do when audience members want you to answer their very specific questions/issues on one particular case they have. Another way to ask is how do you prevent one or two strong minded audience members from hijacking your CLE?

    1. Hi Margaret, thanks for the comments.
      I love this question, as it happens to all of us and it can really be a drag on the pace and energy in the room.
      I don’t claim to have the final answer, but one technique I have used is to ask questions of myself and the audience members.
      For myself, I quickly try to ask what I haven’t done a facilitator to enable them to solve the issue themselves, and to buy time while I’m thinking about it, open it up to the audience. I usually frame it as ‘Great question, Bob. Let’s use the expertise in the room – what are the ways you all would tackle this issue, based on what we’ve been discussing?’
      If it’s not appropriate to answer at that time, another technique is to clarify the underlying issue without the specifics and pin it for discussion. (‘So Bob, what I’m hearing is that when someone is using strategic incivility, it can appear weak if you don’t attack back. I glad you identified this issue. Let’s discuss the topic of maintaining a position of strength in the strategies section after the break.’)

      Dan

  2. Interesting perspective. As a CLE presenter, I always thought that my job was to modem out of my brain all of the knowledge I have on a topic that I assume my audience does not have and wants. I rarely leave time for questions, but invite attendees to reach out to me after the CLE. I am always happy to have a deeper discussion on an issue about which they are concerned. It would prevent an attendee from hijacking the presentation, but requires my giving more time. With which I am okay.

    1. Hi Erica,
      I like that you are willing to have deeper conversations with the audience post-event, that is going the extra mile which I’m sure attorneys really appreciate.
      Do you find in your discussions that topics come up that you wished you had brought to the wider audience? How do you share those discoveries?
      Dan

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