I’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.
- It’s the format we’ve experienced throughout our education, and we turned out OK, right?
- CLE rules can often seem inflexible regarding materials. Sixty minutes of CLE can appear to mean 60 minutes of content.
- 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 (Continuing Legal Education) should be more than a blunt tool, with the focus shifting to the continuous. “Continuous” 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:
- Adults bring experience and knowledge to a session. They respond well when invited to reflect and share those experiences and knowledge.
- Adults are self-aware learners and prefer to have agency in their own learning.
- Adults prefer problem-centered learning that can be transferred to issues they’re facing.
- Adults prefer collaborative learning, where there’s less hierarchy/gatekeeping between the facilitator and the content.
- 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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