Unexpected learning


June 12th, 2008

All this talk about web-based tools, you’d never know that my most significant learning this week came from a very concrete, face-to-face action method called Memory Lane.

My friend and colleague, Antony Williams, came to our Facilitating With Confidence course to introduce our trainees to action methods, being present and being in the moment. He used Memory Lane – an action method where an individual (or couple, or work team) can step out a history line.

I was the protagonist in a demonstration where we visited my educational history. It’s amazing how easy it is to feel real emotions when doing something as straightforward as an educational history, stepping from a post-high school diploma to a part-time degree and then a distance-learning masters. In between were some significant events, and the whole process brought them vividly alive. We practiced Memory Lane in pairs, sharing the houses we had lived in, experiencing what it’s like to facilitate the process and be the facilitated.

And here’s where the great Ah-ha! moment occurred. We’d struggled with finding a way to help new facilitators plan a workshop. On paper it’s just too abstract, too logical, too boring and too hard – and simply not representative of the actual process of designing and staging a workshop. So we tried Memory Lane – using it as a way of imagining what could be, and taking five steps to design an actual workshop that was coming up. It was amazing how palpable feelings were. When I did it I could take a step saying I’d do a particular activity next and recognise straight away that it just didn’t FEEL right – something else was needed first. So I could go back and insert a new step and see how that felt. At the end of the Memory Lane I could turn around and look at the completed ‘design’ and see where I felt comfortable and where the danger spots might be. And I wasn’t looking at anything except a piece of carpet in a hotel conference room. There was no plan written there, but I could ‘see’ all of it – and today I can still remember it. Can you tell I’m excited?

We also used it in another way too. After demonstrating a facilitation process that incorporated a number of steps, we asked participants to recall the process by doing a Memory Lane. I’ll be really interested to find out how well they remember those steps (and hence the process) by debriefing this way rather than a more traditional approach.

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