Why did I choose this tool?
I like to take the approach where I reduce the number of variables in an activity so that I can better see which variables are causing the problems and can therefore change the outcome by changing the variables. It may come from my engineering background, where I like to solve a problem at its root. I think that too often we try to adapt many aspects of a workshop whereas a small change can make a big impact. I like this tool because it tries to reduce the variables to just the learning group, seeing how the workshop works for some and doesn’t work for others and trying to see the underlying patterns. It eliminates as many variables as it can from the delivery side, including location, timing, exercises, training team, etc.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
As a trainer, we will work with many different learning groups. Even if a learning group seems similar in one aspect, it may differ in another. For example, even if all of the participants are youth workers, they may work with different types of youth—e.g., refugees, youth with disabilities, low-income, etc. Other variables that can come into play include age, nationality, gender, academic ability, language ability, athletic ability, body size, conflict styles, current state of being, relationship statuses, financial statuses, etc. I think that with so much possible diversity, we may want to tweak our teaching style more than would be necessary. When running the same workshop with different groups, we may be surprised that certain things work across all of these differences because as different as we may be, we have so much in common. We also may learn that some groups we think are very similar may in fact require different approaches.
This article is about standardizing a workshop and running it with a variety of learning groups. The purpose is for us to find only the necessary things that we need to tweak from group to group, so that we can have efficiency in our delivery but also the necessary customization for our group.
This is related to the field of Dimensionality Reduction, or a specific type called Factor Analysis. Factor analysis is used in marketing, psychometrics, and other fields, to try to find the few variables amongst the many that are causing the particular results. In many situations there are a large number of variables and dimensionality reduction is about reducing the number of variables to find the ones that are really causing the problem.
Many times in training, we are unaware of the effects of our decisions. We decide to make the workshop a little longer, or we use a method where people write instead of speak, and not only do we not know how effective it is for one group, if we change it for the next group, we may assume that it would NOT have worked with them, even though it may not have been the fault of the exercise but something else. Often times I think we assume what we have won’t work for Y group because of X reason, even though that may not be the case.
With running the workshop as exactly the same as possible, we eliminate as many variables from the workshop side as we can. Running it in the same way means using the same trainers, roles, language, examples, timing, location, procedure, instructions, lighting, visual aids, handouts, and more. In this way, we make the workshop itself change as little as possible.
Then we take the standardized workshop and run it with a wide variety of groups, to compare and contrast how it works for the diverse groups, so that we can see the impact of the diversity.
Let’s take a common trust-building workshop: the trust fall. Let’s fix the variables of the workshop:
- in the parking lot of our own training center
- led by me and assisted by Darko and Dagna
- 5 minutes for introduction, 40 minutes for falling, 15 minutes for reflection
- 10 participants, which means 4 minutes per falling
- in the summertime when the weather is 25C and sunshine
- people fall off the same picnic table
- the trainers give the same instructions on how people should hold their arms
- the trainers give the same applause after each fall
- the trainers give the same permissions about people not having to participate if they don’t want to
Then let’s run it with three different groups:
- 20-30 year-old youthworkers who work with refugees
- 13-15 year-old students with speech disabilities
- 18-30 year-old women who work with victims of sexual abuse
What we may find is that in the first two groups, 90% of the people participate, with a few opting to sit out. In the third group, perhaps only 60% participate, with the others sitting out. Then we can start to see what the groups have in common. Maybe we assume that more people didn’t participate in the last group because they were exposed to sexual abuse, but we may be mistaken. Perhaps if we look deeper, we realize that the majority of people who didn’t participate were actually people who were on the heavier side or just weren’t comfortable being touched by strangers. Having run it with multiple groups, we can have a more open conversation with the last group, saying that it has worked with others and we’re curious why it didn’t work with them and maybe the participants inform us honestly why it didn’t work for them.
If we don’t lock the variables in the delivery (as much as we can), then we can be even MORE off with our assumption of why it did (or didn’t) work. We may assume it was because they deal with sexual abuse and in reality it was because we gave unclear instructions or that day it was cold and cloudy outside. This tool can help us hone our ability to detect the actual causes of the results and know how to ask the right questions to find them out.
How does this help me work with diverse groups of learners?
By trying to keep everything constant except for the diversity of the learning group, we can focus more specifically on the impact that the diversity brings. In other words, we can practice working with different learning groups, and not have to practice working with different methods, timing, teams, etc., because we have already locked those in place.
What are some things to watch across the groups?
- Who does/doesn’t participate
- How much people do/don’t participate
- What questions people ask
- What reflections people make
- Which parts seem to confuse people
- Which emotional reactions people seem to have
- Which metaphors do/don’t work
- How long/short activities go
- How high/low the energy of the overall group is
How will we know which aspects of diversity are causing which effects?
Using this technique, I don’t think we can know for certain. I think what the tool does well is help us start the conversation with ourselves, our team, and our participants. As in the example above, if we assume that people don’t participate for X reason, we can start a conversation with the group or specific individuals, either during the workshop, after it, or even before future ones, to ask how X impacted their experience of the workshop. “We noticed that this group didn’t seem to participate as much as the previous groups, which is OK. However, we’re curious—why do you think you participated less?” There can be many techniques for having these conversations that may be discussed in other articles in the library.
- Have you ever been certain that a specific workshop would not work with a specific group? If so, what is an example that you have in mind?
- What is one time you felt surprised that a workshop worked better across diverse groups than you thought it would have?
- What is one time you felt confident that a workshop would work the same for different groups and it actually went very differently?
- What is one workshop that you would love to run over and over again with a wide variety of audiences?
How to apply it in everyday life
- Interview people using the same set of questions—write five questions in an email and send the same email to 10-15 friends of yours from a variety of backgrounds. When you receive their responses, compare their answers to see how they were similar and different.
- Do a physical workout—e.g., go for a run, play football, go swimming—with three very different friends, one friend at a time. See how the workout was similar or different for them and start a conversation with them about why it was the same/different.
- Create a social media post/video and share the same post/video in a wide variety of groups online—on Facebook, Twitter, reddit, etc.—and see how they respond. After a period of time, maybe 2 days, reflect on how they responded similarly and differently and start a conversation with them to reflect on why they responded in those ways.