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The Dialogic Learning Weekly #201

The Dialogic Learning Weekly
The Dialogic Learning Weekly #201
By Tom Barrett • Issue #201 • View online
Welcome to the newsletter. Every Friday, we look at ideas, provocations and mental models associated with learning, leadership and innovation.
Thanks for subscribing and being an active reader. You join over 3000 readers who receive this weekly missive - just enough to provoke a pondering or two.
Below are some reflections on designing learning throughout the last few weeks.
Simplicity / Consistency / Shared experience.

The Laws of Simplicity
“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
What does it take to create simple designs? What disposition changes the creative flow from adding (+) to taking away (-)? In our strategy and learning design, how might we balance meaningful and purposeful experiences, with attributes of accessibility and simplicity?
A few questions to get you thinking.
Some of these ideas have been at the front of my mind over the last few weeks as the new school year starts in Australia. A combination of the long summer break and lockdown haze has contributed to me overthinking my plans or learning design. You might have experienced that sort of design rumination too?
I pause. Catch myself. I know I need to stop adding stuff and move ahead with more restraint.
Sometimes we get so lost in the “stuff”, the “moving parts’ and the "doing”, we detach and isolate the experience we imagine. Learning is complex enough. The design attributes of simplicity and consistency have really helped ground me to what really matters. Learning experiences that are worthy of people’s time.
American technologist and designer John Maeda shares a handful of protocols for designers, who strive for simplicity, in his book The Laws of Simplicity.
Please consider these in the way we design learning for our students and colleagues:
  1. Reduce. The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. In other words, when in doubt, just remove.
  2. Organize. It makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. Time. Saving time feels like simplicity while waiting feels like complexity.
  4. Learn. Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  5. Differences. Simplicity and complexity need each other. When one prevails, the other stands out.
  6. Context. What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  7. Emotion. More emotions are better than less; don’t be afraid to add more ornament or layers of meaning.
  8. Trust. In simplicity we trust, despite the consequences it brings.
  9. Failure. Some things can never be made simple, and you have to learn from your mistakes.
  10. The one. Simplicity in design is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.
(The short summaries above are from The Psychology of Simple.)
The Laws of Simplicity / John Maeda
Consistency over Novelty
For some, consistency in design is more important than simplicity. Perhaps consistency is an attribute that creates simplicity.
I strive for consistency in my learning design in a few different ways; here are a few examples:
  • Start meetings and workshops with protocols.
  • Advocate and design for individual thinking time.
  • Talk about how we need to create safe spaces for dialogue.
We might often shy away from repetition, but it serves us well if used to establish powerful practices. We don’t need new stuff every time. If it works, use it again and see what new depths you can explore.
The protocols I use are a way to strike up some talk about the working norms for that session. And the ultimate goal for such norms is for them to become normal. Consistent and embodied.
This is all about expectations.
Do I understand what is expected of me during this meeting?”, “Do my team understand my expectations during this workshop?”.
And, of course, you cannot hold people to expectations that have not been shared.
Consistency of expectation and routines for high-quality dialogue, also establish trustworthy patterns. These routines lighten the cognitive load of daily decision making, offering a framework and scaffold for more taxing developmental thought.
Take a moment to think through what you would like to become more consistent this year?
What do you want to normalise?
Why most people follow routines
Bookmark this experience
The start of the school year is often filled with whole staff professional learning days. The partner schools I have supported in these last few weeks have all been zooming out. Making the time to connect their staff, new and existing, to the panoramic and the microscopic view.
It has been exciting to witness new collaborative teaching teams come together for the first time. I never underestimate the importance of these foundational moments. And I have been wondering about how we build better teams.
My design of dialogue and collaborative activities for teachers has emphasised a school value, their identity or DNA. (The important stuff). This emphasis has been subtle and oblique. Not flag waving or overt. My learning design created the space for enacting and embodying such values and practices.
We shine a light on what we experience through some gentle reflection, and we pay attention to those positive behaviours.
To build great teams and sustain high collaborative performance, we need to bookmark these experiences. We need a collective appreciation for the standard we reached together and the way it made us feel. So in the future, when we reconvene, we know what we are capable of.
My own approach to facilitation emphasises the sub-text and meta experience. I am never far from asking, “how did we do?” or, “How did that experience make you feel?”
By placing a ribbon on that page of our experience, we bookmark the standard we reached, the expectation we share and where to build from next time. Hopefully moving the ribbon again.
Thanks for taking some time to explore the newsletter. Let me know what strikes a chord with you from this issue. Especially if you are one of the many new subscribers! (Just hit reply)
In dialogue we trust
“Brevity is the soul of wit”
By the way, the giraffe image on the thumbnail of the Maeda link is from Katie Treadway
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Tom Barrett

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