Sometimes as a learning practitioner you are working with a third party process holder, and not (at least not in the most initial stages) with the learners themselves.
For example, you might be designing a lessons learned workshop to collect experience that informs planning for a large conference, you might be designing a capacity development programme for farmers around rainwater harvesting, you might be helping high-level decision-makers develop better policy frameworks for climate change adaptation, you might be helping a whole staff strengthen their facilitation skills, etc.
How do you structure a discussion that gets you the design of a learning programme, process or event? Where do you start?
Of course, there are plenty of ways to go about this. Here are a set of questions that I often use to inform an initial design that I might offer, providing the basis on which the design conversation continues:
Question: What change do you want to see after your programme/process/event?
This is a great question as it gets to the purpose of the event, it helps the process holder be clear about the outcome they want, and lets you, the designer, gently probe some of their assumptions about what and how things change in their context. It also signals that learning, in this case, is not an end in itself. A next question might be:
Question: Who needs to make these changes so that the practice or context changes in the desired direction?
This question explores the learner group – to see if it includes all the people that are needed to make the change. It might also open up some discussion of segmentation, perhaps the programme needs to have different components for different groups – for practice, policy, support etc. If you want to probe the audience question a little further in terms of readiness, and to get some good material for the rationale for the learning initiative, you could ask:
Question: If I would ask some members of this group if they needed or wanted to make this change, what would they say? (and why?)
Further questioning might give you some information on what this group needs to learn, according to the process holder (this can be tested through some useful demand articulation with the learner group later – but not too late!) The following question also expands the notion that learning is just about information (knowledge acquisition), towards the behaviour change aspect (e.g. practicing using knowledge and know-how):
Question: What kind of information, tools, practice does this group need in order to make this change?
You could explore learning preferences and good practice further by asking for some stories of successful past behaviour change and learning:
Question: When this group has changed its behaviour in the past and learned something new, how did that work? What conditions were present? How long did it take? What helped make it stick?
You could find out what kind of methodologies for learning are preferred- no doubt they will be mixed and individualised – but there might be some interesting patterns in the answer to this question:
Question: How do group members like to learn, and in what format do they like to engage in learning?
Through the above question you can explore how the group might react to innovation or new methodologies and techniques. This might also give you some idea about how “safe” the environment is for learning.
These are just a few starters of the many questions that can help guide an initial learning design discussion – what other questions might you add? Where would you start?