Facilitating Intentional Group Learning

This guide is designed to help a wide array of professionals better understand how and when to use group learning activities to intentionally support and facilitate continuous learning through reflection and dialogue.

Hallie Preskill
Efraín Gutiérrez
Katelyn Mack
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Many of today’s social sector organizations are searching for ways to be more nimble, adaptive, and responsive, and they are looking to learning as a means for responding to myriad competing demands and shifting priorities and challenges. In particular, a range of publications and conferences have shown an interest in learning as a tool for social change. Others have made learning a cornerstone of their work. Many organizations have communicated the value of being a learning organization, supporting strategic learning through evaluation and other forms of data collection, and forging intentional connections between strategy, evaluation, and learning.

While it is clear that the topic of learning remains of great importance to the social sector, many organizations, including those in the public and private sectors, seem to be stuck on operationalizing what it means to engage in and support intentional learning in their organizations. This guide will help a wide array of professionals better understand how and when to use group learning activities to intentionally support and facilitate continuous learning through reflection and dialogue.

The 21 activities described in this guide draw from a range of fields and sectors and reflect adult learning principles, stakeholder engagement practices, systems change, and effective participatory and collaborative research and evaluation practice. The activities reflect a variety of learning styles, goals, group sizes, and time requirements. They are organized into three groups:

  • Quick Learning Activities (20 minutes or less)
  • Detailed Learning Activities
  • Systems-Thinking Learning Activities

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What the experts say

This short, easy to read resource will be helpful to state adult education leaders, professional developers, and program administrators. The resource opens with a short section on why do group learning followed by a section identifying ideas for when group learning can be done and considerations for selecting a group learning activity. The bulk of the resource describes twenty-one group learning activities. Along with the descriptions readers will find helpful information such as the number of participants each activity is suitable for, the length of time each activity takes, the goals each activity addresses, suggestions for accommodating participants with special needs, and ways to conduct the activities when participants are not all at the same location. Sample reflection questions are listed for many of the activities. Group learning activities are presented to help build knowledge and understanding, to help identify solutions to challenges, and to help with decision making. This resource has practical ideas in an easy-to-use format.

The resource's title does not convey the power of these activities. Collected from a range of educators and others, and in some cases developed by the authors, the activities are described in enough detail to understand what they might be able to accomplish and how they can be implemented. The guide could be used by an adult basic skills program or school administrator to enliven staff meetings and make them more productive. It could also be used by a professional development provider for face-to-face or online teacher professional development courses. It could also be used to identify engaging activities for a range of kinds of meetings of adult educators where decisions need to be made. The overall point of the publication is that learning organizations–those that identify useful learning activities as part of their other group activities for board or staff meetings, or training–are often more effective. The guide would be especially helpful to leaders of educational organizations that are becoming learning organizations.

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