Everybody likes challenges. Or at least this is what they say. But how much are we actually willing to take a challenge, something that really takes us out of our comfort zone?
A couple of months ago, a dear friend of mine came with the idea of doing some ‘non-formal education’ magic for some of the students of Greenwich University in the UK doing an MBA there and without thinking too much about it, I took the challenge. Its not very usual that a university, by definition one of the greatest formal educational institutions, would give enough credit to non-formal education and even more, to ask for help.
The preparations were long and many of the initial points changes throughout the way, but in the end the details were fixed: University of Greenwich, team building and project management, 2 days (30th of April – 1st of May), students of different MAs with no experience in other forms of education, 16 full hours, 65 participants, 7 working groups.
Of course, the number of the participants was not the only issue, since they were divided into 7 teams, with 7 being an impossible number, since you are alone and cannot be in more than one place at a time. And to work with 65 participants at one time also seemed to be impossible.
One of the ideas was to have 5 or 6 of the 7 groups working individually and the other 1 or 2 to be facilitated – and have rotations (some sort of huge world café) for different workstations. Of course, because of the perfection of the number 7 and the total number of facilitators (me and one junior), rotations are not actually possible and also quality in the workgroups would be plummeting. The math was killing me!
Finally, the decision was made: we will be working all together, doing the exercises in the 7 teams but debriefing in 3 steps, workgroups – plenary – workgroups. This type of debriefing would be supported by the use of the ‘Do not panic’ Manual – a learning diary and self reflection tool that each of the teams developed during the weekend.
Also, having the individual/team learning points and conclusions compared with the results from other teams in the plenary and taking them back to the small teams was a good way of insuring a higher quality in the given circumstanced. The plenary discussion were also a strong indicator about the impact that the exercises had on the participants and how the next steps need to be adjusted.
The main challenge
The adventure began much earlier than expected since there was a signal failure on the Tube that morning and it took more than 3 hours (3 tubes and 2 busses) to get to Greenwich.
A classic university hall, old and dimly lit with 45 students ‘eagerly’ wanting to start was waiting for us. I couldn’t help myself and asked from the very beginning how many of them brought their laptops and I saw many hands up in the air: I had to disappoint them and explained that we will not be using them throughout the weekend, they might just as well put them aside.
While I was explaining why are we there and what we are going to do, there was a general ‘wow’ in the room. Unfortunately not a positive one – I understood immediately that I will have a rough crowd – I had to adjust. I learned that they would be graded depending on their attendance and that almost took the ‘non’ out of ‘non-formal education’…
We reached a consensus that they have to stay only if they find it useful and are learning new things – but if they are here, they need to actively get involved.
After the first activity, everyone was amazed how many things you can learn from playing – they were asking for more! It is true, some of them decided not to take the challenge and left – I was more and more convinced that it was their loss as time passed by and seeing the results of the activities.
Sunday, the second day, only 16 of them were present – the perfect size for the group. If Saturday was a good day, Sunday was amazing for the group – the morning was actually the point were learning started to hurt. Together with the participants, I was once more amazed by the effects of non-formal education and how it impacts the personal development of the participants.
Challenging formal education
Out of the 45, there were no native-speakers – they all came from different countries and cultures and of course different educational systems. Nevertheless, the educational systems seemed to have the same result: decreasing the creativity and the freedom of thought of the students, lowering their problem-solving capacity, teaching them to never question use the question WHY, always use the manual or never challenge the status-quo.
Overall, the experience was an amazing one and I believe the participants learned a lot, but the challenge that they face now is to put thing into practice. How many will actually take the challenge? Do you challenge yourself to learn more that the school teaches you?