Dear Blog,

Hello, blog. Oh, how I have missed you! The anticipation of starting a new post. The smile inside when the idea finally comes together. The gratitude for those who read and comment. And, most of all, the cathartic exercise for mind and soul that blogging is for me. I have missed it all these past few months.

It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about you. I have pieces of paper all over the house with ideas for blog posts. I have a running list of topics saved in a Notepad file on my desktop. What I haven’t had is time. Time to slow down, breathe, and think. Time to meditate through words about what I’ve been learning and what connections I am making. I am writing today to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for neglecting you, and in turn, for neglecting a very important part of myself.

Last weekend, I did make time to do some reading that relates to our service learning project with UMFS. I read about rocks, hedgehogs, and buses. I recognized that some of my biggest rocks — family and school — have been pushed out of my time jar. I discovered that there is a name for the kind of thing I long to have in my professional life — a hedgehog concept, a basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions. And I finally decided that I am on the WRONG bus, and it is long past the time for me to get off!

And so it is with this short post that I recommit myself to you, my blog. We have but a short time left until I reach the end of my Masters program, and I want to share every last minute with you. You have been a faithful companion on this journey, and you’ve helped me capture a tremendous amount of learning. We’ve had a lot of fun along the way, too, and I want to get that back.

With great affection,






Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Capstone


What I Found Out

My first post this semester posed the question about the connection between consulting and education. Change seemed to be the commonality, and while I do still think that facilitating change is an important part of the role of both the educator and the consultant, I now see other connections, too.

During my first class in this program, I came to the realization that it was not just the students who had the opportunity to learn — that as a teacher / facilitator, I had the chance to learn something from each class, too. I was reminded of this when I read Ward Mailliard’s story in Block’s book. Ward brought Block’s ideas about flawless consulting to the classroom in a way that gave his student more control over their own learning. In turn, he wondered, “What could I learn from my students that would allow me to be more effective in the learning environment?” I wondered the same thing when I was designing a volunteer training program and decided that I “have the opportunity to learn from each session in ways that I can use to rework the program for the next time around.”

Block writes that “our job [as consultants] is to be a learning architect. At our best, we design settings that lead to insight, resolution of differences, and change” (p. 300). This reminded me of what Maryellen Weimer wrote in her book Learner-Centered Teaching that faculty should be “instructional designers who put together challenging and complex learning experiences and then create environments that empower students to accomplish the goals” (p. 18). For me, though, it’s not just the shift from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment. I hope to take it one step further to create a learning-centered environment where we all have the opportunity to learn from each other.

So how does one create such a setting? It seems to come back to dialogue and asking the right question: why?

The questions that heal us and offer hope for authentic change are the ones we cannot easily answer… the why questions are designed for learning and change… It is in the dialogue about these questions that change occurs (Block, pp. 305-307).

The ‘why‘ question is a powerful intervention because it often forces the client to focus on something that he had taken entirely for granted and to examine it from a new perspective (Schein, p. 51).

Getting an honest answer to the Why? question… controls your responses to all the [instructional] design questions that follow…We ask the Why? question before determining appropriate content and learning objectives… Inattention to this step in design can result in inappropriate or irrelevant content (Vella, pp. 33-34).

So asking the right questions is the key to learning. Wait, I think I’ve written about this before. Yes, it was in a post about Action Learning. Great questions always lead to great reflection. Great reflection always leads to great learning. And great learning always leads to great action. So now, not only do I have a better understanding of how learning about consulting skills can enhance my role as an educator, I have also discovered ways in which being in the consultant role can provide me with learning opportunities, too.

Bring on the Capstone class!

1 Comment

Posted by on December 8, 2013 in ADLT 610


Tags: ,

Thinking about Dialogue… Part 2

Several areas of my recent readings about dialogue prompted me to think about ideas I had wrestled with while reading Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget including collective wisdom, fragments and bits, and of course the cephalopod.

Collective Wisdom

Both Edgar Schein and Nancy Dixon discuss the benefit of dialogue as resulting in a better and more creative solution than any one person could have contemplated. While I tend to agree with this, I do see that when taken to extremes, collective wisdom can become group think which can lead to what Lanier calls the noosphere or hive mind. Lanier argues quite emphatically against the idea that quantity, at an extreme scale such as you would find on the Internet, will produce quality. While Schein and Dixon are not talking about dialogue on a scale that large, it begs the question that Lanier asks “whether it is possible to map out where the one is smarter than the many” (p. 56).

In support of the collective wisdom of the group, I give you Gamers who come together in online communities and have solved some of the most perplexing problems through cooperation and collaboration. For a quick overview, read this blog post; for a more exciting look into this online community, view Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk. (I wonder what Schein would think of these groups and their prowess at problem-solving as I’m reading now his ideas on the interpersonal processes involved in building and maintaining groups… perhaps something to explore in a later post.)


I was quite taken with Dixon’s summary of David Bohm’s theory, and I was pleased to see that Schein based much of his discussion on Bohm’s work. As a physicist, Bohm views the world as an “unbroken flowing whole” (as quoted in Dixon, p. 10). Dixon goes on to describe Bohm’s frustration with the way people see the world not as a whole but as bits or fragments. Bohm’s “objection to a fragmentary view of the world was that it disposes people to think of the divisions between things as absolute and final rather than as having a limited utility and validity” (p. 11).

Lanier spends a great deal of time laying out his ideas about how we present ourselves in bits and fragments to the point where “the deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits” (p. 20) and “this information underrepresents reality” (p. 69). It would seem to me that Lanier might agree with Bohm (and Schein) that “dialogue is a way to apprehend the meaning of others and to thereby experience the wholeness of the world” (Dixon, p. 11).

The Platypus and The Cephalopod

Schein retells the story of when the platypus was discovered and the ensuing controversy about how to classify it — was it a mammal, a reptile, or perhaps a bird? While this speaks to the natural inclination of people to look at things as fragments, trying to fit something new into an existing schema, this story also reminded me of two areas Lanier discusses — language and what Lanier calls post-symbolic communication.

The more direct comparison is with Lanier’s discussion of language, which he describes as “built up from entries in a catalog, not from infinitely morphable patterns” (p. 165). He goes on to say that “while language has become richer over time, it has never become absolutely precise” (p. 169), thus our inability to define the platypus. This leads me to one of my favorite quotes from Lanier’s book: “it seems pointless to insist that what we already understand must suffice to explain what we don’t understand” (p. 51) — an idea I think Bohm would support as he claims that “we have to have enough faith in our world-view to work from it, but not that much faith that we think it’s the final answer” (as quoted in Dixon, p. 11).

Which brings me finally to the cephalopod and Lanier’s ideas of postsymbolic communication which could “give rise to a vivid expansion of meaning” (p.190). Watch as this cephalopod morphs into its surroundings:

Suppose we had the ability to morph at will, as fast as we can think. What sort of language might that make possible? Would it be the same old conversation, or would we be able to ‘say’ new things to one another (Lanier, p. 190)?

And what implication might that have on dialogue?


Dixon, N. M. (1996). Perspectives on dialogue. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Lanier, J. (2011). You are not a gadget. New York: Vintage Books.

Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 17, 2013 in ADLT 610


Tags: , , , , ,

Thinking about Dialogue… Part 1

As I read both Schein’s and Dixon’s views on dialogue this week, I was making connections back to two of the more influential authors I’ve read during my coursework in this program — Jane Vella and Jaron Lanier. As often happens when I think about Lanier’s work, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how to integrate his views on language, communication, and how we process information with what Schein and Dixon say, so I will start with the connections I made to the work of Jane Vella.

Dialogue and Education

In her book, On Teaching and Learning, Vella introduced me to dialogue education, which she defines as “a state of mind, moving us to listening, respecting, doubting, reflecting, designing, affirming, considering options, and celebrating opposites” (p. 11).

The dialogue Vella advocates is not between teacher and student, but amongst the learners, one of whom is also the teacher. However, Vella is quick to note that this is not a learner-centered model, but a learning-centered model. As with much of what I read about dialogue from Schein and Dixon, it is about creating the process by which decisions can be made, problems can be addressed, or as Vella would advocate, learning can be achieved. The teacher or consultant takes on the role of facilitator rather than expert, leaving the real work to be done by those participating in the dialogue.

A Safe Environment

According to Vella, “dialogue education springs from a place of goodness, integrity, and commitment to equity” (p. xii). Only in such an environment are learners willing to share their experiences as freely as they are to admit to their questions. How many times have you stifled a question because you didn’t feel safe to ask it?

Both Dixon and Schein discuss the notion of safety as a cornerstone of creating successful dialogue. Dixon describes the outcome of dialogue as unpredictable and warns that “if a forum is created in which dialogue can occur, it must be accepted that some of the beliefs that people hold sacred will be challenged” (p. 31). Her view is that dialogue is a relationship “in which the other is valued, trusted, and an equal whose ideas are respected if not always agreed with” (p. 28).

Schein speaks to this idea of the safe environment more from a perspective of creating equality within the group by incorporating basic group dynamic principles:

  • Group members need to feel equal in that setting even if there are status differences outside of that setting
  • Group members should be given equal time to speak and contribute to the discussion (although once the actual dialogue starts, Schein says it is okay to “suspend” or refrain from talking if you are taking note of how you are processing the dialogue in terms of your own tacit assumptions and are open to hearing differing opinions)
  • Group members will likely need to draw on personal experience to begin to frame the idea of dialogue (p. 206)

This last point reminded me of what Vella calls induction or “anchoring the new content into their context” (p. 62). Dixon points out that dialogue is not an unfamiliar idea. She and Schein both base their theories on the assumption that everyone can recall a time when they had good communication. It is from that shared understanding that they build their theories about how dialogue can be brought into the workplace.

The Collective Good

Is the group greater than the sum of its parts? Schein states that “an important goal of dialogue is to enable the group to reach a higher level of consciousness and creativity” (p. 203), and Dixon talks about how through dialogue “the result is likely to be an understanding of the issue that is richer, more integrated, and more creative than any one individual… is likely to produce” (Johnson and Johnson as cited in Dixon, p. 35).

While Vella feels that the responsibility for learning always lies with an individual, she says that “learning is supported and nourished by the small group” (p. 67). In her discussion of learning tasks, she says it’s not about the group working together to complete the task as much as it is about creating learning for all through the task (p. 68). This echos the idea of promotive interaction — “individuals encouraging and facilitating each other’s efforts to achieve, complete tasks, and produce in order to reach the groups’ goals” (Johnson and Johnson as cited in Dixon, p. 18).

Preview of Part 2

This idea of the collective good is where I think I may start when I tackle the post about integrating Schein’s and Dixon’s theories of dialogue with Lanier’s feelings about collective wisdom. And I will be remiss if I don’t take the opportunity to springboard off Schein’s discussion of naming (and the platypus story) to share Lanier’s views on communication, computationalism, reality… and cephalopods. (How’s that for a teaser!)


Dixon, N. M. (1996). Perspectives on dialogue. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Posted by on November 3, 2013 in ADLT 610


Tags: ,

Those Who Can… Do. Those Who Can’t… Consult?

You’ve probably heard that title phrase before, whether in relation to consulting, teaching, or coaching. But is that really a fair statement that consultants (teachers or coaches) can’t do the task? Or is it that they shouldn’t be doing, but rather helping others to do.

Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner at Connecticut-based Schaffer Consulting recently asked a group of MBA students to define what it means to be a consultant. He says, “they quickly rattled off phrases such as ‘trusted advisor,’ ‘problem-solver,’ ‘objective 3rd party,’ and ‘subject matter expert.’ What was interesting was that none of their definitions mentioned the word ‘results.'”

At first glance, that omission seems to be okay within the confines of what I’ve learned so far about the particular type of consulting known as process consulting. The idea behind process consulting, as Schein says, is “how powerful it is not to tell people what to do, but to create a situation where they have to think it through for themselves.” Schein postulates that the client should own both the problem and the solution. “At the core of this [Process Consulting] model is the philosophy that clients must be helped to remain proactive, in the case of retaining both the diagnostic and remedial initiative” (p. 20). But does this really mean that the consultant is off the hook for what does or doesn’t come from their work?

In Flawless Consulting, Peter Block takes a very direct approach in terms of the consultant’s role. “Your responsibility as a consultant is to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible and to complete the task of each of the phases of the consultation” (p. 50). He says that taking on responsibility for tasks that belong to the client are detrimental to the consulting process. “In the final analysis, you [the consultant] are not responsible for the use of your expertise and recommendations. If consultants really believe that they should be responsible for implementing their recommendations, they should immediately get jobs as line managers and stop calling themselves consultants” (p. 46).

Let’s go back to Ashkenas’ notion that “shielding of consultants from the responsibility to achieve results is potentially dangerous both to the consultants and to the managers who hire them.” This would seem to be in direct conflict with Block’s approach. And yet, if we really dig into what Ashkenas see as “results,” we find a concept that he, Block, and Schein can all agree on.

Ashkenas says the consultant’s work should “focus more on what’s possible and has the best chance of making an impact – instead of on what’s theoretically ‘right.'” Block says consultants need to “understand enough about the politics of the situation to see how it will affect your project and the implementation of your recommendations.” And, I believe, both of these ideas are echoed in Schein’s second principle — always stay in touch with current reality — which takes into account that “current assumptions and perceptions create that reality and how they [consultants and clients] should best deal with that reality in terms of the client’s intentions to improve the situation” (p. 6). Therefore, the result that consultants should be held accountable for is to deliver a recommendation that is achievable given the current environment and constraints.

This all hits home for me as we start planning for our initial meeting with our client this weekend. What will we actually be offering the client? A plan? A solution? Something even more tangible such as a new website? What does the client think we’re offering? What deliverable will have the best chance of making an impact? How can we begin to discover the politics that might affect the implementation? What should we be listening for to begin to piece together the current reality?

It seems to me that doing something — creating a new website or writing press releases about upcoming shows — might be easier. But if we don’t bring the client through the process with us such that he understands how to keep driving traffic to the website or how to write a compelling press release, then we’ve failed in our attempts to help our client. Consulting takes “doing” to the next level and leaves the clients with the tools to do for themselves.

I started with a quote that was not so flattering, so I shall leave you with one that is much more flattering, and to my mind, much closer to the truth.



Posted by on September 28, 2013 in ADLT 610



The Connection Between Consulting and Education

I have spent much of the last four years making connections between my marketing career and my academic pursuits in adult education. While I wondered at first if pursuing an M.Ed. after a 20 year career in marketing “was a hard left-hand turn down a completely new path,” I soon realized the myriad similarities. So it is again that I find myself trying try to wrap my head around the connection between consulting and education.

A few weeks before class started, I came across an interview with Dan McGinn, Senior Editor for Harvard Business Review, who wrote an essay entitled “Inside Consulting’s Black Box.”  During the interview, McGinn mentions a book by Martin Kihn who worked for a few years at Booz Allen, one of the big consulting firms. According to McGinn,

The book actually sheds a lot of light on the [consulting] industry… and [Kihn] really does describe what it’s like to live the life where you wake up at the crack of dawn on Monday, your suitcase is all ready, and you fly into some company you know nothing about and work really hard to try to figure out something smart to tell these people.

Exactly… and what does this have to do with adult education?

Peter Block says, “Your goal or end product in any consulting activity is some kind of change.”  And change is something I can easily connect to education. Change often requires the input of new information and some type of implementation phase where you get comfortable with what is new.

But change is scary, and let’s face it… who among us feels they handle change well? I admit, I don’t always. And yet I have been drawn to this field of adult education where things are changing so rapidly that one of the most talked about forces in education today — MOOCs — only came on the scene five years ago.

So how do I as an educator — consultant — facilitate change? How do I get someone comfortable with change — which has been described as “often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving“?


I don’t know. But I’m here to find out.


Posted by on September 7, 2013 in ADLT 610


Tags: , ,

How Do You Know When It’s Good?

I have always been a decent student.  I was in National Honor Society in high school and graduated cum laude from college.  To date, I have a 4.0 in my graduate studies.  But what do all those honors mean in terms of what I’ve learned?  And what should my take aways be from my academic achievements now that the student is becoming the instructional designer?

Over the past several years, I’ve written about evaluation and assessment one, two, three times at least.  It’s a topic I enjoy revisiting, so it seemed appropriate that I choose this question to answer with my final reflective blog for this particular course – What is the standard process for project evaluation?

My short answer is – there is no standard process.  Or an even shorter answer – it depends.

My long answer goes like this.  There are countless ways to look at a program in terms of its effectiveness: Are there measurable learning objectives? Is the content appropriate to achieve the objectives? How is technology used to enhance learning?  Is there a logical flow between modules?  Are the choices of assessment tools suitable to measure the learning objectives?  Is tech support available when needed?  How is formative assessment used to improve the learning during the course?  How is summative assessment used (if an assessment is given as an end result and never viewed with an eye toward how it can be used to improve learning or teaching, has there been a bigger opportunity missed?)? Is the assessment authentic (meaning that it demonstrates you understand “both the products and the processes of learning.”)?

For every question, there are myriad resources available to provide guidance to the struggling new instructional designer.  One of the most often-cited tools is the Chico Rubric for Online Instruction (ROI) which is designed to answer the question, “What does high-quality online instruction look like?”  Far be it from me to tear down a highly esteemed tool, but I’m not a huge fan of the ROI.

With the Chico ROI, the three rankings seem to start from the assumption that the lowest ranking is acceptable by using the term baseline.  However, if you read some of the descriptions for the baseline level, you’ll see phrases such as “not aligned to learning objectives” and “limited or no activities to help students develop critical thinking.”  Other baseline rankings feel more appropriate to be deemed a starting point such as “New teaching methods are applied to enhance student learning” and “Assessment strategies are used to measure content knowledge, attitudes and skills.”  It is difficult to determine if a baseline ranking is really all that bad or just allows for improvement.

So I went on the hunt for other program evaluation tools, and I discovered that even experienced learning professionals are looking for a checklist or rubric that can be used to assess the quality of the instructional design.  Like the Chico ROI, many resources are free to use; however, I did discover one that cost $500 on top of a Continuing and Professional Education membership that cost over $3,000!  For that much money, that rubric ought not only to provide a score but also a 20 page report that details suggestions for improvement!  I kept hunting…

I found tools that simply captured YES/NO answers, offered guidance for specific letter grades, and one that used a spectrum between “action oriented materials” and “information dump.”

Spectrum rubric

After hours of research, I felt no closer to finding a standard process for how to evaluate a program’s effectiveness than when I started.  At this point, I turned my search inward and asked myself if the classes I’ve been taking recently have been good, and if so, how do I know that?  Call it intuition or maybe even a gut-check rubric, but I can say without a doubt that – at least for me – these classes have provided some phenomenal learning opportunities.

Was it because the learning objectives and instructional and assessment activities were closely aligned?  Maybe.  Did the courses offer ample opportunities for interaction and communication student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content?  Yes, but it was more than that.  I know good learning is happening because, just as I did when I wrote my final reflection for ADLT 606, “as I sit down to write this reflective essay, I am thinking back not only on what I’ve learned in this course, but on how what I’ve learned in this course has brought up some of the themes I’ve been thinking about over the last two [now three] years.”  They call that transfer of learning, right?

While one of my classmates accurately pointed out that “sometimes what is modeled doesn’t transfer until the course is long over,” I’ve been fortunate to find ways to model what I’m learning now as well as revisit what I’ve learned before and incorporate it into my new learning.  My efforts have been acknowledged by my professors, but (and I mean no disrespect) it’s been my own words that have rewarded me by showing how much I have learned over the past few years and how well I weave my academic learning into every aspect of my life.

So for me, it is not so much transferring what I learned into my own teaching practice right now as it is about paying attention to these practices in other areas – such as the recent trend in gamification in marketing, the move toward mobile technologies, and questions surrounding analytics to assess ROI on social media – and applying what I have learned in this class to understand how to answer the questions that surround these topics in a different context. (ADLT 640 Final Self-Assessment)

Through self-assessments and especially through my reflective blogging practice, I am proving to myself that I am establishing significant learning.


Posted by on May 8, 2013 in ADLT 642