Transformative Learning is all about Practice & Connection

The making of an amazing online course

Richard D. Bartlett
Feb 9 · 5 min read
Nati playing with post-it notes on the floor
Nati playing with post-it notes on the floor

Nati and I are putting the finishing touches on the course design for our guided learning program: Patterns for Decentralised Organising. I’m feeling totally jazzed because I reckon this will be our best training yet. In this post I wanna share some of the details about our pedagogy and curriculum in case you’re curious about how and what we teach.

Approach

In an earlier post I explained the pedagogical approach we were using for our face-to-face workshops in 2017, based on the neuroscience of learning explained in Sharon Bowman’s excellent book Training From the Back of the Room.

Essentially our job is to help you to:

  • connect with your existing knowledge on the topic
  • engage with new concepts in small memorable chunks
  • connect with other learners
  • and practice new skills and behaviours

Over the past 18 months we’ve been evolving this approach to make the best use of the unique attributes of online learning.

Image for post
Image for post

So here’s the plan for our upcoming program:

  • The course content is broken down into 8 modules. Each module includes video, readings, case studies, and exercises: this is homework you do on your own. You could speed through a module in 30 minutes, or spend a few hours going deep into all the resources and practices.
  • You join a 20–30 person cohort supported by 2 facilitators (me and Nati). This intimate size means people can really open up and get to know each other. One of the most rewarding parts of our work is watching meaningful relationships and new collaborations form between course participants.
  • The cohort meets for 90 minutes per week for 6 weeks. We use these calls primarily for embodied practices, an opportunity to experience participatory group processes first-hand. This is about integrating the concepts and turning them into concrete skills & behaviours.
  • Optionally, you can also join a learning pod of 3–5 people, who meet for another hour each week. This is an extra opportunity to experience more group practices and get deeper feedback on your specific challenges.
  • Deeper detailed questions & answers happen in a written forum, so we have all the time in the world to answer every conceivable question. This is also a space where participants can coordinate and connect with each other outside of the live calls.

We’ve chosen this combination of different media and formats to make the most of each channel. Frankly, the two most common meeting formats (presentations and Q&A) are just about the least valuable things you can do with an engaged group of learners on a live call. Instead, we move the conceptual material into an asynchronous channel (video & text) where it is accessible at your own pace, and we use the live calls almost exclusively for practice and connection.

We’re pretty confident in this approach because we get feedback like this:

“THANK YOU for creating and shaping the space for such dispersed humans to be together. It’s truly been transformative. I go into the world with new skills, new confidence, and new tools for listening and shaping space for others.”

— Prem Krishnamurthy, Artistic Director, FRONT International 2022

photo of Prem Krishnamurti
photo of Prem Krishnamurti

Content

So that explains “how” we do what we do — please let me know if you’ve got suggestions for improving our pedagogical approach. If you are curious about “what” we teach, I’ll explain that next:

The course is called Patterns for Decentralised Organising. We work with organisations who are trying to be more collaborative, self-managing, participatory, networked, horizontal, and developmental. From our point of view, there’s no easy answer for how to achieve this, there’s no readymade blueprint for you to copy. We think the best structure for your organisation is unique: it depends on your context, history, purpose, values, people, culture, sector, and a hundred other factors. At the same time, you don’t need to start from scratch and invent something from a blank canvas. Instead, we offer “patterns”. These are like lego blocks, modular pieces that can be reconfigured and adapted to your context.

Our course curriculum covers tools and practices to address the most common challenges we encounter in self-managing teams:

  • Decision Making: access collective intelligence with efficient methods for inclusive decision-making
  • Rhythms & Priorities: stay aligned on priorities and distribute tasks between team members
  • Conflict & Feedback: develop interpersonal skills to be more confident to hold difficult conversations
  • Mutual Care & Growth: create a psychologically safe culture where everyone feels cared for
  • Continuous Improvement: get the habit of consistent & intentional learning in individuals and teams
  • Power Dynamics: understand how to navigate the complex status dynamics that emerge in all groups

The concepts are supported by group practices that you can try with us and then bring back into your organisation, for example:

  • How to give useful feedback to your peers
  • Peer-coaching processes to help each other get unstuck on challenges
  • Unpacking the deeper stories we attach to money
  • Specific methods for cultivating psychological safety in teams
  • How to treat our differences as a resource, rather than a source of conflict

Our background

We’ve been working in self-managing organisations for over a decade, so all our lessons come from direct personal experience of the challenges of working without a command-and-control management hierarchy. Our journey started in activist groups, then we went on to establish the tech co-op Loomio and co-lead the social enterprise network Enspiral.

We spent 4 years travelling the world, working with decentralised organisations from Brazil to Korea and many countries in between. We’ve supported 1000s of people in our face-to-face workshops. The pandemic put an end to our travels, so we spent the last year learning how to create transformative online courses.

We’re only going to run this Guided Learning course twice this year, so don’t miss out! Next cohort starts March 11th.

Find out more and register here

“Nati & Rich have done an amazing job of simply articulating the complexity of decentralised organising. Their ability to do this is rooted in a depth of practical experience that shines through in the beautiful content they’ve created. We’ve loved going through the videos each week as a team, in tandem with coaching calls full of nuggets of inspiration and wisdom from their years of experience. This course has done a great job of equipping me with the knowledge, processes and practices to bring decentralised organising into my work in a whole new way.”

— Daniel Ford, Senior Strategist, Forum for the Future

“This was the perfect way to equip our team with tools to overcome challenges of organising in a decentralised and value-driven way. Rich and Nati guided the journey with commitment and positivity at every step and supported us with their vast experience and knowledge. The atmosphere of safety and trust they created was inspiring and set the tone for our follow-up plans.”

— Irem Tumer, United Nations Population Fund

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