Two years ago, my family bought land north of the city. Laboring with hand tools quickly proved futile, so we acquired a tractor. The tractor’s job is to push dirt around to flatten the land for a future orchard. The challenge is that the dirt is filled with large rocks, glacial erratic boulders to be precise, so it is hard to push that dirt around. You come at a mound from the side, and it takes repeated back and forth shoving and dragging to make any headway.
It would be a lot easier if we could grab the boulders from the above and pull them up and out of the dirt.
The image of putting the throttle to “rabbit mode” and ramming at mother earth with an iron claw came to mind as I was explaining instructional design. Rather than pushing through information from start to finish, it would be a lot more effective to come down from above and lift the meaningful parts up and into daylight. Give people the chance to see the whole picture from the start. That way they know what they might find as they dig deeper into what you have to offer.
What does this look like?
When starting to plan a presentation or instructional design project, use a large scroll of paper to avoid the arbitrary hierarchy that can develop when writing a list on regular paper. Use the full lateral space to keep track of ideas and categorize them into buckets only after you have completed your research. See an example below.
When presenting, consider language that explains the buckets up front. Here’s an example.
Create graphics that show the buckets very clearly. See examples below.
Pushing dirt is really hard work. Covering vast information is taxing to the presenter and the person trying to make sense of it all. Here’s to working less and being more fruitful in the process.
FUN was the first toolkit created in what became a series: Boards in Gear, Let’s Go Legal, Strategic Planning in Nonprofits, etc. (They are all here.) It set the structure that we continue to follow. The architecture of FUN proved to be successful. In short, we put the content expert onto a short video that can be used in the three places people learn, alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms. We supplemented with downloadable resources. FUN became the curriculum used in a state contract all over Washington.
FUN has become one of my favorite traveling companions as I deliver the training in communities large and small. What have I learned from my loyal friend, FUN?
“Going to scale” forces new solutions. We based FUN on an in-person training delivered in Seattle several times a year. At the time, a leader in our community implored me to address financial concerns plaguing nonprofits: many were losing their IRS status for failing to file, and fraud was nipping away the resources our nonprofits needed to thrive. “Run a training,” I was told. There are more than 50,000 nonprofits in Washington, thus roughly 500,000 board members who need to be trained. Where should I put that training? How will training the 50 or so people who come have any impact? The result was a blended learning solution that puts the CPA on video, thus not necessarily in every training room or living room where someone is learning from FUN.
Play in the sandbox of emotion in design and delivery. At the time we created FUN, another organization offered a finance workshop with marketing language that referenced dental surgery, something like: “Do you think finance is as fun as getting a root canal? Its painful but important.” I was the only person to sign up. We took the predominant emotion many people feel with finance— fear— and both honored it and flipped it into comfort and joy. An improv actor joined the CPA on film, introducing both laughter and simplified explanations into the story. The BINGO introduced a framework everyone knows. Since storytelling is inate to us humans, we practice income statement reading with my favorite activity ever, a “Once upon a time” storytelling exercise.
Communications is a key part of curriculum design. Early on in the development of FUN, our communications partner drew a clothesline with rectangles hanging off of it. Our job was to take all of the content we generated and sort it into boxes that would hang from a central thread, essentially our thesis. This approach moved us from pushing throughcontent to observing it from above. That bird’s eye view led us to five buckets. It was so successful that “chunking” became a standard part of our instructional design process.
We created FUN to train board members across Washington about finance. Along the way, we learned ourselves what works when teaching courageous volunteers with little free time who want to do right by their organizations. Happy birthday, FUN!
I recently presented at a conference with someone who has lived and breathed grantwriting for a long time. We were working over our presentation, and I found myself in the same conversation I often find myself in with experts in the field. “They need to understand this. And this. And this. And this. And this.” The thises go on and on, and I get lulled as one does when Ferris Bueller’s teacher states his absent student’s name over and over and over in a monotone voice.
Chunk to the rescue. “Bottom line: What five things do we need people to know to be better grantwriters?” There are countless things that these newcomers to grantwriting could and possibly should know. But if we are going to move them forward, we are going to need to prioritize and simplify. Our message is better heard and internalized when we amplify these five bottom line nuggets and modulate our voice around information that pushes more experienced practitioners in their practice. In education-ese, that’s scaffolding: “Using a variety of instructional techniques to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.” Imagine a room full of people walking up ladders with five rungs, each one placed at just the right height to move them comfortably upward.
As I have shared Chunk Flip Guide Laugh with people thinking about how to better teach adults, Chunk has emerged as the superhero of learning. “Your chunking approach had me rethink the book I am writing…. I came back on a mission to make sure every chapter zeros in on 3 to 5 ideas.”
Simplicity can be revolutionary. Let the chunking begin.
We often don’t think about why we do what we do until well after we have done it. Such was the case with Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh, an educational approach that I have subconsciously been developing over the past 15 years without an intentional focus on the purpose behind it. It took a colleague’s request that I share my thoughts with others for me to take the time and write them down.
In reflection, Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh resulted from a chunking process on the plane ride out to that talk. It was the end of the training season, and I was tired. I hadn’t packed any supporting materials and had no intention of doing a powerpoint. I asked myself: Bottom line, what do they need to know about my approach to education? Chunk became a part of my professional vocabulary after a graduate school leadership professor spent a quarter talking about how we needed to “chunk the work.” Flip is commonly associated with the “flipped classroom” and Khan academy. Guide and Laugh flowed naturally from our work with rubrics (which we call “pathways” as a friendlier word) and humor to break up such serious subjects. The notes I scribbled on that plane ride became the basis for more thinking on how we teach so adults can learn.