Learning from the “Experts”

“This can’t be done here. We don’t learn this way.” That was the host’s response when I asked him if we could arrange the chairs in a circle for a training event, instead of leaving them in neat rows.

I went on to suggest that this arrangement would encourage dialogue, which was critical to the success of our training. Thirty church leaders were coming to learn from the “experts,” replied the host. This seating (and learning) arrangement wouldn’t be familiar to them.

I’m sure he was right: they weren’t familiar with this arrangement. But could it be done? Could they learn in an unfamiliar (to them) way?

Adults will gain a greater level of commitment to ideas—especially new ideas—when they are led to discover information for themselves, rather than simply being told what to do. When adults are given the opportunity to express their own experiences and opinions, they are honored, valued, and empowered to make the learning experience relevant to their own particular needs and situation.

During this training we left the room in a more formal style for the first couple sessions. After I began to ask questions that required discussion, we found that the participants were struggling to interact. During a break, the host agreed to rearrange the chairs into a circle, allowing participants to more easily engage with one another.

The results?

Every participant returned every day for the seminar, and they stayed engaged the entire time, something the host said he had never seen happen before. They all discovered the transformative effects of dialogue education! When learners are invited to engage their hearts and minds during the learning process, they not only retain more information, they assimilate the material in a way that doesn't happen when they are mere recipients of lecture notes.

Being an effective teacher is less about being an expert and more about being a facilitator of a dialogue that empowers participants to discover truth for themselves, trusts them to grab hold of relevant material that relates to their current needs, and encourages them to make the material their own, equipping them to carry the message boldly into their own communities and nations.


To learn more about dialogue education, check out Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach by Jane Vella.