Inclusion and Transformation at ITLC

Written by Trevor Cox, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Organizational Leadership, Adult Education and Safety Sciences


Photo of Columbia University Teacher's College, NYCFor me, the beginnings of a transformative experience is when I have new questions — questions I had never thought about before and questions I do not quite have the answer to yet. So I want to share some of the new questions I gained at the International Transformative Learning Conference (ITLC), because I think they are questions we all can benefit from as educators.

I had the opportunity to attend ITLC in November 2018 with several colleagues from UCO. This was my first time attending and presenting at the conference, and I was excited for the unique perspective of the conference itself.

Located on the campus of Teacher’s College at Columbia University, this year’s conference was the 20th anniversary of the conference. In a way, it felt a bit like a Transformative Learning pilgrimage: taking the New York City red line subway, walking the beautiful orange, red, and yellow tree-lined streets of Riverside Park, then finally entering into the very building where Jack Mezirow did his TL work.

I had several questions going in: Will the conference be true to transformative learning? Will it be any different than other conferences I have been to?

Most of the conferences I go to are leadership conferences. They are the traditional conference format where there are multiple options to sit through where 3 or 4 people take 10 minutes to run through a paper they wrote. The conference had these options for sure (which raises some questions about the traditional system of research and conferences, but we don’t have space for that here), but a majority of the sessions I attended were creating space for transformation.

You always wonder in a setting like this: Do the people who we rely on in research actually put it into practice? As I sat with some of the “big names” in the field, it was encouraging to see the ways these scholars and practitioners were putting transformative learning into practice.


An Open and Honest Conversation

One of the standouts of the conference to me was an interesting moment at the first morning keynote. ITLC had formed an inclusion committee trying to think about how the conference itself could be more inclusive. After a quick skit of how to welcome new community members (the highlight of which was the acting of UCO’s own Dr. Ed Cunliff), the chair of the committee went on to share the feedback they had received about the conference itself.

This was striking because much of the feedback was about the ways people did not feel included. I found this to be so refreshing – an open and honest conversation about the realities of the ways things are done and the actual experiences of the people participating. Not too many conferences begin with a PowerPoint describing some of their flaws. The inclusion committee then explained how they were working to address the feedback they had received, and how they were going to continue to listen to the participants’ perspectives.

Sessions of Questions

One of my own primary research areas is inclusion, so I attended several sessions which were in that realm. The first was a group of professors from a social justice and transformative learning based institution doing research around the question: Are we really as inclusive as we think we are? They talked about how social justice, inclusion, and transformation were a part of the way they talked about the school, but they had been tasked with asking students: Do you experience that here? As it turned out, many did not and so the research group was also part of the task force to address the issue.

Another session asked questions about the way we teach students about privilege. We were walked through all of the traditional ways of teaching about privilege, then asked about what it felt like to go through those experiences and then collectively critiqued the effectiveness of these methods.

Finally, I went to a session on inclusive leadership and we were led through a heartfelt discussion on what the experience of inclusion was like and began to identify the ways our identities exclude or include us in various settings. Tears were shed and we were all given the space to be honest about our fears in different settings and what prevents true authenticity.

Conference Reflections

Photo of Dr. Trevor Cox

As I reflected on what I needed to walk away with from the conference, I realized this strong theme of making sure we are listening to the voices of others, specifically those we are educating.

I realized this strong theme of making sure we are listening to the voices of others, specifically those we are educating.

We can easily begin to convince ourselves that we are transformative educators or educators who seek to include everyone. But are we really? And how do we know?

Even if we are genuinely gifted educators who have a track record of transformation, or inclusion, or whatever kind of education we value, we still need to be listening to the voices of our students and a broader range of voices informing our practice. We need to know that our educational and even institutional practices are doing what we hope they are doing. And the only way to do that is continually ask the people with whom we are engaging.

My new questions that I want to share with you are: How do we continually put things in place to make sure we genuinely hear the voices of our students when it comes to their experience of us in the classroom? Are we willing to create that kind of space? Are we willing to hear what they have to say? What are their experiences in our classrooms really like?

My time at ITLC opened me to these questions both by the experiences I was able to have, but also by observing people I greatly respect model the willingness to answer these questions well. As I continue to reflect on the conference and ask these important questions, my hope is that the answers I receive will serve as further disorienting dilemmas to continue to transform me as an educator.

Hacking the Transformative Experience

Written by Jeff King, Ed.D. –

In Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal (2017) survey various fast-tracking methods to transformative experiences. It is little wonder in a fast-lane culture that humans, especially in a high-tech age, would seek tools and processes to shave off as much time and effort as possible along the way to the Great A-ha.

Stealing Fire Book Cover

Are there any hacks for Transformative Learning that could work in our classrooms?


Near the end of their book, Kotler and Wheal (2017) offer a cost-benefit equation for hacking transformation (p. 211):

Value = Time x Reward/Risk

Translated, this means one must gauge the potential reward against the risk while also factoring in how long the transformation-prompting process will take.

The authors’ categorization for potential routes to fast-tracked deep insight yields processes built on psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology. Using the cost-benefit equation above, if one places a high value on transformative insights, then the extreme end of the continuum representing the algorithm would be that the experience is so highly valued that any short-cut possible to reduce the time to get to the experience at any risk is worth it.

Pharmacologically, an example might be someone taking unsupervised LSD trips, courting psychological damage, while considering the risk worth it.

The other end of the continuum might be the highly cautious seeker who opts for ten years in a monastery as the route to master that brain- and mind-state necessary for a blissfully transformative realization, an example of a neurobiological approach.

Neither LSD trips nor monastic retreats are particularly manageable in the college classroom. On the other hand, helping students get into a flow state (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) is a potential route in the classroom to help students toward transformation. In such a case, the risk is far lower, though the guarantee of ecstasis is iffy, at best. Still, seeking flow by building a learning environment that supports it is good practice no matter how frequently or infrequently students get into flow or reach ecstasis.

Ecstasis, incidentally, is the word the ancient Greeks used to signify “stepping beyond oneself” (Kotler & Wheal, 2017, p. 11). It was a highly valued ability, and the famous tale of Alcibiades, who stole kykeon, an apparent hallucinogen, for a party attended by, among others, Greek historian Plutach, ends badly for party-boy Alcibiades. His bright idea that his party would be memorable for the group bliss-out that would ensue offered the opportunity for political rivals to have him tried in absentia for a crime punishable by death — that of blaspheming the Mysteries, an initiation ritual into transformative states.

One realizes how important the route to a transformative state was to the Greeks when considering that the Mysteries were lauded by the likes of Plato and Pythagoras, who referred to them as essential to the launch of insights underpinning the world of forms and the music of the spheres, respectively. Cicero described them as the mechanism allowing one to “perceive the real principles of life, and learn not only how to live in joy, but also to die in better hope” (Cicero, as quoted in Kotler and Wheal, 2017, p. 2).

So the Greeks were on to something with this quest for transformative states, and they were willing to participate in a 9-day ritual that would put them there. The Mysteries, however, are also not a practical method in the college classroom.


And that gets us back to flow, Csikszentmihalyi’s term for a highly focused mental state. One key characteristic of such a state is that the learner (whether in a formal education setting or not) has moved into a mental space such that distractions do not cut through, certainly a plus in the classroom. In addition, learners’ sense of time can be lost — what may seem only minutes in duration is actually an hour, so focused are the students on the topic or the work at hand.

Don Wettrick (2017) has four suggestions for inducing flow in the classroom. You can find them here. The first, teaching students mindfulness techniques such a focus on breathing for a minute or two at the start of class, is good for students in many ways, and pays dividends far beyond two minutes’ worth of class time devoted to this practice instead of ‘covering the content.’

After all, if you successfully facilitate a flow-state environment in your classroom, it is absolutely the case that students will accomplish more in 58 minutes than in a non-flow-state hour.

One thing Wettrick does not mention regarding flow state induction, but which is a great resource here at the University of Central Oklahoma, is the labyrinth. If as a faculty member you want/need a little personal stress relief and mindful focus, walk the labyrinth in the beautiful outdoor setting on our campus.



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Kotler, S., & Wheal, J. (2017). Stealing fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Wettrick, D. (2017, March 28). Flow states: Ecstasis in the classroom? Retrieved October 19, 2018, from

Visual Planning Tools for Transformative Learning, Change, and Innovation

Written by Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D. –


I recently had the privilege of working with a group of professionals who are focused on engaging members of an association. This group initially reached out for help with understanding their current strategic practices and determining how to build on their strengths.

When we began working together, we realized there were several themes we needed to address. In this article, I want to share these three ideas with you and provide an introduction to three visual frameworks that you can use in your classrooms, courses, teams, departments, and organizations.

Pillars of Growth

As an educator, I’m constantly exploring new ways of helping people. Sometimes this means directing people to information. Other times it means challenging them. Most of the time it means creating environments where they can be at their best. Creating environments for transformation is an emerging area of research that has major implications for planning, design, facilitation, and evaluation of learning.

This task of creating environments for transformation is not unlike what great leaders do to energize their teams and position their organizations for the future.

In the introduction story I shared, these association professionals were really focused on growing three activities needed to serve their members in transformative ways: learning, change, and innovation.


Vijay Govindaragan, author of The Three Box Solution states, “learning always precedes innovation.” This is an important statement for us to remember. In order for innovation or change to happen, we must create the conditions that help people learn.

In order for innovation or change to happen, we must create the conditions that help people learn.

The Learning Canvas is a tool that organizes essential elements for learning in a visual plan. The canvas is organized around the learning goal. This template uses a transformative learning perspective that aims to energize, prepare, and help learners perform. Each box provides a placeholder for creativity within a broader learning design framework.

This canvas can be used to quickly organize and implement learning initiatives and support alignment between outcomes and strategies.


Change is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how comfortable we are in our current state-of-mind, we will be faced with managing change. For many people, change comes with a negative tone. After all, change is probably so difficult because we don’t often know what the change will bring.

A key part of helping people manage change is helping them see and engage with the plan for change.

The Change Canvas is a tool for organizing a change process. This process can be used for individuals, teams, or even organizational initiatives. The real value in using this tool is it takes the invisible aspects of the change process, and makes them more relate-able and concrete. This helps people become owners of the change and manage the change to positive outcomes.

The Change Canvas provides a template for organizing ideas and framing groups of people around a common mental model for the change process.


Innovation is a transformative process. In order for innovation to happen, a strong capacity for learning and change must be present. This happens in teams and organizations, but it also happens individually.

Innovation is a term that sometimes has an identity crisis. Innovation is about creating value. True innovation is not just about creating something new, but rather how that new idea, object, or process creates value for people.

The Innovation Canvas provides a framework for managing a portfolio of innovations while helping to ensure innovation is connected to a mission. This 4-phase model of

  1. think it,
  2. try it,
  3. build it,
  4. scale it,

is a cycle that aligns innovations based on their innovation dynamics, risk, and alignment to a mission.

This canvas provides a visual way of “seeing” the innovation process and invites people to engage.

Concluding Thoughts

If we want transformation to happen, we need to first consider the environments for learning, change, and innovation. Then, we need to leverage tools for helping people engage with these environments. The three visual templates shared in this article are a foundation that educators, team leaders, executives, and others can lean on to move ideas into action.

If you would like to learn more about how to use these tools, sign up for the free course titled, Leading Up: Strategies for Accelerating Innovation. You’ll learn how to select, use, and apply these tools in your life.

Education for Sustainability

Written by Eric Hemphill, M.Ed. –

“Climate change is real. It’s out there. It’s our fault. It will be difficult to mitigate the effects, and even more difficult to reverse them. CO2 levels have reaching blah blah blah parts per million blah blah blah since blah blah blah year…”

This is how I started my first time teaching the Introduction to Sustainability Studies course at UCO. It was not well received.

How many of you, dear readers, in the above sentence found yourselves tuning out by the time I got to the word “reverse?” It’s okay. I get it. I’d probably be in your position as well. In fact, many of the students I have interacted with inside and outside the classroom would be in that position too.

It’s not surprising when you stop to consider what is actually happening there. I was starting a conversation about a very serious and global issue by zooming as far out as humanly (or globally) possible. The further I zoom out, the further from the individual I get, the less likely finding a solution becomes – particularly a solution that could ever possibly match the magnitude of the problem. I can see it in their faces, and, in some cases, in reflection papers and conversations that go something like this:

Me: “Yes, global warming is real. It’s big. It’s scary, it’s been happening over generations, it’s no one person’s fault, but it’s all of our responsibility to fix it.”

Student: “How do we fix it?”

Me: “We can start with individual actions.”

Student: “Like… recycling, or…?”

Me: “That’s a place to start.”

Student: “So… Just so I’m sure I understand… There is overwhelming evidence that global climate shifts are happening and that the effects could very well be catastrophic to our cities, animals, plants, and ourselves. These effects are already being seen and could very well threaten the livelihood and well-being of, say, my family and friends, and even Sparky, the family dog?”

Me: “True.”

Student: “And your proposed solution for this is the recycle plastic bottles?”

Me: “…”

Like the moment when Wile E. Coyote, in his pursuit of the Road Runner, runs past the edge of the cliff, I realized my mistake too late. There was little I could do but free fall straight to the canyon floor. Luckily, also like Mr. Coyote, I did not perish upon meeting the canyon floor, but, rather, was able to dust myself off, embarrassed, to try and convince a group of students that their habits matter in the pursuit of a more sustainable society.

Herein lies the rub of sustainability pedagogy from a transformative learning lens: How do we make students aware of the necessity of sustainability as a life choice in the face of climate change, without invoking post-apocalyptic, Day After Tomorrow-style language and imagery? In other words, how do we present students with a potential disorienting dilemma, without disorienting them to the point of inaction or a sense of futility?

…how do we present students with a potential disorienting dilemma, without disorienting them to the point of inaction or a sense of futility?


One strategy is to start small instead of big. In my class, I now try to start with individual behavior, and, through the course of the semester, work my way up to the issue of climate change as a culmination of individual behaviors, the built and natural environments, and policy making. This seems to work relatively well in that the student never gets too overwhelmed too fast, but it also feels a little bit like skirting the issue, doesn’t it? The headline is climate change and its potentially devastating effects, so why am I burying the lead?

The literature could lend some insight into this issue. The framework posited by Sipos, et al. (2008) stipulates that focusing on three main domains, head (cognitive), heart (affective), and hands (psychomotor), can help to guide the instructor in teaching sustainability. This is helpful for framing projects and developing curriculum, but still doesn’t get at the main problem I’m confronting. Brunstein and King (2018) advocate for using “organizing reflection to address collective dilemmas” in the area of sustainability education. In neither case are there any direct mentions of climate change, and this holds true in much of the sustainability pedagogical scholarship. It’s often glossed over, referred to as “environmental issues,” or added as a kind of understood reality or foundation for teaching sustainability.

This makes me think that maybe this is the only way to effectively teach for sustainability. Perhaps, for most students who are entering my Intro classroom as novice to mid-level sustainability advocates, the subject of climate change amounts to little more than an abstraction. This could make sense. It is difficult, as a thought experiment, to imagine the entire Earth spinning in space, and all the influences of climate (wind movement, oceanic pressure changes, glacial melt, greenhouse gases, sea levels, and others) swirling and moving around the Earth constantly, pushing and pulling and effecting just about every living thing.

So that’s where I am, I think. Climate change is hard to teach, and I haven’t found a good solution, and maybe this simply makes me a bad teacher, or I’m dwelling too much on it. But it seems like a perfectly legitimate question to ask, “How the heck we do this effectively?” given what we know about transformative learning theory, critical pedagogy, and eco-literacy. Surely, somewhere, in a tiny corner of the internet, someone has developed a strategy to combat this. Surely someone has struck the delicate balance between introducing disorientation, but not too much.

I’ll keep digging. I’d love to hear if anyone else has considered this, or found some solution or resource. If so, please comment below.



Brunstein, J., King, J. (2018). Organizing reflection to address collective dilemmas: Engaging students and professors with sustainable development in higher education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 203, pp. 153–163.

Sipos, Y., Battisti, B., Grimm, K. (2008). Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9(1), pp.68–86.

Employer Confidence in University Preparedness

Bar chart showing business executives' and hiring managers' survey responses to a question about whether they have confidence in the job colleges and universities are doing: 63% of both executives and hiring managers have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence.

Source: Fulfilling the American Dream: Liberal Education and the Future of Work — Selected Findings from Online Surveys of Business Executives and Hiring Managers, p. 5. Hart Research Associates survey conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2018, July). Available:

MHE 2018 Future Workforce Survey

Graph of student versus employer perception of skills

graphic from:

2018 Future Workforce Survey. (Spring 2018.) Students have a different perception of their skills than employers do. McGraw-Hill Education in conjunction with MMR Research Associates, p. 41. Accessed 12 July 2018 at

Research Regarding a Faculty TL Readiness Scale

Researcher Colleen Halupa, Associate Professor in the Doctor of Health Education program at A. T. Still University in Missouri, authored “Are Students and Faculty Ready for Transformative Learning?” (Halupa, 2017) to consider, among other things, how faculty could know whether they are personally ready (or perhaps inclined) to make the move to instructional strategies and the philosophy supporting Transformative Learning (TL). University of Central Oklahoma faculty may be interested to learn what Halupa says about reasons why faculty hold back from taking the TL plunge and may like to consider her “Transformative Learning Readiness Scale.”

Halupa says that both faculty and students must be ready to change to TL in order for the move to be most successful. UCO faculty, and probably faculty at any institution considering how to inculcate TL in their classes, have undoubtedly thought about and discussed some or all of the reasons identified in the article that easing into TL could be resisted by students: 1) enhanced critical thinking focus and student-centeredness requires more of students, and they won’t like the extra work, 2) students don’t know how to reflect on their learning and will resist because they just want to know what will be on the test, 3) active learning, peer-to-peer learning, and group work demand more of students, so they will rebel — and you can fill in your own continuing list, and you’ll probably include other of the reasons Halupa enumerates.

So worrying about potential student resistance becomes one reason why faculty can resist. Other reasons for faculty resistance, according to Halupa, are that changing one’s way of doing anything is disruptive and requires adjustment (in other words, it’s just plain irritating). On this point, Halupa refers to John Tagg’s (2012) statement that faculty resist change because they are human. (Faculty who attended John’s keynote and/or workshop at the 2018 Transformative Learning Conference can probably hear John’s voice speaking these words.)

Other reasons for faculty resistance are summarized from Lane’s (2007) writing and include department or disciplinary protection of curricular time, skepticism of educational theory or alternate pedagogies, not able to devote the needed time to designing and implementing the change, preference for an authoritarian teaching environment, and concerns that the switch will negatively affect student grades (with all the negative trickle-down from that, such as lower student end-of-term ratings).

As UCO has implemented the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) as its means of operationalizing TL, our own faculty have had to consider the issues raised above. The excellence of our faculty has resulted in strong, beneficial results when TL is made a part of the class, however, as shown in the double-digit increases in retention among students who do STLR-tagged assignments or activities and reflect on their learning. From a proof-in-the-pudding standpoint, faculty who have implemented STLR have overcome both student resistance and any hesitancies of their own as students have benefited both in terms of being more likely to remain in school as well as in terms of academic performance, as UCO’s large-N, p < .001 analyses show.

Rogers’ theory of adoption and diffusion (1962, with the book now in its 5th edition, 2003) posits a tipping point within populations for an innovation to take hold. When enough faculty and students overcome resistance to the TL-focused educational processes and strategies, Rogers’ tipping point is exceeded, and the innovation moves from being improbable to probable in terms of its acceptance. Halupa’s article provides some insights into the issues and conditions along the adoption-diffusion curve for TL in higher education.

Shown below is Halupa’s Transformative Learning Readiness Scale (2017, p. 19). Her citations refer to well-known references in TL — entering the name and date into an Internet search engine will quickly locate the resource.


Appendix B: Transformative Learning Readiness Scale

Faculty Personal Factors

Please answer the questions using the following Likert-type scale (which corresponds to the points allotted to the answer to each question).

1. Strongly Agree  2. Agree  3. Neutral  4. Disagree  5. Strongly Disagree

  1. I reflect on how I impart knowledge to others as an educator (Freire, 1973; Mezirow, 1990).
  2. I reflect on what I know (Freire, 1973; Mezirow, 1990).
  3. I reflect on what I do not know (Freire, 1973; Mezirow, 1990).
  4. I find I often do not know what I thought I knew (my beliefs have been challenged) (Freire, 1973; Mezirow, 1990).
  5. It is my job as an educator to deliver the information (Kitchenham, 2008).
  6. I know each of my student’s strengths (both academic and personal) (Kitchenham, 2008).
  7. I know each of my student’s weaknesses (both academic and personal) (Kitchenham, 2008).
  8. After I teach a course, I alter my curriculum based on what worked and did not work with that section of the class (Kitchenham, 2008).
  9. Student learning is of great concern to me (Kitchenham, 2008).
  10. I teach the way I do primarily for (Kitchenham, 2008):
    • Myself; I am the subject matter expert (5 points)
    • The most intelligent students in the room (4 points)
    • The struggling students (3 points)
    • The students in the middle who are not excelling nor struggling (2 points)
    • All students (1 point)


Score  Interpretation
0-25  Transformative
25-40  Somewhat transformative
41+  Traditional



Halupa, C. (2017). Are students and faculty ready for transformative learning? In J. M. Spector, J. M., et al. (Eds.). Learning, Design, and Technology: An International Compendium of Theory, Research, Practice and Policy. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-17727-4_70-1

Lane, I. F. (2007). Change in higher education: Understanding and responding to individual and organizational resistance. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 34(2), 85-92.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Tagg, J. (2012). Why does the faculty resist change? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 44(1), 6-15.

Three Ways to Grow a Learning Culture

At the Institute for Learning Environment Design, we recently launched a free email course titled Growing a Learning Culture. This course highlights a critical conversation we often encounter when working with teams and organizations to transform their learning environments.

We often find that when someone desires to implement new ways of learning, at the heart of this change is the capacity to learn.

All highly successful courses, companies, or communities share one thing in common: they have a culture that values learning and growth.

In this article, I highlight some of the core ideas contained in the Growing a Learning Culture course and offer three techniques you can use to grow a learning culture.

What is a Learning Culture?

For the purposes of this article, I define a learning culture as the interactions that create a set of norms for how a group of people think about and engage in learning experiences. For example, when teaching a course or workshop, what norms do you encourage (or discourage) about how people learn? What does it mean to be a “learner” in that environment?

The answers to these questions establish the default learning culture. If we are seeking to encourage a culture that values transformation, what activities do we support that encourages transformative learning processes? In contrast, if we value transformation, what artifacts in the environment signal more transactional approaches to learning (i.e. “learning” as a test-taking process).

The following sections of this article highlight three simple techniques you can use to begin growing a learning culture.

Diagram of 3 ways to grow a learning cultureTechnique #1: Be Intentional About the Learning Culture

Often times a culture emerges not because leaders were intentional about crafting and supporting a specific type of culture, but rather by accident. The first rule of growing a learning culture is to be intentional and clear about the learning culture you are seeking to grow.

You can begin this planning process by considering the following questions about learning cultures:

  • What assumptions are we making about how people learn?
  • What experiences are learners bringing with them?
  • What learning experiences does the environment reinforce or discourage?
  • What is celebrated?

Technique #2: Map the Learning Environment

With clear intentions about a learning culture established, it can be useful to explore the design of the learning environment. The learning environment is the spaces and places where people learn. If you are teaching a college course, this may include a physical classroom, but it may also include the digital learning management system, or other methods you may use to communicate with learners.

Spend some time to visually map out the learning environment. This process helps to take inventory of the make-up of the learning environment and changes that may need to be made to encourage specific types of learning experiences.

Technique #3: Celebrate Learning Artifacts that Reinforce the Learning Culture

Every culture creates artifacts that reinforce what it means to be in that culture. Think about what artifacts your learning culture creates. Does the culture value test scores? Does the learning culture value and celebrate work products? Does the culture not celebrate learning?

Spend some time creating a list of things your culture celebrates? Is learning one of those celebration points? One example of this can be examining what happens when a project or task goes wrong. A learning culture embraces those opportunities as learning moments (artifacts) and adapts a fail fast approach.

Within environments designed to encourage transformative learning, a learning culture should value change, transformation, and reflection. The artifacts that support and celebrate these elements reinforce the learning culture.


In this article, I highlighted what it means to have a learning culture and three ways leaders can begin fostering a learning culture in their classrooms, companies, or communities. Being intentional about the learning culture, mapping the learning environment, and celebrating artifacts of a learning culture are all techniques leaders can use to grow a culture of learning.

Lessons from Having a Research Assistant

Written by Laura Dumin, Ph.D. – 

During winter break 2016-2017, I began a research project that I had been talking about for years—learning about women’s relationship with breastfeeding knowledge. I asked a local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Ashley Barrett, for help and then I did what any novice researcher does, I dove right in without really knowing what to expect. I hoped that around 100 women would respond. Imagine my surprise when one day later I had over 1,000 responses. Within three weeks, we closed the survey with over 4,000 responses. I was flooded with a whirlwind of emotions, including crawling into a hole and pretending that I had never received this data.

I chose not to hide. Instead, I asked for a research assistant (RA). Starting in August 2017, I received money for an RA from the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs, Academic Affairs. We brought Trinni, a senior in Technical Writing, onto the project. At that point, I felt like the project was moving forward pretty nicely. But then Ashley had some life events happen that pulled her away for a time. However, Trinni and I kept moving ahead as best we could until Ashley was able to rejoin us. The entire experience to this point has been a learning process for all of us. Trinni has graduated and moved into a real-world job, but the lessons gained through this project will stay with her.

Timetables are made to be broken: Trinni came to the project with the hope of learning more about research, but she came away with so much more. This was the first large-scale research project that either of us had taken on, and we were surprised by the ways that a large project takes on a life of its own. We had plans, but the project didn’t always seem to agree with our timetables. The University allotted Trinni five hours a week to work on the project and, at the beginning of August, we thought that this would be enough (or barely enough) time to get to where we wanted to be by October. It turned out that we didn’t finish the first pass on one qualitative question until December. We were surprised to learn how long qualitative coding can take. As of this writing, the paper(s) are not yet written.

Group work and why politeness theory matters: We learned the value of flexibility and a sense of humor. We also learned that working with other people comes with its own set of challenges. Sometimes having more people involved is great because you get more ideas. Other times, having more people involved creates more places for the project to get stuck or to veer off course. We worked together to find ways of getting the project back on track and of keeping ourselves accountable for the work that needed to be done. We learned how to be diplomatic when asking for things from each other. And we learned the value of writing emails with no recipient, walking away, and then coming back to rewrite them when we were calmer.

Knowledge is good, but persistence and heart can be more important: At the beginning, Trinni knew little about breastfeeding and I knew just enough to be willing to go all-in on the project. We learned that our lack of certain types of knowledge could be overcome through research. We spent a lot of time on the internet, learning as we went. We had a passion for helping women to have access to correct breastfeeding information, and there were times when that passion was all that kept us going. Knowledge can always be gained, but if you aren’t truly invested in a project, the hard times might be enough to sideline the project.

Confidence: When we started the project, I was probably overly confident in my abilities to complete the research and the data-coding. Trinni was the opposite. This project led us to become more appropriately confident in our abilities. Trinni realized that we valued her opinions and ideas as part of the research team. She learned that she was more than just a student to us because we really worked to treat her as an equal. I learned to take a breath and talk to someone else about the issue when I hit a rough spot. Often that was enough to help set me back on the right path. For the times that it wasn’t enough, I learned to take a day (or three) and then come back again. I was reminded that eating an elephant happens one bite at a time, and I was reminded that I do know how to do research.

Stepping outside of ourselves: Finally, we learned that the research isn’t about us or our preconceived notions. We learned to be open to the voices of the women who were sharing their experiences with us and to put our own value judgments aside. We had to stay as impartial as possible.

The lessons learned from this transformative project have helped to make us stronger people and better researchers. If you are on the fence about taking on an RA, I would say, “Stop worrying and go for it.” My stumbles helped Trinni to see that I am human and to gain more confidence in her own abilities. I also gained confidence in my ability to research and persevere. And I learned that large projects are enjoyable, even with the inevitable stops and starts. This had made me more willing to take on future projects and to work with other RAs.

So what’s stopping you from requesting an RA? Funding, time, lack of confidence in in supervising a student? Post your answers to these questions in the comments and perhaps our community can give some resources or encouragement.

Search for “Dumin, Breastfeeding” in the coming months to hopefully read more about our study and the results.

Unlocking the Secrets of Learning Innovation

Written by Bucky J. Dodd, PhD –

The Institute for Learning Environment Design recently attended the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Innovate conference in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to catching up with many of our collaborators from other institutions, we also unveiled a new visual analytics tool for accelerating learning innovation called the Learning Environment Innovation Inventory (LEI2). We had the privilege of sharing this tool at a collaborative workshop.

Bucky Dodd presenting at the 2018 Learning innovations Summit

This tool is comprised of an online assessment that is used to generate a visual analytics report. This report, called the “Landscape” visualizes key factors that influence learning innovation with teams and organizations. The landscape report organizes these factors in the team’s innovation mindset, values of learning environment elements, and capacity across the innovation cycle.

The LEI2 offers educational institutions, businesses, and associations a simple and powerful way to grow their capacity for new learning approaches.

During our workshop at OLC, we discussed a wide array of learning innovations from video conferencing, technology selection, program development, and course design.

The success of each of these approaches is dependent on the capacity to create new value through innovation processes.


Innovation is a Balancing Act

One topic we discussed during the OLC workshop was drivers of learning innovation.

People and organizations are driven to innovation by efficiency and effectiveness. However, the degree to which each of these drivers influence change and value creation are often different.

In one case, an organization may be driven by efficiency to increase enrollment, raise the number of student being transformed through their education, or reduce the time to a credential.

In another case, an organization may be more driven by effectiveness and thus achieving a certain performance outcome. The balance and make-up of these drivers can determine the dynamics of innovation activities.

The results of the LEI2 from the OLC workshop participants indicated a slight preference towards a drive toward learning efficiency. This suggests if the group of workshop attendees were collaborating on a project, they would be more likely to preference innovations that advance learning efficiency over effectiveness.

Effective-Efficiency Graph

The following diagram indicates the combination of drivers of learning effectiveness and learning efficiency are aligned most with a “preparing for the future” theme. This priority index is another way of examining how drivers of learning innovation ultimately frame the way teams and organizations prioritize change.

These results suggest a team that is future-minded and emphasizes the value of preparation and capacity growth. We’d expect a similar result at our University, where a campus culture of providing transformative experiences for students exists in order to better prepare them for their futures.

Drive Toward Effectiveness-Efficiency Chart

Managing Innovation Priorities

Learning innovation presents a rather large challenge when it comes to execution of new ideas and plans. Until now, the variables that relate most to how teams and organizations advance new approaches to learning has been invisible. The LEI2 unlocks these secrets into how new approaches to learning are generated, tested, and scaled.



We valued the opportunity to share the LEI2 with the OLC community and look forward to seeing how these visual insights will enhance the way teams and organizations support new learning opportunities.