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Life-changing learning!

Increase Equipper Lewis Varley reflects on a training track from our 2022 conference!

A teacher gives a lecture. A preacher preaches a sermon. A youth group leader leads a Bible study… but has learning happened? And how would we know? As a wise person once said:

‘the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place!’

At the Increase Conference held in Serambang, Malaysia in November 2022 we had the privilege of leading a training track of three sessions designed to help participants grapple with this important matter. Nicholas Ivans, Mark Wood and I worked together, bringing our different educational and cross-cultural experiences to bear on this theme. In our preparations we soon realised that this is a knotty problem: not only is it often hard to communicate, it’s even more difficult to ensure that the one receiving this information does something constructive with it.

So this was our goal: to help track participants reflect on what life-changing learning might look like in their own particular contexts of service. We wanted to present ideas and approaches that participants could use to enhance their current ministry so that they would impact more deeply the lives of those they are working with.

Our three sessions worked out like this:

Session 1 – In this session Nicholas introduced us to five life-changing learning principles:

Principle #1

Life-changing learning needs to be aimed at people who are currently not doing so well in the areas you hope to see change: it needs to meet a real need in the lives of training participants.

Principle #2

Life-changing learning must be intentionally developed to encourage the life change you want in the learners, recognising that life change takes time and normally requires supportive relationships of trust.

Principle #3

Life-changing learning is holistic and involves several domains of learning: knowing, being, doing as well as relating to others.

Principle #4

Life-changing learning goes beyond the classroom: life change happens in the relationships in which the learner is already involved. Therefore we need to provide opportunities for the learner to reflect on his or her life change in these varied life situations.

Principle #5

Life-changing learning will come through the written lessons, through the group leader, and through the relationships of the group members. There may well be helpful ways for the group to support one another in life change outside of class time. Relationships of trust between the group leader and each participant will foster growth.

We then took these principles and applied them to a selected part of one lesson of the TEE course Abundant Life, to reflect on how well that material fitted with these principles, and how we might enhance the lesson if we were leading that course with a group.

Session 2 - Mark built on Nicholas’s presentation by having us think about the place of assessment in life-changing learning. Often assessment goes to the question of how much information has the learner grasped cognitively: but this does not necessarily translate into positive life change.

Mark reminded us that there is very often a gap between the perception of the teacher or group leader and the students at the time of delivery, and the long-lasting fruit – or lack thereof! So in this session we continued to grapple with the question of how we can bridge this gap. We reflected together on what causes this barrier between the perception of learning having happened and the reality, and how this barrier can be surmounted. Through using a case study, we thought of how a practical assignment (in this case study, leading a Bible study) could be set up in such a way as to enhance effective learning.

Following this, Mark took us through some insights around the ‘backward design process’. In teaching we must have a goal, and we should start with this in planning our teaching. What is it we want to do through our teaching? What do we want to see happen? If we’re not clear on this, the teaching will likely not be very successful.

We then also looked at different approaches to assessment, or giving feedback, including peer reflection, self-assessment, and feedback from the instructor.

Session 3 - In this final session of our track I sought to draw together the threads from the first two sessions by thinking of how we might use Abundant Life as a tool to help disciple someone dealing with a particular challenge to their spiritual life: in other words, starting with the life-issue and then bringing the teaching, or course content, to bear on this. This gave the students some experience of, and practice in, a sort of ‘reverse-engineering’ of how discipleship might happen in their own situations, and with the kinds of issues they have faced in their own ministries.

At the same time though we closed by reminding one another that no amount of careful preparation and reflection and assessment of outcomes can replace the need for facilitators and trainers to rely on the Holy Spirit in their teaching, or of group members to rely on Him for life change. We turned to Scripture and read together what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

'And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.'

Group response and next steps…

The group of about 25 participants from a wide range of countries and ministry contexts engaged enthusiastically in the track. By making the three sessions as interactive as we were able to, we hoped to model some of the key principles we were seeking to get across. And of course we, with due humility, dare to hope that the track will have been, in some measure, life-changing for the participants!

This is a huge topic, yet a vital one. The three of us who worked on it want to continue to put into practice the principles we shared in the track in our own teaching and facilitation, and to reflect further as to how life-changing learning happens, so as to be better able to help others in their discipleship ministries.

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