Webinar: The power of silent learners in a group

Silent learners 15 March 2017

Watch the recorded webinar

On behalf of the Silent Learners project and our partners EDEN, NVL and ITHU, we (Alastair, Francisca and Jan Willem) would like to say a big thank you to everyone who contributed so honestly and enthusiastically to our webinar 15 March.

We started the process with a tweetchat on the subject 8 March and you can read the discussion on Storify. As preparation for the webinar we asked participants to watch the TedX video by Susan Cain, The power of introverts. The webinar itself attracted 141 registrations, 80 of whom attended the live session. Our intention was to focus on discussion and interaction and the chat window was active from the start with hundreds of comments and ideas by the end. The success of the webinar was very much due to Jan Willem’s involvement bringing his own experience as a silent learner to the forefront and many participants could identify with his story.

Here are some selected comments from the discussion. If you want to see all the comments either watch the recorded webinar or go to Francisca Frenks’ website: https://www.xwebinar.nl/sl/ 

You can also read reflections on the session in a blog post by Jenny Mackness.

Read more reflections on the webinar (in Swedish) by Charlotte Christoffersen.

Why did participants join the webinar?

We asked the participants why they joined this webinar. Here is a selection of their answers:

  • I know who they are – the Silent Learners- but I don’t know how to handle them
  • The majority of my students are extroverts. What do I do with the few introverts that are part of the same groups, simultaneously?
  • It is a perspective not so much discussed
  • I’m a consultant in accessibility of ICT, particularly with respect to User Needs. I’m watching to pick up needs for silent learners relevant to ICT systems
  • After 25 years of campus based learning I have moved into online learning and realise how many of my learners find the solitude they need here – but we are measured externally by criteria relating to group work and engagement!
  • I’m extrovert myself, but have had a lot of silent learners. The can be challenging for a extrovert person, cause either i’m chasing them or believe they have dropped-out
  • Sometimes, the more extrovert take action and start communicating even though there might be more knowledge within introverts. I’d like to find ways for them to show what they now without having to leave their comfort zone

Silent learners, noisy learners and something-in-between learners?

We tried to make the chat more interesting by asking participants to write in different colours, signifying if they considered themselves “silent”, “noisy” or in-between learners. This proved popular and the chat suddenly became multi-coloured. Jan Willem, our star silent learner, inspired them.

“I have been a silent learner all my life but in recent years I work hard to be noisy”
“Yes, Jan Willem, the guilty feeling of not saying so much. I know it too.”
“It is right what Jan Willem is saying there: collaboration is important for all, also introverted.”

We agreed that we cannot really categorise learners so simply as silent or noisy but that there is a scale. Some self-confessed noisy learners have developed their communication skills and toned down their “noisiness” over the years. How people act in (online) groups depends on so many factors: size of group, group culture, background culture, personal comfort level, subject, setting, moment, personal energy level, feelings, stage of development of collaboration skills, role of the teacher/ facilitator, goal of collaboration, assignment, expectations (of teacher, parents, group), self esteem and social context (life, work, family).

What difficulties arise when collaborating with silent learners in groups?

“Let them be bored- the extraverts! Yes, we – the Silent Learners- need time to process all the information constantly surrounding us!”
“They – the Silent Learners- probably have many valuable ideas, but nobody knows it”.

  • There is a risk that they actually have to do more work because they might be told so by the extroverts in the group
  • The noisy group members make them even more silent
  • Their ideas might go unnoticed
  • Might be uncomfortable to share for extraverts with people who don’t share back -the Silent Learners-.
  • They want to be democratic, important that everybody participates to move forward. They get stuck in making decisions because they want to wait for all.
  • I always have students that leap in and take charge.. which leaves those who take their time isolated from the process.
  • They do not make the most of group collaboration so sometimes, as a teacher, I feel almost as if I am wasting their time
  • I feel they sometimes lose their motivation to learn
  • Working together is often waste of time, she thinks (the silent learner)

There was a growing awareness …

As the webinar progressed many participants developed their ideas.

  • I am beginning to wonder if a session on noisy learners is also needed – to get them to concentrate and read instructions properly and focus!
  • Silence is a source of great strength.
  • Empathy webinar might be useful. Empathy is helping to listen to silent learners.
  • It’s a bit like “everybody likes football and loud pop music therefore if you don’t you are abnormal”
  • Is it  better to form groups by introverts/extraverts?
  • Sometimes I wonder if we lose sight of the learning outcomes themselves in our obsession with group work and active engagement as the working mode!
  • I think a lot of this is about awareness – self awareness of yourself as a learner and awareness of your students as a teacher
  • Are we stressed by silence?
  • Why should an online discussion be structured better?
  • The problem with diverse examinations/assignments at the university is that we have to examine and judge each student individually with regards to the learning goals of the course. There are no group credits given.
  • But we work continuously in groups.
  • Not blaming the noisy learners is another hard thing to do as a teacher

And tips for how to work with “introverts” or silent learners

There were so many experts in the webinar so we collected tips how to work with (online) groups and respect the needs of the silent learner.

Hold your horses, all you extroverts!
Give 5 minutes to everyone to write down their own thoughts and suggestions on the topic in hand (interrupt in a friendly but firmly manner all discussions arising at this stage. This should be done in absolute silence – yes, the extroverts do have a tremendous urge to share their thoughts and discuss; just ask them to hold their horses just for a few minutes. See more on this in an article How to activate the introverts in meetings?

Topic discussions
We offered Adobe connect seminars (not compulsory) but students didn’t participate. Some blamed the poor quality and others said they didn’t need it. I have replaced the seminars with topic discussions where participation is compulsory. I think this gives the opportunity for silent learners to be more active. It gives them time to read and reflect on the topic discussed. Huge success actually.

The Silent Leader
Could it be an advantage  to let the SL to take charge of the group work? Then they can set the pace.

Clear competences and escape room
Giving group tasks, where different kind of competences are needed (maybe a special kind of escape room)

How to empower and encourage the silent learner or group members for collaboration?

Jan Willem told us that he likes to collaborate now as a silent learner, but it took him years to understand how he could collaborate in a way that he felt normal amongextroverts. Lots of participants recognised what he was saying. Others started to think.

“A part of confirming your knowledge is to formulate it in a group, and try it on others.”

  1. I would like to give the student some time to prepare before a group assignment
  2. Make structure and decide who does what in the group work
  3. I try to prepare them for it. Warn them it’s coming up and ask them to put time aside to do it. Preparation seems to work
  4. I would invite the learner to take on a specific role
  5. The other participants in the group are interested to hear your view. They are truly curious!
  6. Discussions in a group will provoke your thoughts on the subject and will depthen your learning and understanding of the subject
  7. Think of all the ideas you could get from the others. Those could help you to develope your own ideas even further.”
  8. Make a group with only silent learners
  9. 110 more tips

Evaluation of the webinar?

After the webinar there was a poll and we asked participants if the webinar was valuable. On Twitter there were some tweets.

  • Very interesting & interactive!. Really made me think of how to empower silent learners in language teaching (Twitter)
  • Beginning to understand the power of Silent Learners. (Twitter)
  • It was valuable because of the interview with a real Silent learner
  • It was very interesting! I think all teachers must be more aware about the silent learners. Jan Willem Kemper expressed the feelings and needs very good. Francisa facilitated it very good -(and spoke slowly and clearly). Thank You.
  • I got a lot of new thoughts, that I will try to use in my future teaching
  • It make me aware of taking care of the Silent learner better
  • It was valuable, new thoughts that I want to share with my colleagues. Fun and interactive.
  • Very valuable; an opportunity to adapt my teaching to suit some of my students’ learning needs
  • I found this webinar valuable because of the range of individual perspectives available, and the wealth of ideas shared – prompted me to go away and reflect further
  • It is a pity that I didn’t know about these webinars before. Thank you. I will be back!
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One thought on “Webinar: The power of silent learners in a group

  1. Pingback: The power of silent learners | Jenny Connected

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