The iceberg and the pyramid – two guiding metaphors for preparing a learning event

Recently, Doug Neil made a visual inquiry into his sketchnotes. He discovered an iceberg under the surface of each of his completed sketchnote. There is a lot going on before his sketchnotes go viral that is not visible: a lot of practice, experimentation, thoughts about the purpose, the audience and eventual assumptions.

What makes this metaphor so useful (and widely applicable) is the fact that no matter what you choose to look at, there is so much more going on behind the scenes compared to what you see from the outside.
Doug Neil

The iceberg metaphor inspired me, because preparing for a learning event also needs some digging and work under the surface.

The iceberg

Before the design team can develop the learning event’s programme it has to take a closer look under the surface to truly understand the landscape and background on which they will build the learning event. First, they have to find out if there is a common ground for preparing and having the event.

Helpful questions could be:

  • Do we – the people who call for, organize, sponsor, facilitate and support the event – have a shared intention, aspiration and expectation? Are there any issues we should talk about?
  • Do we have a shared sense of the need, the questions and the contributions the participants will bring in?
  • Do we have a shared understanding of how to work and learn together in the preparation process and how to reach out to participants?
  • Do we have a common understanding of how adults learn best? Or do we vary in our assumptions of how learning should be organized?

The pyramid

Once the shared understanding is established it is time to define the purpose and the specific learning goals.

On what level of the pyramid is the learning’ events purpose? Is it about connecting participants with participants and participants with content? Or is there more, like creating a shared understanding to proceed together in an aligned approach? Or do we dive jointly into the unknown and try to find our way forward, do we aspire to co-create something new together?  Do we start cooking together?

With a clear and shared purpose in mind we develop an agenda that flows and that translates our purpose into conversation.

Building a pyramid on top of an iceberg is risky. So, let’s put our noses under the surface.

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