Why Movement Is the Killer Learning App for Nonprofits | Beth's Blog

Why Movement Is the Killer Learning App for Nonprofits

Instructional Design

As a trainer and facilitator who works with nonprofit organizations and staffers,  you have to be obsessed with learning theory to design and deliver effective instruction, have productive meetings,  or embark on your own self-directed learning path.   Learning theory is an attempt to describe how people learn.     There are many learning theories and can be categorized in different ways:

  • External: These theories take into account self-learning and learning in groups.    This includes behaviorism and social learning or peer learning, communities of practice, and connectivism.
  • Internal: These theories take into account our minds and bodies.   How people think and process information are one set of theories that include multiple intelligences, learning styles, and constructivism.   There are also physical theories like brain-based learning and neuroscience.

As a trainer,  I’ve seen first hand the power of movement and how it helps wakes up a disengaged audience.    I watch participants’ body language like a hawk, and every 20 minutes or so I make sure that the delivery mode changes.    You begin to pick up a second sense of feeling when people in the room are getting tired and have lost their focus.  That’s when you can add a brief stretch break, energizer, or incorporate an exercise that requires getting up and moving around.  Movement does not distract learners – although some audiences are so formal and stilted they aren’t use to moving and the initial discomfort to asking them to move can make you believe otherwise.    When participants move, oxygen to the brain increases, thereby enhancing both learning and memory.   People can’t be as focused on content when they been sitting longer than 20 minutes.

I came across a brain scan by Dr. Chuck Hillman from University of Illinois Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory.  The lab does research on the relationship between physical fitness and cognitive function.   The scan shows a comparison of the brain after sitting vs walking for 20 minutes.     There is more red in the walking scan which shows more connections in the brain and more ability to concentrate and that is good for learning.   The sitting brain is really disengaged.

In Sharon Bowman’s “Using Brain Science To Make Science Stick” offers several simple principles to incorporate based on brain science, including:  Movement is better than sitting. Here are some techniques you can incorporate into your training and staff meetings that will help with learning and retention.

1.    Body Breaks: Incorporate some sort of movement or body activity every ten minutes.   One technique  that I use all the time  is “share pairs,”  it makes people get it up, take that body break, and check in with someone.    Here’s a description of some other body breaks that I’ve used – these are simply stretches and energizers.   They help “air out the brain” and can help a tired group regain focus.     I incorporate energizers into webinars (see slide 22) and virtual meetings.

2.   Walk and Talk: If you have taken a training with me, you know that won’t be sitting in your chair for long.   I might have them sit and discuss a small group exercise, but the results are on the wall for a standing debrief.   It is a more structured body break and incorporates more in-depth debrief on content.  I’ve done this as a reflection exercise towards the end of a multiple day training or full day training.  Here’s some examples.

3.  Wall Writing: This an exercise where participants will write specific responses on labeled charts on the wall at designated times.    It can be an answer to a question, a question learners still have, a summary statement, an opinion about the content, facts they want to remember, or how they plan to use the content.   I often incorporate sticky notes and often have to rearrange the furniture.

I’m doing a panel at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in March called “Learn You Will” with colleagues John Kenyon, Andrea Barry, and Cindy Leonard.  It is a session about designing effective nonprofit training where we will discuss and model these techniques and much more.     Training design and delivery is the heart and soul of my professional work for the past 35 years and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to co-design and facilitate a jam-packed session on the whole topic of how to design so people learn.

You can also apply brain theory to designing and facilitating meetings at work.      Here’s some ideas:

1.   Shorter Meetings: We schedule one-hour meetings and conference calls in our organizations by default.  Do we need to the whole hour to accomplish the same amount of work?  What if nonprofits made a rule about meeting length and experimented with 30 minutes meetings or conference calls?     Would we get the same amount done in less time?

2. Walking Meetings: This can be hard to implement in organizations where the work is culture is sit at your desk or office for meetings and walking around is perceived to be “goofing off.”   But given that a twenty minute walk lights up the brain and is more healthy than sitting.

3. Incorporate Learning Theory Into Meeting Agendas: What if you designed your meeting to consider how people take in and retain information (learning theory) than the list of agenda points you need to agree on?    Wouldn’t this make for more fun and productive meetings?

Not all our work inside of nonprofit organizations is dependent on working and collaborating with groups of people, there is time when we have to work alone – writing reports, thinking through strategy, researching, planning, and other tasks. What if we disciplined ourselves to get up from our desks every 20-30 minutes and walked around to reboot our brains?    What if we didn’t use our keyboard as a lunch tray and took a walk?     What if we did a call on our cell phone while taking a walk outside?

How do you incorporate movement into your nonprofit work day – either for working alone or with groups?   If you are trainer, how do you use movement to keep people engaged and learning?

14 Responses

  1. LaDonna Coy says:

    Beth this is such a great post and I so value that it is focused on integrating –how people learn best– as a natural part of the training design. From personal use, I can speak to the sitting vs standing option. I think there’s something to that saying, a body in motion stays in motion! When seated at my desk, even with a timer, I sometimes fail to get up and move around. But when I’m standing, it is so easy to move into walking, stretching, picking up the hand weights and moving around, even if just for 3-4 minutes. I’ve also started using my smart phone for call-in meetings so I can walk around without being tethered to my desk. I seem to think more clearly when I’m moving around than when just sitting. So all that is to say I’m committed to doing these kinds of things for my own learning as part of my work day AND in the workshops and trainings I do as well. Powerpacked post of research, design and practical, actionable ideas.

  2. Denise Osso says:

    Dear Beth,
    Standing ovation! There is no better way to get a group going than to make them feel embodied. When I rehearse with speech givers, I have them walk around the boardroom, speechin hand, practising as they walk. It gets them out of their head – and into their hearts.

    Thanks for every single post – from the bottom of mine.

    Denise Osso

  3. Beth says:

    Denise: Thank you so much! I just did a TeDx presentation – and I rehearsed while hiking up a hill on a 7 mile walk —

  4. Beth says:

    LaDonna – can’t wait to hear how it goes …

  5. Jeanne says:

    I love your articles on teaching/ facilitating/ training. Way too little thought goes into how adults learn. So much learning going on, and we need more of this topic out there. Sharon Bowman’s books rock, as you have mentioned before. Thanks for keeping this topic fresh and in front of people. I’m looking forward to your presentation at NTEN.

  6. Beth says:

    Jeanne: I’m looking forward to NTC too – and meeting you! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Kirt Manecke says:

    Hello Beth,
    Thank you for the magnificent article. I knew it was important to keep sessions to 20 minutes or shorter before a break, etc. but I never thought about the power of movement. “When participants move, oxygen to the brain increases, thereby enhancing both learning and memory.” I love this! I am in the initial stages of putting together customer service training workshops for animal shelters to increase adoption rates and hopefully eliminate any needless euthanasia and this information really helps!
    Thank you again. Kirt

  8. Nell says:

    Beth: Thanks for providing the link to this great article via LinkedIn share/post ‘Walk Your Way to More Effective Leadership’. Like you, I strongly believe in the power of integrative movement, energy and learning. I value your insights – thank you for sharing them! All the best 🙂

  9. […] new ideas or people for example. If you are trying to incorporate more exercise into your day, walking and moving is a very productive form of procrastination because it helps your brain concentrate (and you burn […]

  10. […] one of the methods Beth Kanter credits for her satisfaction and productivity, and she explains the whys and hows of movement as productivity boon here. Even better, Beth’s literally put this method into motion in recent weeks, with her ambitious […]

  11. […] new ideas or people for example. If you are trying to incorporate more exercise into your day, walking and moving is a very productive form of procrastination because it helps your brain concentrate (and you burn […]

  12. Hi Beth,
    I love your blogs. What you have to say, and how you say it.
    I would like to talk with you about writing a blog introducing Stick Stretching Yoga, and its benefits for the mind/body relationship.
    Arthur Faygenholtz DC

  13. […] that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” As a trainer, I have incorporated movement breaks and moving around into instruction because this helps wake up peoples’ brains. […]

  14. Heidi BK Sloss says:

    Great article! Makes sense too. When I did corporate sales training I taught about the importance of teaching to peoples’ learning style, this goes further.

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