Putting it into words

Oct 2017
Interview as a method

The Interview as a method. Paul takes us into a nice way to get people talking and listening to others about their learning.

Some years ago in a training course for trainers we wanted to help participants to have meaningful talks about their own learning. You can be a trainer in many topics but every training course will be anyway about learning. So being aware about your own learning is an essential part of being a trainer. We wanted participants to talk about things like:

how do I learn?

what helps me in learning?

what is difficult?

Being aware of the complexity of the issue we thought it would be a good idea to provide them with topics connected to learning formulated as questions. The participants then went into pairs and interviewed each other about their learning supported by those questions. It worked! People liked it and said that having those questions really helped them to go deeper into the subject.

At that time I was involved in the UNIQUE project called ‘Learning to Learn’ where one of the outcomes was the ‘Handbook for Facilitators – Learning to Learn in Practice’. For the Handbook I developed then together with a colleague the initial idea of the interview into a ‘real’ method, described so others could use and adapt it. We called it, really creatively: ‘The Learning Interview’. Before it was published the method was tested in different courses and seminars and adjusted based on the feedback we got. The idea is simple. Three people get together. One is the person interviewed, one is the interviewer and one the observer. The observer has the task to make notes to give afterwards to the person being interviewed in order to have a memory of what has been said. The interviewer has an interview guide, which contains many questions grouped into different topics in a mindmap. The intention is not to ask all the questions. There are more then 50 questions so also time-wise that would not work. They are there as a help, as a reference for the interviewer. The interview takes 20 minutes and then roles are switched.

Mostly the method works very well. It offers the possibility for the one being interviewed to reflect with the help of others on his/her own learning in a very focussed way. The questions asked shine a different light on your own perception of your learning and make you realise things that you probably would not find out when reflecting just on your own. It broadens people’s perception of the way they learn. For the interviewer and the observer it’s the chance to really dive into another person’s way of learning. This gives new insights, sometimes surprises and often also moments of recognition. Next to getting more awareness about your own way of learning the method also offers the opportunity to see and find out about other ways that might suit you and enrich your own learning. And… let’s be honest, it’s nice to be interviewed. People in general like to be in the role of being asked questions by someone who is really interested in them. Some people find the role of interviewer as more challenging. To find the right questions, to really listen to the answer instead of already looking for the next question to ask and to keep the conversation going can be challenging.

We have observed that, especially in the first minutes of the interview, the set of questions helps to get them into their role. Having all these questions written down on a paper before you also has another effect. Many interviewers said that made it also easier to ask certain questions that normally they maybe wouldn’t have asked because of seeming to be too personal or too direct. Having the questions there written down in front of you is giving you a kind of ‘excuse’ to ask them. Some of the interviewers stick to the questions in the interview guide, others use the guide only in the beginning and then go with the flow asking their own questions and following their intuition. Interviews can become very personal. Talking about your learning, what makes you learn, how other people have impact on your learning, important learning moments, challenges you come across… it’s pretty much about you, about who you are, how you deal with things. On the one hand that helps a lot to get really deep into the topic.

On the other hand you don’t want to get into therapeutic settings. Therefore when introducing the method I mention this possible effect and ask people to be aware and conscious about ‘how much they want to tell’. It’s allowed to say: ‘I don’t want to go there’. The 20 minutes timing per interview is seen by some participants as limiting. That’s why it happens sometimes that you find them in the evening in their trios continuing the interviews and covering all the questions in the interview guide till late at night. I think that giving words and sentences to your thoughts is the main value of the interview exercise. You can have many reflections going on in your head but to explain them to somebody else gives it another value. Especially when the other one shows his/her interest by asking further questions that help you to be more precise. Although we have in our field a strong tendency, and rightly so, to support people to express themselves in other ways than only talking I still think that being able to give words to your reflections and thoughts is crucial for self-awareness and self-consciousness. When you speak yourself out to someone else your thoughts get an extra value. The sharing of your successes, doubts, joy and blocks about your learning has often the effect that you find recognition from others who have the same kind of experiences. This makes you aware you are not the only one who’s learning is a bit weird. But it can also confront you with other ways of learning you didn’t know before and that can open new horizons. In addition to the Learning Interview other interviews have been developed. Over the last few years we have experimented with ‘The Facilitation of Learning’ interview, the ‘My Passion’ interview, the ‘My Motivation’ interview, and ‘The Learning-Outcome’ interview. They are all basically the same method - just with another set of questions.


Image Credits: 
Paul Kloosterman; M.E. Taylor

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