Applying decluttering principles to learning event planning

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My family and I recently relocated from a 2300-square-foot, five-bedroom house to an under-1100-square foot, three-bedroom townhouse to be closer to my son’s school and my office at Queen’s. This has required divesting ourselves of a great many belongings. Some things were easy (no more guest room = get rid of bedroom suite of furniture), but now we’re down to what home organizers call decluttering.

Decluttering is trendy; there are blogs and articles and entire shelves of books about this movement to pare down belongings to what is truly essential.

Near the beginning of my downsizing project, a colleague passed along a copy of one such book, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. (Yes, there was some irony in acquiring a new book when I was purging others, but that’s another story).

In this bestselling book, Kondo sets out principles for determining how to declutter. Since I’m immersed in decluttering (and unpacking can be a mind-numbing task) I started thinking about applying Kondo’s principles to learning events.

Decluttering principle: Uncover what you want your space to be

Learning Event translation: Uncover what you want your learning event to be

What underlies this principle is visioning: think about what it is you want your sj-bubblegirllearning event to look like before you start making changes. What do you need and want to accomplish in your 60- or 120-minute session? What are your assigned learning objectives? Keep in mind this planning cannot be a solo activity as your events are connected to others – course directors need to balance topics and learning event types throughout a course, so check in with anyone impacted by changes you’re thinking about making. Do you want to add interactive components? Revise case studies? Improve group work? Streamline the order of MCC presentations?

 Decluttering principle: Only keep those items that give you a “spark of joy”

Learning Event translation: Only keep those activities that spark learning

Take a good look at the activities and materials you’re using in your learning event: are these aligned with your objectives? Do they provide meaningful learning for your students? Are the points clear? How many cases are you using? Would it be better to have three well-constructed, in-depth cases, or the five you’re currently using? Are you being deliberate in what you’re including, or just force of habit?

Decluttering principle: Have a designated place for everything

Learning Event translation: Have a designated time for everything

Consider making a timeline plan for your learning event to keep everything “in its place.” This doesn’t have to be rigid to the last second, but can help keep things on track. If you have an outline that includes each topic or case, discussion/question time, breaks, wrap-up/summarizing time, it will help keep you on track and ensure finish on time. It also helps let you know when to wrap up discussions (no matter how interesting) to move onto the next important point.

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Not everyone can – or should – dive into decluttering their home (see this New York Times opinion piece which argues very clearly that there’s class politics involved in the decluttering movement). Likewise, not every learning event is in need of decluttering. However, if you’re frequently going over time, or find that you’re not meeting the learning objectives you have, or you’re just generally dissatisfied with your teaching sessions, decluttering may be a place to start.

One caveat: Decluttering can’t be done in a vacuum – either at home or for a learning event. For every fan of Kondo’s work, there are partners, children and other relatives who complain (rightly) that stuff they needed, wanted or sparked joy for them has been summarily tossed by an obsessive tidier. If you’re interested in decluttering your learning events on a larger scale (for example, does this MCC presentation even belong in my session?), that necessitates conversations and cooperation with your course director and fellow instructors and I’m happy to pitch in, too.

One Response to Applying decluttering principles to learning event planning

  1. Richard van Wylick says:

    Great topic and blog Theresa! I would add that same decluttering principles should be applied to the curriculum as a whole, not just individual sessions. Every learning event should be critically examined to see if it goes into the keep, toss, or if we have room pile. Much like floor space, curricular time feels like it has downsized, with many competing demands for each square foot.

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