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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

What is the right thing to do?

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

I came across a series of very insightful lectures on the Internet. It is called ‘Justice’ by a Harvard Professor called Michael Sandel. It is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history. It is so popular that it is broadcasted on TV! More information about the lecture here.

More importantly, I am amazed with how he engages over 1,000 students in class for almost an hour each time by effectively facilitating discussion! I learnt a lot from watching his video. Let me detail out my observation with one of the episode:

This episode is his first class of the series where he introduced ‘moral reasoning’ e.g. Consequentialism. A lecture on this topic could be boring. However, the Professor made it lively and engaging. Here are what I learnt from this episode (watch 02:00 to 10:00 on the video above)

  • Story – Instead of theories, he started the class with short and simple stories e.g. the 5 workers on the track. And he built the discussion based on these, which then eventually led to the planned learning on moral reasoning.

  • Non-verbal response first - He was very conscious to get the students to talk. He often started by first asking them to take position against an easy-to-understand close-ended question e.g. ‘Please raise your hand if you choose to turn the wheel’. Only after such warming-up and commitment demonstrated (Cialdini Principle here), he invited view from the floor.

  • Pit-ball Discussion – He got the students to respond to each other rather by himself. There were a few powerful questions he often used – ‘OK, who has a reply?’ and ‘Do you want to reply?’

  • Use names – He involved the students even more by using names. He often asked for names, and then facilitated discussion by asking question like ‘Let me ask you this question? Andrew.’

  • Paraphrase – He often summarized the students’ view before moving on.

  • Giving recognition – Whilst it would be rather scary to speak in front of 1,000 people, he encouraged participation by recognizing those who spoke up e.g. ‘It is a hard question. You did very well’ and ‘That’s a brave answer. Thank You!’, etc

  • Powerful question – Other than the above, I like his ‘Who else?’ question a lot as well.

It is just unbelievable how the Professor can turn such potentially-boring subject into engaging sessions. There is always someone who told me that they could not present or train well because his or her topic is boring by nature. I would recommend him / her to watch Sandel’s videos. What stops us from being half as good as what he does?

In addition, I find it beneficial to watch them before I facilitate session. The videos made me unconsciously facilitate more, rather than tell!

I wish one day I could attend Sandel’s speech live.

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