THE 6 CORE ELEMENTS OF MY VTMO COURSE (& WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT)

INTRODUCTION 

Today I’m talking about the 6 core elements in my popular Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO) course – elements that you should also have in your toolbox and repertoire as key factors for connecting with your audience and engaging them with art and objects. I’m also talking about the history behind the course and how it came about – at the start of the pandemic in 2020!

THE STORY BEHIND VTMO

In March 2020, like many people I lost all my in-person training work that I had booked for the next few months overnight due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was actually leading a training at the time at the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar and we found out that lockdown was imminent and that museums would be shutting from 5pm that day.
From then it snowballed – I had travel for training work in other countries around the world cancelled, trainings in the Netherlands were postponed and my own fully booked in-person training course which was due to take place in April 2020 was first postponed and later when I realised that we were in this for the long term, cancelled.
I knew that I wanted to continue doing the work I love (and I do love my work) and so I had to find alternatives fast. I went online pretty quickly. I was fortunate enough to have been working online for a couple of years before the pandemic hit, was confident with Zoom and had plenty of ideas about how I could make online just as engaging as offline.
In the first few weeks of the pandemic I ran weekly free Zoom classes bringing people together to discuss a work of art using thinking routines. I was also asked to adapt a 6 day museum education in-person training into an online course in just a few days. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I learned a lot in the process and it got me thinking about how I could adapt my really popular and successful Visible Thinking in the Museum in-person training course into an online one. Within a month my new online course was ready for enrollment. There is nothing like a deadline and the prospect of no work to get you motivated!
I took all of my content from my existing 3 day VT course, my published articles, posts, tips and techniques and reorganised it into a new 8 week online programme with live teaching from me and a dedicated support group.
For ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum Online’ (VTMO) I chose live teaching and self-paced learning. I wanted to include LIVE group tutorials in real time with me so that we could interact, share ideas and participants could ask questions. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I was also aware of the time restraints some participants might have and have included lots of self-paced elements too – including video tutorials and PDF downloads and cheat sheets.⠀
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The first programme ran in May 2020 and was a beta-version.
At the end of the course, the majority of the participants didn’t want their learning to end and out of this the Visible Thinking Membership was born – a place for learning, community and discovery for educators. VTMO has been taught 3 further times in the membership to great success.
Now, next week (September 2021), I’m teaching it for the final time in the VT membership. We start on 20 September, that’s 2021 for those listening in the future. From January 2022, the VTMO course will be sold as a stand-alone course separate from the membership. So this is your last chance to take this course at the price of a monthly subscription. I’ll give some more information at the end of this podcast.
In a nutshell, My VTMO Course teaches educators to engage their audiences and confidently lead discussions around art and museum objects. This popular course focuses on 6 core elements in its design.
You will learn how to give your discussions a flexible structure and substance using thinking routines and how best to engage your group by employing facilitation skills, good questioning skills and the techniques of collaborative learning. There are weekly chances to get practice and coaching and reflection is woven throughout the 8 module course.
So, today, I’m going to share more about each of these important 6 core elements in my VTMO course and, crucially, why they’re important!

#1 THINKING ROUTINES 

I teach 20+ thinking routines in the Visible Thinking in the Museum Online (VTMO) course (and I say 20+ because more often than not I add a few extra thinking routines too). I’ve selected thinking routines that:
  • are particularly effective for online and in-person art/object discussions
  • focus on a range of thinking moves – e.g. observation, description, perspective-taking, etc,
  • encourage personal growth and development – reflection and brainstorming
  • encourage global dispositions – those that create opportunities to inquire about the world, consider multiple perspectives, engage in respectful dialogue and take responsible action
Most of the thinking routines in VTMO are ones that you can use to lead and structure a discussion about art or objects online or offline. We start with the core thinking routines and move to more complex ones as we progress through the 8 modules.
Some of the thinking routines are included specifically for your personal development – either to help you develop your questioning skills, structure a discussion, carry out some brainstorming or to encourage reflection on a session or discussion.
We start with See-Think-Wonder, See-Wonder-Connect and Headlines to ease you into Module 1 and an introduction to Visible Thinking in the Museum. Module 2 and 3 focus on questioning and facilitation techniques alongside thinking routines Looking Ten Times Two, Step Inside, 321 Bridge and Beginning-Middle-End.
In Module 2 we use two thinking routines designed to help you brainstorm and create questions – Creative Questions and Question Sorts, a thinking routine for structuring your art/object discussing (Peel the Fruit) and one reflection routine (I used to think…Now I think…). We introduce these routines slowly in order to build confidence with using thinking routines in a creative way.
Module 4 starts to dig a little deeper with thinking routines Colour-Shape-Line and Beauty and Truth. Module 5 is ALL about Zoom In – one of my favourite routines of 2020 – and we devote the whole of the live class to exploring this fantastic routine in detail.
In Modules 6-7, we focus on engaging with ideas and into action and I introduce more complex thinking routines – Point of View, Step In-Step Out-Step Back, Gaining New Perspectives, 3 Y’s and the new observation routine Name-Describe-Act. The final module 8 of VTMO focuses on object-based learning and we discover Parts-Purposes-Complexities, Imagine If, and Main-Side-Hidden. We finish the course with the reflection routine ESP+1.

#2 QUESTIONING SKILLS

Questioning is THE skill to master when you want to create engaging discussions & conversations.
Questions help us learn, avoid misunderstandings, gauge prior knowledge, manage, coach and build relationships. So, we focus early on in the course (in Module 2) on questioning techniques – participants learn:
✔️ about the different types of questions and when to use them
✔️ simple yet powerful ways to generate, formulate, sort and evaluate questions in response to prompts, artworks and images
✔️ new thinking routines, techniques and activities that you can use regularly to perfect your questioning techniques
As all VTMO students are members of the Visible Thinking Membership, they also have access to my masterclass “How to Ask Brilliant Questions that Get Results’ that takes them step-by-step through the process of generating, formulating, sorting and evaluating their questions. They learn a variety of techniques and skills that they can take away and use in their own practice.

#3 FACILITATION TECHNIQUES

Leading engaging inquiry-led, discussion-based sessions around art and objects requires good facilitation skills to guide the process, encourage participation and the group to work together and ensure that all participants feel visible, valued and understood.
There are many skills to being an effective facilitator, for VTMO I focus on both basic and advanced facilitation skills. In early modules we focus on using verbal facilitation tools (encouraging & guiding looking, restating, clarifying, linking or bridging, summarising), being mindful of language, listening actively and being open and accepting.
Further along the course we progress to more advanced skills – coordinating the group, setting expectations and guidelines, gatekeeping, problem solving and so on.
No-one is born with the skills of an expert facilitator. It is important to work on these skills and practice, practice, practice.
It’s important, even once you have received facilitation training, to ensure that you regularly practice your skills with other facilitators and find the time to learn and experiment with new tools and techniques (I’ll come back to this later in this post)

#4 COLLABORATIVE LEARNING

As, according to Ron Ritchhart, learning is chiefly a social and collaborative endeavour, I have designed VTMO to be as interactive as possible and for the group to learn together collaboratively. 
This is why I opted for a combination of live teaching and self-paced learning for the course. 
There is a live weekly group class on Zoom for approximately 90 mins This takes place every Thursday (also recorded). 
During this class I teach new thinking routines and key concepts, questions and discussion. There’s also a dedicated Facebook group where you can talk to members. PS there are no ‘quizzes’ or ‘worksheets’ in this course either for this very reason.
Plus throughout the course there are practice sessions and coaching session for you to practice your skills but also to learn from other members and get inspired by the way they lead discussions. 

#5 PRACTICE & COACHING SESSIONS

These are focused sessions that take place regularly and give members taking the VTMO course the experience they need to grow in confidence and get inspiration.
Coaching sessions take place with me and other members and give you the chance to lead discussions and receive feedback and coaching afterwards.
Practice sessions are for members to get together and share ideas, develop practice and create connections (a mix of learning AND networking).
There are perhaps a few sites offering courses on similar topics to mine, but none offer a comprehensive full programme that provides the accountability and support to actually get it done, grow in confidence and develop your own unique facilitator style.

#6 REFLECTION

Encouraging a reflective practice is a huge part of the VTMO course. Reflecting allows participants the chance to step back from the course and to analyse what they have learned up to a certain point and to assess how far they have come (from their original goals or from the start of the course).
It helps us to learn more about ourselves and how we learn. It also helps the course provider (i.e. me!) to learn about their learning experiences too.
So, throughout the course, I gently encourage all VTMO participants to regularly reflect on their practice -; to think about their confidence with their new skills and the connections they were making between different modules or with their own work experience. The aim is to help them develop and recognise their skills as learners.
Reflection is woven throughout the entire course – at the start (1-2-1 chat with me to discuss goals), after each practice or coaching session, we have a journaling question in every live class, a mid-course reflection activity, and a final reflection at the end of the course. I ask participants reflect on their experiences throughout the course, whilst also giving them the time to recognise their development and successes.

WHAT WILL YOU GET OUT OF VTMO?

On a personal level, you will get out what you put in.
In addition, you will first update your skills instantly – we all need to update our ‘toolbox’ on a regular basis to keep up-to-date with the latest methods and techniques and this includes learning new thinking routines and perfecting your facilitation techniques too.
You’ll become part of a community – and it’s much easier to be creative in your practice when you’re learning alongside like-minded people.
You’ll also make friends and future collaborators – you’ll get new ideas and inspiration as to how you can use VT in your work both ONLINE and OFFLINE and you’ll find people you can collaborate with.
So, to sum up, these are the 6 elements that make up my VTMO Course. I like to say that it’s the best course I’ve ever created. I know that’s a big claim but I’m really proud of this course as it gives the space and time to cover all the thinking routines that I want to alongside the core skills that I think make us engaging educators – questioning skills, facilitation techniques, practice and coaching and reflection.
Teaching my method online gives me the opportunity to include so much more content than I could offer in-person. Although I’ve run hundreds of training courses and workshops over the years, I’ve often not been able to cover all the content I would like to in a one-off in-person session.
20+ thinking routines and 8 modules – covering basic & advanced facilitation skills, questioning skills, thinking routine selection, how to use information, teaching with objects and more – this course really is the gold standard if you’re looking to engage a wide range of audiences with your collections & inspire meaningful conversations and dialogue around art.
If you still have questions, take a look at my VTMO page on my website. If you’re ready to sign up, don’t delay!
VISIBLE THINKING IN THE MUSEUM ONLINE (VTMO)