A psychologist's evaluation of Stephanie Burns' on-line teaching methods and the experience of on-line learning in a
Burns' designed course

by Paul Martin

In the first half of this year, I was asked by Stephanie Burns to participate in an on-line teaching test program called "Who's Driving the Bus." I was told that the program would focus on facilitating a process where people identify and where appropriate, modify factors in their lives that drive them in certain directions.

I initially wondered what an on-line teaching test, and on-line learning experience, would be like. Would it be like a virtual classroom or perhaps an interactive on-line Brady Bunch? Stephanie said that she wanted a psychologist to participate in the program, both as an independent observer and to provide psychological back up as a duty of care - given that this was a test with unknown and unpredictable reactions from participants. Stephanie also wanted me to provide her with a psychologist's perspective of what it is like to participate in such a process.

I had previously participated in Stephanie's Goal Achievers Program, which I found to be highly effective. I felt confident about that program given that it is based on extensive research largely gathered from her PhD, which I have read called "The Emotional Experience of the Adult Learner," and twenty years of professional experience. The positive changes in my own goal achievement behaviour reinforced my positive perception of Stephanie's work.

I had a strong curiosity about any on-line program's ability to be integrated into the lives of very busy people and still be valid and effective. My experience as a participant was that the front-end interface of the program was surprisingly succinct, easy to understand and had the capacity to be efficiently integrated into my very busy schedule during the day. In fact, as the program progressed, first thing in the morning, I would lurch hideously toward my computer with my hair looking like a surreal version of the Opera House (lucky there were no computer cameras involved!) with a sense of great anticipation to discover what Stephanie had planned for "the group" during the day. Stephanie would introduce a particular topic, explain the relevant dynamics, specify the task for the day and lead participants to integrate this new awareness of their own behaviour and what drives them, into their day-to-day life. The elegant simplicity of this process was by far one of the most salient aspects of my experience of the program.

 

 

 

 

Who's Driving the Bus was the first personal development program I wrote for on-line delivery. It used the metaphor of a bus trip to Abeline.

The lessons I learned on this program enabled me to develop the Leadership Labyrinth program which is conducted for corporations throughout Australia and individuals from all over the world.

Detailed information about the Leadership Labyrinth can be accessed via the crystal ball
on the shelf

 

 

 

The program's material included enhancing awareness of the physiological, behavioural, cognitive and emotional moment to moment states, which allowed people to develop a heightened awareness of important aspects of themselves that they previously did not have access to. The program also attempted to provide people with an effective emotional and physiological information feedback system, which is of primary importance with gaining motivation to initiate new and difficult behaviours.

It was surprising to me that, as a participant, there was a very real sense of being part of a group. The group also didn't seem to go through the usual "storming, norming and performing" stages, but was still a place of re-assurance and comfort. If the task for the day was in some way challenging, it was reassuring to read about the other participants' experiences during the day. This sense of being connected with others in the program was unusual given that participants only communicated with each other infrequently. Only rarely did I read through many participants' responses, however just knowing there was a large body of other peoples' experiences was re-assuring if I felt challenged in any way.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the program was just how profound some of the personal insights were! At times, this was surprising, when looking at the ostensibly emotionally neutral material and required tasks that were being presented. For some this extended into quite fundamental areas of their lives. For others, some of the material also triggered some intense emotional reactions. Whilst it was not Stephanie's intention to have this effect, it seemed to me that the personal reflection component of the program increased the probability of people responding to some of the tasks with an emotional intensity which was outside the ambits of the program. When the reactions were particularly intense, Stephanie would consult with me behind the scenes to discuss the most appropriate intervention, keeping in mind confidentiality issues. This indicated to me that whilst the material in an on-line program can be seemingly inane or at least emotionally neutral, there is still the probability that people are strongly triggered and this requires an effective, rapid and appropriate response. Issues related to the management of student behaviour will need to be well thought out by all designers of on-line courses.

 

A bus at North Sydney bus station early one morning.

A central component of the course was the facilitation of an increasing awareness of the nexus between thought, emotion, physiology and behaviour. There is a strong parallel between this aspect of Stephanie's program, and various forms of cognitive behavioural therapy, such as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. These therapeutic models focus on raising awareness of the connection between cognition and an emotional state and consequently on behaviour. Self-defeating emotions are targeted such as anxiety and depression, and the person's irrational thoughts and beliefs about themselves, others and the world are actively challenged. Stephanie seems to facilitate a process where irrational cognitions are identified and connections are made to emotions, however the challenge to the irrational cognitions seems to occur by a person consistently behaving in a more productive and less self-defeating manner. This process has the capacity to challenge peoples' deeply held beliefs about themselves, such as their sense of powerlessness and worthlessness. In this way Stephanie almost short-circuits the cognitive challenging process of cognitive therapies. It seems to me that a person with deeply entrenched negative core beliefs or a person who has not adequately processed past traumatic experiences, would possibly not gain the same benefit from the program than someone who has a more stable and rational perception of themselves. It would be important at some stage to gain long-term data from participants about the effect of the program on their lives.

 


As I was developing my thinking about on-line teaching methods I wrote several articles. These have been updated to include my most recent experiences and can be accessed quickly using
the links below.

 

On-line learning:
The important issues and what I am doing about them

by
Stephanie Burns

Getting Attention and Motivating Participation in
Self-Directed Programs

by
Stephanie Burns

Voice Recognition with Bob!
A taste of the on-line experience

by
Stephanie Burns

 

Given my work as a Psychologist, it is essential to have an accurate insight into my clients and my own behaviour and psychological dynamics. On this level, various aspects of the program, such as training my memory, and the intense microcosmic minute-to-minute awareness of my physiological and emotional responses to everyday events was exceptionally useful for me. I've done much awareness raising of my own psychological and behavioural processes to enhance clarity when dealing with other people's emotional and psychological states, so for a program to further enhance an already keen self awareness to me was quite an achievement. For example, one of the lessons was to command the brain to pick up certain features of the environment during my working day. I was amazed at how I could so readily program my brain to do things it has never done. I was also actually overwhelmed by the amount of material being perceived by my brain. I have also found that the material I learned and the insights gained have led to longer-term positive behavioural changes. This for me is a critical issue, as there are many programs out there that lead to short term changes, but only serve to reinforce people's sense of their own powerlessness when they go back to earlier self-defeating patterns of behaviour.

This program was quite an eye-opening experience that was fascinating both as a participant learner and independent observer. The evidence I saw in myself, and what I read of other's experiences, is that the "Who's Driving the Bus" program is psychologically powerful on a number of levels. The potential of Stephanie's on-line approach is almost endless, as I could see so many individual components of the program becoming stand-alone on-line courses. The on-line learning environment is obviously in it's infancy, and it is encouraging to see that it is in the hands of people like Stephanie who will serve to further enhance its evolution.

Paul Martin


For the latest developments in Stephanie's work in the area of on-line teaching please visit the Design Services subsite accessed via the Crystal Ball. If you would like to participate in an on-line experience that uses Stephanie Burns' teaching methods there are usually between 1 and 5 different on-line courses offered for use or test at any given time. Information about these courses can also be accessed via the crystal ball. If you would like to go there directly from this article click on the image below.

 

 

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