David Patt gave me my aha moment of the day with this post: Is it safe? He says:
"People want to learn in a safe environment. If they're worrying about having attention called to them, or being tricked or embarrassed in front of others, they won't feel safe and they won't be able to learn. If they think they'll be called on to speak, forced to participate in exercises, or even asked their opinions, they won't feel safe and they may not show up at all."
People who are really into experiential, interactive learning (and I'm one of them) tend to think that people who don't want to dive in and participate in their learning are being just a wee bit, hmm, lazy, maybe? They just want to sit back and passively absorb, even though this usually isn't the best way to learn and get that learning to stick. But it's not laziness, is it? Lazy people don't show up. I think David's onto something, that it's got a lot to do with fear.
It rang true for me because boy do I share that fear. I've been tricked, forced to participate when I didn't have anything worth sharing, and embarrassed in those participatory sessions. When that happens, or even if you're worried about that happening, your brain can't help but go on defense. I do learn, but it's only because I want to make sure I have something in the hole in case I get called on. It's desperation learning, and I don't think it should be anyone's goal.
But I wouldn't say we shouldn't ask people to participate in their learning. I think we need to find a way to make it feel safe.