The shift from a content-centered approach to one that is person-centered is about more than simply asking questions. Posing questions and allowing participants to respond do make your program more interactive, but to be truly effective you must do more.
In a traditional learning environment, regardless of our approach, we plan the delivery of content to achieve certain goals – we want participants to learn specific things. When we ask questions, they are often designed to lead participants into arriving at a predetermined idea. We may welcome lots of responses and ideas, but with gentle guidance, we move participants towards specific answers.
In many ways, the facilitator is the centre of this kind of discussion. They are the leader, ‘in charge’ of the experience.
This approach is great for learning. Museum objects offer rich opportunities for reflection, connection and critical thinking. They can teach us a lot, whether in their social/historical/philosophical context, scientific or technical narratives, or aesthetic ideas. Museums are a wealth of educational opportunities.
A person-centred approach is something different. When we centre the participant, we de-centre the facilitator. Being person-centred is about bringing the participant and the object together, and seeing what happens. Everyone is equal in the conversation. We ask questions to encourage people to share their ideas and we follow wherever they lead.
That is not to say that we don’t plan content. We still research chosen objects, and develop questions to help guide us, but we use this preparation to have knowledge at hand when or if we need it. Sometimes we do, but sometimes a conversation may go in another direction entirely – and that is just fine!
Part of this approach is remembering our knowledge of dementia, particularly in terms of memory and new learning. As a person experiences changes in their brain due to dementia, new information may not transfer into long term memory. As such, our focus is on the experience more than building new knowledge.
The other part is our focus on the social experience. The most enjoyable conversations are often the liveliest, where everyone can contribute ideas, and the talk may travel in unexpected directions. When interest and individual contributions take the lead, participants are empowered in their experience, they feel valued and connected.