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Volunteer Training and Professional Development

The Training page for Volunteer Today has historically focused on tips for trainers. Each issue will now have information on some aspect of professional development for managers of volunteers and some articles on how to be a better trainer of volunteers. The author of this page, Nancy Macduff, is open to ideas and suggestions from readers on what might be useful information in the area of professional development. You can email her at: editor@volunteertoday.com.

~ September 2007 ~ Topics

Adults As Self-Learners
The Power of Non-Verbal Communication

Adults As Self-Learners

Much of what adults learn does not take place in the workplace or voluntary organizations, but as a solitary endeavor. Here are some tidbits from the experts on adults as solitary learners.

  • Allen Tough defines solitary learning as projects, which are a series of episodes, adding up to at least seven hours. The learning is motivated by the desire to gain and retain a knowledge or skill, or to produce some lasting change.
  • It is common for individuals to spend 700 hours a year at learning projects.
  • About 70% of all learning projects are designed by the learner.
  • There are factors which are predictors of how much time an adult will devote to solitary learning-
    • Extent to which the individual's parents read or learned
    • Level of activity and achievement in the childhood home
    • Number of years in school
    • Satisfaction with attempts to learn
    • Placement in family (first children tend to devote more time to learning)

Why is this important information for the manager of volunteers? As the technology allows and volunteers grow scarce, managers of volunteers need to explore ways to "train" volunteers online. Solitary learning is already something people know how to do, and the effective manager of volunteers is wise to harness that skill and make learning easy, requiring no meeting attendance.

Allen Tough, Intentional Changes: A Fresh Approach to Helping People Change. Chicago, Follett, 1982

We now have downloadable books available in PDF format. Check out our online bookstore for Handling Problem Volunteers by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard now available electronically. Details for Handling Problem Volunteers Book

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The Power of Non-Verbal Communication

Nonverbal communication has enormous power. In measuring the impact of communication some researchers have found that the bulk of the impact is nonverbal. 7% is verbal (the words we say); 38% is tone of voice (which is considered nonverbal) and all the rest is nonverbal-gestures, artifacts, environment, and more.

Some volunteers work in sensitive contact positions where their nonverbal communication is as important as their verbal. If you are training such volunteers here is an exercise to tune them into the messages sent nonverbally.

"Let's Chat"

Purpose: To demonstrate the impact of nonverbal communication and what happens when it is removed.

  • Arrange the trainees into teams of two.
  • Have the teams chat for 2 -3 minutes. The topic is not important.
  • After a few minutes stop the group.
  • Ask each person to describe the nonverbal behavior of their "chat" partner-tapping pencils, playing with jewelry, gestures, eyebrow raising, etc.
  • After the exchange of information on nonverbal communication ask the individuals to continue their conversation, but work to use NO nonverbal cues.
  • Have the second conversation go for 2 -3 minutes.
  • Call an end to the "chat" and ask some of the following questions
  • Were you aware of your nonverbal communication in the first "chat" round? Why or why not?
  • Did you find any of your partner's nonverbal cues distracting from the conversation? Why?
  • How did you feel when you were prohibited from using nonverbal communication tools? Why?
  • Was the communication as effective without the nonverbal cues? Why or why not?

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Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at http://tltc.shu.edu/npo/. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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