Learning Styles: 3D Mapping a Conversation

One of the learnings from being a student again has been around my own learning style.

Other than a few short courses and MOOCs I haven’t done much classroom-based work since university – and that was nearly 15 years ago.

The delicious irony here is that much of my work these days involves the design and delivery of education experiences.

Being on the other side of the table again has been a valuable experience. It’s reminded me how important it is to place yourself into the shoes of whoever is on the receiving end of what you’re offering:

Player <> Manager

Designer <> User

VC <> Founder

Principal <> Agent

Teacher <> Student

My biggest challenge as a student has been listening. I have no problem with this 1:1 or in small groups (in fact coaching clients often comment on my listening abilities). 

The problem is in larger group settings. Without visuals to guide me I either become easily distracted, or struggle to absorb what’s going on.

A common activity in my coaching program has been observing practice coaching sessions. As these are conversations, listening is the primary activity.

Notes work to an extent but don’t tell enough of a story as a lot of the work is in the movement and direction of the conversation rather than just the words being spoken.

Frustrated, I started trying some alternative methods.

First, a simple graph – time on axis, agenda type [1] on the other. 

Note to self: Is this a blog post?

This method helped with exercises in small groups, but in the bigger group I still found myself unable to concentrate fully for the full 20 minute duration.

I tried a graph with 3 axes. 

Again, agenda type on the Y-axis, this time going from 10 to -5 (somewhat arbitrary, but aligned to the 3 agendas. The numbers helped me figure out where a conversation was currently at).

Time went on the X-axis as previously. 

Then on the Z-axis were notes on the coaching methods used as well as some notes on content, reactions, and changes in the client.

Mapping this 3 dimensionally made it so much easier for me to figure out what was going on. As I listened to the conversation, I could follow along visually and also incorporate numerical data to help me understand the agenda depths and time check points. 

One of the earlier 3D versions

Doing this repeatedly across a few demos enabled me to see some patterns and paths that just wouldn’t have been available to me in a purely auditory way of learning. To further help me understand what was going on, I also started using different colours for different coaching methods and styles of questions. 

I’ve since used this graphical method as a tool in my own coaching practice: at appropriate moments in a session I can reference the graph (either visually in my mind or quickly sketched in my notebook) to see how deep we’ve gone, how much deeper we could go, and at which points certain different coaching techniques and methods can be utilised.

Next? Perhaps a sleeker digital version with some real 3D capability. 

But for now, a pen and a couple of coloured pens will do.

Try it yourself – 3D mapping a conversation.


[1] The 3 agenda types we explore are Presenting (P), Deeper (D), and Transformational (T). In very simple terms, part of the coach’s role is to guide a client from their Presenting Agenda, into a Deeper and then Transformational Agenda, before finding alignment with that original Presenting Agenda.

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