Q&A with PIP Pat Johnson

Leader of Learning Masters is excited about Toastmasters’ revitalized education program.

Pat Johnson
Pat Johnson has seen many new projects emerge since she joined Toastmasters more than 30 years ago. Now, four years after serving as International President, she is playing a leading role in the largest project the organization has ever undertaken: revitalizing the education program.

Johnson is heading a large group of member volunteers called Learning Masters, who work closely with the World Headquarters Education Team in providing key feedback on the education program content. Numbering more than 200—and representing members in all 14 regions—these individuals have varying levels of experience in Toastmasters, as well as wide-ranging professional backgrounds.

The revitalized education program (REP), which is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2015, will be available to members in print and online. Among other features, it will offer mobileaccess to educational materials and provide members with customized learning, tailored to their personal and professional goals.

Johnson, a resident of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, is a seasoned executive who has been a leader in corporate, government, not-for-profit and entrepreneurial industries. She has worked for many years in the adult education field. Recently, Johnson answered questions about the Learning Masters and the REP.

For those who don’t know, is the REP replacing the current education program?
Yes, we are replacing what exists now. All of the structure that is currently in the program will disappear, but the same core concepts of the education program will remain—they’ll just be integrated in different ways than before. We are taking all the best elements of learning in the current program and building on that and adding to that, to create learning paths that are more relevant and accessible to people.

To help with the transition from one program to the other, there will be an overlap period. Once the revitalized program launches, the current and revitalized programs will run concurrently for at least two years.

Will the REP change the club experience?
I don’t see it changing the club experience at all. One of the keys that we have emphasized over and over is that the guiding principles of Toastmasters will remain the same. Toastmasters will continue to be about experiential learning in a club environment. That is what keeps us unique. As Dan [Toastmasters Chief Executive Officer Daniel Rex] says, that’s our special selling point. The education program is still going to be self-paced; that’s not going to change. Peer feedback is still going to exist—you’re still going to give speeches and get feedback from fellow club members. The program is still going to be mentor-driven. In fact, the evaluation and mentoring aspects are going to be even stronger in the revitalized program. The program is being built around the foundational pieces of Toastmasters.

How do the Learning Masters contribute to the revitalization process?
They are playing a vital role. Since 2013, Learning Masters have been providing their feedback on program content and sharing their ideas and expertise on the best ways that members learn. They have been answering surveys regarding educational materials in the revitalized program, responding to questions posted regularly on an online discussion board, and offering various comments and suggestions on that same online forum. [Johnson is the moderator for the group.]

Their input helped validate the five core competencies that form the foundation of the revitalized program: Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, Leading and Management, Strategic Leadership, and Confidence.

We are so appreciative of the Learning Masters’ participation, and of all the time and effort they have put into this process.

The Learning Masters comprise a cross-section of members. Has that been valuable to the process?
The Learning Masters have certainly brought many varied opinions to this project. They don’t speak as a collective voice—they express a wide range of ideas and opinions based on their own experiences in Toastmasters. That variety of perspectives is valuable to this process.

We very purposely wanted to get input from different demographics, not only in terms of members’ ages and gender but also in terms of their experience in the Toastmasters program. We wanted brand-new members as well as lifers.

Toastmasters was very clear from the beginning that this would be a collaborative process and that we would consult the members in the building of 13the revitalized education program. The Learning Masters were chosen to represent the 300,000-plus members.

What excites you most about the REP?
I’m excited about many things; it’s hard to choose just one! It’s very exciting for Toastmasters to have such a major undertaking after 90 years of successful history: to modernize the education program for our current and future members. We need this revitalized program to stay competitive for the future. In the world of educational and training development, you have to always be innovative or else you become irrelevant very quickly.

What are the key benefits for members?
One of the great benefits of the program will be member engagement. If we can retain more members by engaging them, that’s going to make a huge difference in our Toastmasters world and in the quality of our clubs as well. If a club is great and the environment is great, people will walk in the door and say, ‘Wow, this is where I want to be.’

It will give members a fresh new energy. That makes all the difference, because we want all members to have a positive experience.

If there’s a general message going out to members, it’s that this is a complex project. There are so many moving pieces. That’s why we want to take our time—because we want to do this well.

Will the REP be relevant to a wide range of people?
I think that’s one of the most exciting aspects: We’re building a program with enough flexibility in it to meet the real-world needs of all the different people who walk through the door—people with all sorts of needs, who come to Toastmasters at different levels of skill and different ages.

That’s what I love about this revitalized program, because not everybody in Toastmasters wants to go through all the stages of our educational program. This is a flexible program—it’s not one-size-fits-all.

I’ve been a member for 31 years, so I’ve seen a great number of changes over the years. This is really exciting for me, and for those of us who have multiple DTMs, because we’re not going to be doing the same thing over and over again. People who have been around the program for a long time will re-engage.

As a longtime leader in Toastmasters, what has it been like for you to head up the Learning Masters?
I’m honored to be involved, to be a small part of this huge revitalization. At the end of this journey, when the program is finished, I think our Learning Masters group will be able to look at all the points we’ve been discussing and debating, and have a sense of pride and satisfaction in our contributions to this project that will help shape the future of Toastmasters.

About the Author

Paul Sterman

is a senior editor of Toastmaster magazine.