Thursday, March 15, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

“You learn it best by trying it over and over, figuring it out.”
        - Stuart Collins

Why are activities so important?  Why all the fuss? 

In a nutshell, it’s simply how we learn.  Humans learn through interaction.  They learn by doing the task they are expected to do.  Have you ever been told how to do something, and then when you do it you hesitate, unsure of how to proceed?  It’s because you haven’t imprinted the action in your brain yet.  Some studies have shown the actual memory of yourself doing something is more powerful than the knowledge of the task itself.

And yet, when we develop training  what do we often do?  We start with the lecture, then we refine out idea, and then we try to squeeze in some hands-on or / exercises.  How confused is that?

Moreover, look at what people do when they misjudge their timing (as we all do) and they run short.  They rush through the last topics in an unabsorbable flurry and then cut out the exercises!

That process is just wrong, and it needs to be turned on its head.  You START with the exercises you want your learners to be able to do.  Begin with what you want them to leave with – the really important bits.   And then you fill in the holes with what you want to tell them.  (But don’t fill in all the holes – make them think.  But that’s another story).

But I can’t claim credit for this idea.  It has been around for some time but really come on strong in the last decade.  In 2002, Harold D. Stolovitch wrote a powerful book called “Telling Ain’t Training” that put forth the idea that the most effective learning occurs when the learning is active and enjoyable.  In one sense, this was putting form over function (or at least elevating it to an equal).  It shook the foundations.  Academics revolted.  Pitchforks and torches.  (not really on that last one).

I paraphrase that concept with the line, “If you’re talking your class isn’t learning.”  Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it does point to a weakness in many programs.  That is, it’s more about what I as a developer can shovel out at you than what you will actually learn.  You can avoid this by following a simple paradigm, whether you’re building a multi-week program or a one hour session:
  1. What skills do I need my learner to leave with (my task list)? 
  2.  How can I get my learners to demonstrate that skills to me (the activity)?
  3. What seeds of knowledge to I need to plant to get them started (my lecture)?
If you remember that the LAST thing you do is open up PowerPoint you’re most of the way there.

So how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  I'll bet you can find that one out for yourself....

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