Education is one way to improve ourselves personally and professionally.
Whenever we find ourselves lacking knowledge, understanding or skills for a specific job task, we take a class. Or attend a conference. Or participate in a webinar. Or read a book.
Sounds really simple. Right? Well, it’s not.
The challenge with most education is our belief that learning something we don’t know requires an expert (the speaker) or another means (books, online, computers).
The Watch Analogy
Note: I first saw this analogy demonstrated in my professional education many years ago. I’ve seen it referenced in many books such as Active Training by Mel Siberman, since then. I think it will help explain our challenges with education, experts, speakers, books, articles, webinars and computer based trainings.
In some of my presentations, I ask who in the audience is wearing a watch. (I stopped wearing one several years ago.)
I pick one volunteer and ask her to stand. Then I ask her to cover her watch with her other hand.
“What is she doing?” I ask my audience.
“She is covering her watch,” is the typical audience response.
“What are some synonyms for cover?” I reply.
“Hide, obscure, block, shroud, conceal, camouflage,” are some of the responses I get.
“Right! So the next time you have something to cover with an audience, or the next time you’re working with a speaker that needs to cover specific content, please know that you may be hiding the information from your listeners. The more content you cover, the more you obscure it and block it from view.”
That’s the typical deer-in-the-headlights look I get from my audience. Suddenly, their thinking about sharing information via the spoken word and learning is slammed with the truth! It’s a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee learning moment.
The Truth About Covering Content
When a speaker, or author, or blogger tries to share information, at that moment it’s their understanding of the content. It does not belong to the listener or reader yet.
It is only when the listener, attendee, participant or reader begins to uncover what the content means to them that the real learning occurs.
The uncovering only occurs by the learner’s own activity. It is something she must do on her own.
Unfortunately, the speaker, the book, the internet cannot do the work for the leaner!
And uncovering that content requires thinking. Thinking is the work.
Regrettably, (or fortunately, depending upon your view), an attendee cannot focus their attention on listening and thinking at the same time. It is one or the other. So the more content the speaker covers, the less thinking the attendee does. And the less learning that occurs.
All learning opportunities must provide active learning experiences for their audiences.
Active learning opportunities require the participants to do the majority of the work. That includes thinking and reflecting.
Listening is not an active learning process. It is passive and it does not necessarily translate into learning.
As a presenter:
- If you neatly package your information…
- Or you logically frame your understanding…
- Or you elegantly design your graphs and charts…
- Or you phenomenally demonstrate the skills…
- Or you show and tell…
You, not the learner, are doing all the work for them. It’s your understanding and not theirs…yet.
No, I’m not saying that effective instruction is pointless. It is necessary.
However, the key to effective learning opportunities is active audience involvement.
Want more information on developmental learning the futility of covering content? Read
- Harvard development psychologist Robert Kegan’s constructive-development insights
- Lesley College Professor George E. Hein thoughts on constructive learning and
- Columbia’s author, professor, educator and researcher Eleanor Drago-Severson research.
What does “covering or obscuring the content” mean to your education offerings? Why do we believe that we can transfer our own understandings through the spoken or written word to a listener or reader and it result in change?