We Are Drawn To Effortless Education Which Results In Temporary, Fleeting Illusions Of Grandeur

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There are no shortcuts to learning.

Yet, we believe there are.

We rush to see the top 20 tips in 60 minutes. Or the six best pointers an expert has learned from their own success. Our brains love lists. And our brains will take the easy route to alleged learning anytime.

The Illusion Of Knowing

If you are a speaker or conference organizer, consider the following:

Creating sessions that provide a list of tips and tricks does not lead to authentic learning. It leads to the illusion of knowing.

“Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow,” say the authors of Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning.

Passing out tips and great ideas to an audience feels great. And our audience loves it. We feel proud that we met their needs.

But did we really meet their needs?

Not really. We just lead them to the illusion of learning. We gave them a temporary feeling of satisfaction. It met their immediate gratification. But it won’t serve them very well later.

Why Tips-And-Tricks Education Sessions Don’t Work

We are poor judges of when we are learning well. And when we are not says the Make It Stick authors.

We are deluded by the belief that a list of tips and tricks will help us improve. We think that if someone else has already done the work, we can take the quick and easy route to improvement.

However, if we don’t understand…

  • why and how those tips work…
  • the context of when those tips work and…
  • the issues and problems underneath those tips…

we will fail at implementing them.

That’s usually when we blame the speaker. It’s their fault for giving us faulty information we say.

The truth is we took the easy path. We firmly believe someone can hand us their knowledge and then we have it too.

The learning research shows that just giving the best ideas to someone to implement leads to copying, mimicry and parroting behavior. And it will eventually lead to failure.

Transformational Learning

We have to help our attendees create authentic, transformational learning.

Authentic, transformational learning creates a deep understanding of the underlying issue. Then we can adapt and apply the learning to our own context.

When the path is harder and slower, it may feel less productive but it actually is just the opposite.

Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning state the Make It Stick authors. Even if we make errors in the process.

Receiving a list of hints from an expert gives us feelings of fluency. We become familiar with the words and therefore assume it’s a sign of mastery. But it’s all fleeting!

For true mastery, durability of memory, effective recall, the list of tips is largely a waste of time. We need to spend time learning the issue. And learning is an acquired skill.

We are all susceptible to illusions of knowing that can hijack our judgment of what we know and can do state these authors. We have to remember that the most effective learning strategies are often counter-intuitive.

There is no shortcut to learning.

Note: Consider these tips to make list education session more effective.

What are some ways your education offerings can provide deeper, authentic learning? What do we need to do to help our audience/customers understand transformational learning versus fleeting effortless surface learning?

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  1. Smiling at all this, Jeff, which shouldn’t surprise you or others who know me. My frustration is with the number of groups that think they _must have_ “60 tips in 60 minutes” because “people want that.” And I suppose some do – it does feel like learning except one can’t explain what can be done to use the information.

    From my experience as a learner and teacher, I think asking better questions about the topics being discussed – how does that apply to what you are trying to accomplish? in what ways will that benefit/change, etc., the outcomes you are trying to reach? Even the simple facilitator “Tell me more” will move people to delve deeper. It’s often up to the teacher (speaker, trainer) to help people think and by asking others to discuss and reflect on what needs to be accomplished and in what ways it can be.

    An easy example, from a class last week: I said “Adults learn and participate best in pleasant surroundings.” I asked “What are pleasant surroundings for you to learn/participate? for your group? [We had a focus for a few different types of events.]

    Some simple responses could be “comfortable chairs”, “lighting”, “temperature”, “good food”, which could have been the end of the discussion as everyone nodded and kept lists. Sheesh, I coulda given them a list of words or phrases!

    By taking it further – beyond a listing of items – and delving deeper into what those words meant to those in the group, providing a framework (and visuals) and how to determine ahead of the meeting what could be done and how then in the meeting to overcome what wasn’t working, how to help speakers – even a CEO during a dinner – work differently within a framwork – there was a greater understanding.

    So why do groups want – for sessions and for columns and other ‘education’ – just lists w/o thought and consideration?


    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Why do we want lists without thought and reflection…our brains are drawn to them. Instead of just reading my thoughts about them, consider these authors ideas:

      Maria Konnikova, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

      A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists.”

      Fast Company’s Drake Baer “4 Science-Backed Reasons Our Brains Love Lists.”

  2. Lisa says:

    Sadly too many people think everything should come effortlessly. I think that list and tips have a place. I would hope that if a person is really interested in learning that they would use the list or tips provided by the expert as starting point. Perhaps I am naive to think that. As an event planner It is difficult to balance the desire for short and snappy presentations with authentic learning.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      I agree that we hope that people use the list and tips from the expert as a starting point. But rarely have I seen that done. We are looking for instant gratification, formulas and shortcuts.

      You raise a great point that it is difficult to balance the desire for short, snappy, quick fixes with authentic learning. I think we can change the conversation. We’ve done it with food…offering more healthy options instead of junk food. We need to see list education sessions just as food we love but is bad for us. When we help our attendees understand why we are making the changes to authentic learning instead of quick fixes, we benefit everyone.

  3. Great post Jeff! I couldn’t agree more. A session should be focused on one tip or trick and all it’s moving parts. Without a deeper understanding of that tip or trick it (along with the 9 other tips mentioned in that session) will be completely forgotten. Too often we fail to put in the leg work to understand the context of the lists we read and end up just wasting our time and money. Thanks for the insight!

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