The Short Definition of “Real Learning”


Real learning is the ability to adopt what you know and know-how to do and adapt it under an everchanging variety of circumstances.

 

No point beating around the pedagogical bush. I’ve been asked by a number of readers “How would you define real learning?” Real learning is the ability to adopt what you know and know-how to do and adapt it under an everchanging variety of circumstances. Learning is an ongoing process. That’s my definition and I’m sticking to it.

Real Learning Versus Rote Learning

Learning in a classroom, actual or online, involves the use of short-term memory. It is all about remembering – regurgitating – then forgetting. It is rote learning, the encumbered and inhibited kind we are mostly used to doing. You remember the lesson, and show that you remember through a variety of tests and then move on. Moving on is all about forgetting. With two interesting and notable exceptions. Art. Science. The reason is simple. Art and Science require an evolving degree of knowledge from basic to advanced. Think learning to play the tuba or building a car. It’s the kind of subject matter that was always learned by apprenticing or being tutored by a master. You need basic math to get to algebraic equations and then onto experimental astrophysics. If you don’t master the fingering you cannot play a decent scale let alone get to a Bach sonata.

By contrast, real learning is somewhat like sleeping. (Not the sleeping you do when a sage-on-the- stage drones on in that sonorous monotone and lulls you into dreamland.) You do not “fall” to sleep, you go through a process of sleeping, through stages. If you’re constantly interrupted you wake up the next morning feeling like you had a bad night sleep. Real learning requires stages as well, and you cannot skip over any of them.

Playing Golf: Spaghetti on the Putting Green

Even though I do not play the game, I use golf as an example to explain the process of real learning. Interestingly a recent number of neuroscience researchers have been doing the same. They talk about reaching a point during the adoption phase where you peak at the physical learning part of the game, and you move on to the strategic or mental part. Your body has practiced so much it has really learned what to do, and now it’s on to the rest of you to learn to find the spot where you want the ball to go. Feel the wind. Sense the way the green curves. Before you get to that stage you spend a lot of time looking all over the place. They followed the eye patterns of novice golfers on a green, lining up a putt, and when they illustrated their eye movements it looked like someone had thrown a plate of spaghetti on the green. Lines and loops going every which way. With the top golfers, the eye patterns were a only few lines, most of them moving directly towards the cup.

When you have learned to play well enough, the body part of the learning to play golf is done, and your mind is free to focus focus focus. You reached the point where you are in the zone. It’s like sleep where you managed to avoid being interrupted until you reach Phase 5 – dreaming.

Why Do We Continue to Fake It?

Rote learning is an incredible waste of time and money. So much of what we learn in school, and in companies that have copied the schoolplace model into the workplace, is forgotten. It does not build on itself from experience. Not just experience in the sense of doing but even experience of knowing more. Even though history, for example, should take you from the Year One up until Today, and then deeper into every era, most of what you learn about history you quickly test and rapidly excrete. That’s just the way the system measures and rewards the student. It has nothing to do with really learning about history. Or any other subject as well. And it certainly fails miserably at providing the 21st century skills we need for the emerging Knowledge Economy.

My Story About History and Herstory

Side note: An alternative example of real learning. I had the advantage of going to a school – at the time it was called “experimental” – where we spent two years moving through time. Going to school was like being in a time machine. For example, when we were learning about the period called the 16th century, we did not have just one short history lesson,  but learned everything 16th century. We were taught about their language, words, maps, arts, crafts, clothes, sciences, cultures, politics, music, poetry, literature, plays, travels, trade, religions, wars, weapons, you name it. We were immersed in the 16th century. It felt like we were in the 16th century. It’s just another model that while not perfect, teaches you more about history than the 3 weeks you get in most schools before jumping ahead from the 16th to the 17th century.

Back to real learning versus rote learning. There are two very surprising elements to real, uninhibited learning that the fake pale excuse of rote learning excludes, disables, and even prohibits.

The Critical Importance of Forgetting

The first is that real learning starts with forgetting – making room for the new. If you have a hard time forgetting the old you will have a difficult time starting to learn the new. If you had a hard time learning what you know, then you will also try and hold on to the old and not learn the new. And be honest we’ve all experienced it. That moment when they upgrade or change a process or procedure or tool you know how to use and you exclaim “Hey, I just learned how to use it, and they’re already changing it!” So, you need to be able to clear the mental cache to use a materialistic model of the brain.

It’s Not Failure if You Learn Something

The second big part – the really big part – of real learning is failure. Failure happens. When you are adapting what you learned from the last time you did it or thought it or spoke it or argued it or whatever, you will experience failure. Smart people who are real learners go “Oh I failed, okay what did I do wrong and how can I fix it so next time I do it right?” Einstein. Edison. Dyson. My Uncle Karl. Long list. So you need to accept and enable failure for the process of real learning to work. And if “failure is not an option” then you will fail and not learn anything.

If you are involved in any kind of learning, and forgetting and failure are not emphasized as part of the learning … leave. You will not really learn a thing. If forgetting what you know at the start (I love those movie scenes where the Sargent – Captain – Leader says “Okay you idiots for starters I want you to forget everything you ever learned!”) then real learning will not happen. By the way forgetting is a brain function as studied by neuroscience as remembering. Imagine what your life would be like if you could not forget what you learned the first (and last) time you learned it …

The “High Wire Training” Exception

Now there is what I call “High Wire Training” where failure leads to your or someone else’s death. Walking across the Grand Canyon. Going into battle in Afghanistan. Responding to a 911 emergency involving a mass shooting or horrible car accident. Let’s be honest. Most of what we learn is not in the High Wire Training category. If it was, this would be a very different blog with a focus on practice, practice and more practice. Repetition. Simulation. VR headsets and more … hmmm … maybe next time.

To sum it up. Learning is a natural brain process that occurs in stages. Real learning enables all the stages. Rote learning disables the stages and focuses on a small part of the process. I’m not sure what value rote learning has in today’s world. Then again, I’m not sure it ever had any real value. What’s the point of spending time and energy learning something only to forget it almost immediately after the test?

To review: Real learning is the ability to adopt what you know and know-how to do and adapt it under an everchanging variety of circumstances. It is one of the reasons my new book Minds at Work harps on the need for continuous learning in the Knowledge Economy where every day – using what you know and know-how to do – is more than ever under the pressure of constantly changing circumstances.

Minds at Work will be published this December 2017 by ATD Press and is available for preorder on Amazon.

 

Managing Failure In Your Organization: When Is Failure “Intelligent”?


This blog has frequently stated that a successful learning culture must accept that failures are an important component of learning.

So what, exactly, does that mean?

Does this mean that managers are to overlook mistakes and praise and reward those who’ve screwed up?

Wouldn’t the end result of such behavior be an organization whose members were sloppy, inaccurate and imprecise in their work?

What, specifically, would an organization interested in making a shift from the “push” training culture to a “pull” learning culture do if it wanted to make failure an opportunity to learn about problems before it grew too expensive –or too late — to address and correct them?

Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 12.22.30 AM

These are all important questions — and I’ll talk about them in this and a series of blogs to follow. But let me start by quoting Amy C. Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School who states, “All failures are not created equal.”

In her highly engaging and readable article, Strategies for Learning from Failure published in the Harvard Business Review, Edmondson illustrates how some failures can provide highly valuable information, while others are inherently less helpful.

Edmondson has divided failure into the following three categories for which I have provided abbreviated descriptions, which are based largely on hers:

Preventable failures in predictable operations

These are failures most of us would consider “bad.” As Edmondson states, “They usually involve deviations from spec in the closely defined processes of high-volume or routine operations in manufacturing and services. With proper training and support, employees can follow those processes consistently. When they don’t, deviance, inattention, or lack of ability is usually the reason. But in such cases, the causes can be readily identified and solutions developed.”

Think of the famous Toyota Production System, which instills in all employees the importance of pulling a rope to stop the assembly line immediately upon spotting — or even suspecting –there is a problem. Diagnostics and problem-solving process kick in, and there is no “punishment” for initiating this process, which over the years, has helped the company identify real and potential problems early, before they became serious, system-wide, and costly to the company and its reputation.

 

Unavoidable failures in complex systems

This relates to work involving “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before,” as Edmondson puts it. Some examples of this type of work includes healthcare professionals in hospital emergency rooms, soldiers in battle, people working in nuclear power plants

Even if workers follow best practices for safety and risk management, small process failures will occur. Often, true disaster is caused by a series of small failures that occurred within a short period of time, or occurred in a particular sequence. To prevent this, workers need to feel they will be supported — not stigmatized — when they report small failures with equipment, systems or procedures while it is possible to address and correct them, rather than waiting until a true crisis  — or disaster –occurs.

 

Intelligent failures at the frontier

The term “intelligent failures” was coined by Duke University professor of management, Sim Sitkin. Dr. Edmondson defines these as “good” failures that “occur in environments where answers are not knowable in advance because this exact situation hasn’t been encountered before and perhaps never will be again.”

Intelligent failures are to be expected in companies working to create a new vaccine, build a new type of aircraft or vehicle. In these situations, good work involves good experimentation– and it is always hoped that the failures good experimentation will produce will be quick and decisive. If they are, they will prevent the organization from sinking further time, money and other resources into unproductive work.

There you have it: the hierarchy of organizational failure as laid out by one of the finest minds at Harvard Business School.

My next blog will consider the reasons why organizations are so resistant to the idea of “destigmatizing failure.”

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

5 Votes

Screen shot 2015-03-18 at 10.37.18 PM

This post written by Susan Fry and David Grebow

“Push” learning has gone the way of the cassette tape, tube television and electric typewriter.

Leading educators and trainers now regard push learning as inefficient, suboptimal and outdated. Even many schools, often the slowest institutions to change, are rapidly making the transition away from that model.

Yet, despite the fact that “push learning” is clearly not suited for today’s “economy of ideas,” corporations have been surprisingly reluctant to make the necessary change.

Why?

The reason may well lie in the fact that a “pull” learning culture is truly democratic. It’s a culture that encourages and supports everyone to explore and demonstrate their initiative and abilities, allowing the best to rise to the top based on merit.

That sounds like a great benefit to any organization. But when put into practice, the concept can prove to be quite revolutionary.

Throughout history, providing access to knowledge has been a way to control who gained power, wealth and status.

Learning and training are often hoarded and carefully doled out to people upon whom top management wish to confer success. Often, they are golden keys to elite private club that are given to friends’ children, colleagues, and clients, alumni from the same university, people of the same culture, class or color.

There can be no doubt that in the last 50 years, countries with the world’s leading economies have worked to erode discrimination and provide greater employment opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender.

It’s time organizations make another much-needed cultural shift, and “tear down the wall” by replacing the old, “push” learning culture with a “pull” culture that ensures equal opportunity learning.

KnowledgeStar is a corporation that consults with large and small organizations to transform themselves into learning cultures. Contact us at David(at)KnowledgeStar.(com) 

The Dangers of “Push” Training: A True Story


old-typewriter-with-mouse-thumb3355

This post was written by Susan Fry, Vice President, Creative Strategy, KnowledgeStar.

A recent experience proved how dangerous adhering to the old “push” model can be. In consulting with one of the world’s best-known NGOs, I conducted an exhaustive series of interviews with Managers and Directors at different levels, located in countries around the globe.

This NGO is funded to do work throughout the world improving health — which also means working to eradicate deadly diseases or control outbreaks. The interviews quickly revealed that members of the NGO in one country were not sharing information that could be extremely beneficial to coworkers in other countries, even though doing so surely could have eliminated suffering and saved lives.

Deeper investigation revealed that the NGO had a long-established culture of “hoarding” learning and training and doling it out to those that the top management had decided they wanted to bring into “the fold.” When a favored few rose to the top in their own country, they were invited to the world headquarters located in a vibrant, wealthy city, where they were wined, dined and welcomed into the elite “inner circle.”

They then moved to the headquarters city to take their new positions, where they communicated information to the other “elites,” occasionally returning to their home countries. The pattern had been in place for years and there was little desire to change it — even though changing to a learning culture could clearly make them much more agile, effective and successful in meeting the stated goals of their organization.

This exposes one of the dangers of a “pull” learning culture as well, where inputting knowledge is power. If I go to my PC, it is KIKO (Knowledge In, Knowledge Out). The technology systems that enable the learners are only as good as the information they contain. If the underlying culture is still embedded in the old command-and-control hierarchy in which knowledge is power, then selectively sharing knowledge will become power.

The culture is the bedrock upon which leaders, learners and the enabling technology is built. In a true learning culture people instinctively believe that sharing knowledge is empowering and automatically act on that belief.

This is yet one more reason to build a real learning culture and not just erect a facade that might be able to pass for one.

Learning Tip Number 3: Why Storytelling Works


Image

I love it when someone comes up with the science to prove what I’ve learned through trial&error. Leo Widrich makes the most convincing case for storytelling that I yet read. If you are not incorporating storytelling into your training or education programs, then this article should push you over the top. Stories are not only the most powerful way to activate out brains they are the best way to make the spaghetti of learning bits stick to the synapses. Plus I learned why my significant other usual tells a related story from her life whenever we are talking about anything. Used to drive me crazy until I read this article …

I remember the first time I used storytelling in a leadership training program.

“It was a dark and stormy night …”

The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

Leo Widrich

A good story can make or break a presentation, article, or conversation. But why is that? When Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich started to market his product through stories instead of benefits and bullet points, sign-ups went through the roof. Here he shares the science of why storytelling is so uniquely powerful.

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

What’s interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

“Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.”

A story can put your whole brain to work. And yet, it gets better:

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too:

The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

 

Evolution has wired our brains for storytelling—how to make use of it

Now all this is interesting. We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found [that] “personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.”

Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.

The following graphic probably describes it best:

The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

 

In a great experiment, John Bargh at Yale found the following:

“Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.”

We link up metaphors and literal happenings automatically. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced.

Let’s dig into some hands on tips to make use of it:

Exchange giving suggestions for telling stories

Do you know the feeling when a good friend tells you a story and then two weeks later, you mention the same story to him, as if it was your idea? This is totally normal and at the same time, one of the most powerful ways to get people on board with your ideas and thoughts. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

Write more persuasively—bring in stories from yourself or an expert

This is something that took me a long time to understand. If you start out writing, it’s only natural to think “I don’t have a lot of experience with this, how can I make my post believable if I use personal stories?” The best way to get around this is by simply exchanging stories with those of experts. When this blog used to be a social media blog, I would ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they had written online. It’s a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story.

The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. This is a similar reason why multitasking is so hard for us. Try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

Quick last fact: Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that used to make stories awesome. Scientists, in the midst of researching the topic of storytelling have also discovered, that certain words and phrases have lost all storytelling power:

“Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more.”

This means, that the frontal cortex—the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions—can’t be activated with these phrases. It’s something that might be worth remembering when crafting your next story.

 

Independent Learners Cannot Use A LMS


Independent Learners Cannot Use A LMS

Learning has become an ongoing process and the CLS is destined to take over where the older event-driven LMS stopped.

Innovative CLS Starts Where LMS Stops

A new program, the Certify Learning System (CLS), has been developed and designed to track and reward continuous independent learning for your most talented employees who learn what they need to know to stay at the top of their field.

Learning today is an ongoing anytime and anywhere process driven by independent learners who learn what they need to know to stay at the top of their field. When learning was formal and event driven, Learning Management Systems (LMS) were developed to help track and record programs that employees were assigned to attend. That was then.Today, learning has become a continuous informal process that occurs independently whenever and wherever people need to learn. Employees can choose on their own to take a webinar, attend a conference workshop or read an important new industry whitepaper. Until now there has been no way to track and record what they are learning.

The Certify Learning System (CLS) was developed to modernize the process and pick-up where the older LMS drops off.Independent learners are often the most knowledgeable and talented people in any organization. Being able to reward them is important. Being able to identify, hire, promote and assign them to key teams is even more valuable. The old LMS cannot provide you with this information, or reward your independent learners for their efforts.The CertifyLearning System (CLS) registers employees online from any device, and records every kind of learning event from a wide variety of providers. By assigning credits to these events, the cloud-based system allows employers to maintain an up-to-date record of employee’s informal ongoing and independent learning.

“Since learning never stops or even slows down, you want to be able to identify the people who are always learning.” states David Grebow CEO, KnowledgeStar and worldwide expert in informal learning. “Highly motivated learners are the smartest employees, and CLS is like a GPS that guides you to them when you need to know who they are.”

With everything online and no software to install, CLS is quick and inexpensive to setup and maintain.  The system is designed to be customized to reflect the brand and identity of your organization.  Because the CLS records are cloud-based they are portable and follow the registered individual from company to company. This again differs from Learning Management Systems where records are kept private by a single employer. This makes CLS especially useful for people who frequently work for different employers in the same field.

The CLS has just completed a successful 3-month pilot with one of the largest educational publishers in the country and is ready to help your organization identify your knowledge stars.

If you would like a free demo, let me know so I can send you a pair of warm stockings since it will blow your socks off and I wouldn’t want you to get cold feet!

Brain Rules for Classes


One of the biggest reasons people like learning online, especially late at night,  is that it’s a great way to get to sleep.

Just joking. Not. The following interview was originally written as Brain Rules for Meetings. As I read it, I was struck by the realization that it applies even more so as Brain Rules for Classes. It is right to the point about the ways that we need to be Great Instructors in our classes (which after all is and done are not essentially different than a meeting). What I find amazing is how many Teachers – Instructors – Lecturers do not follow the rules.

For those of you pressed for time, here’s a quick summary of the 3 key rules or “Brain Gadgets” that guarantee a really good class presentation:

  1. Start with the meaning of what you’re talking about, not the details. Details are b o r i n g, meaning is everything
  2. You have 10 minutes before the brain checks out … that means a powerful start EVERY 10 minutes if you want to hold their attention
  3. Key in on the 6 Big Questions everyone asks in any meeting or class that you need to answer … especially Question 5 and 6. I won’t even try and sum those up, so read on ….
Molecular biologist John Medina, speaker and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, didn’t set out to become a media star. But he got so fed up with encountering myths about the brain – that you use only 10 percent of it, for example, or that there are right- and left- brain personalities – that he once threw a magazine across a seat on an airplane. (The flight, he notes, wasn’t full.) “So I decided to write Brain Rules,” Medina said, “as an attempt to say, ‘Look, here’s what we do know, here’s what we don’t know, here are a few things you can try that might have an application in the business world – and the meetings world as well.'”

Not that Brain Rules will tell you how the brain operates. “We don’t know squat about how the brain works,” said Medina, who has focused on brain research for nearly three decades. He added: “I don’t know how you know how to pick up a glass of water and drink it. But we do know the conditions that [the brain] operates best in, even if we don’t know all the ins and outs of that operation.”

Which of the 12 Brain Rules has the most impact on meetings?

Well, probably, the biggest one would have to be about attentional states. This rule is very simple: People don’t pay attention to boring things. So if you really want to have a lousy meeting, make sure it’s boring. If you want to have a lousy classroom, make sure it’s boring. And if you want to vaccinate against the types of things that really do bore the mind, we have some understanding of that.

So how do you design a good meeting?

Here are the top three “brain gadgets” that probably have a bearing on the question. First, the human brain processes meaning before it processes detail. Many people, when they put meetings together, actually don’t even think about the meaning of what it is they’re saying. They just go right to the detail. If you go to the detail, you’ve got yourself a bored audience. Congratulations.

Second, in terms of attentional states, we’re not sure if this is brain science or not, but certainly in the behavioral literature, you’ve got 10 minutes with an audience before you will absolutely bore them. And you’ve got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, “Am I going to pay attention to you or not?” The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out. And since most people have been in meetings – 90 percent of which have bored them silly – they already have an immune response against you, particularly if you’ve got a PowerPoint slide up there.

How do you then hold attention?

This is what you have to do in 10 minutes. You have to pulse what I just said – the meaning before detail – into it. I call it a hook. At nine minutes and 59 seconds, you’ve got to give your audience a break from what it is that you’ve been saying and pulse to them once again the meaning of what you’re saying.

What is the third “brain gadget”?

The brain cycles through six questions very, very quickly. Question No. 1 is “Will it eat me?” We pay tons of attention to threat. The second question is “Can I eat it?” I don’t know if you have ever watched a cooking show and have loved what they are cooking, but you pay tons of attention if you think there’s going to be an energy resource. Question No. 3 is highly Darwinian. The whole reason why you want to live in the first place is to project your genes to the next generation – that means sex. So Question No. 3 is “Can I mate with it?” And Question No. 4 is “Will it mate with me?”

It turns out we pay tons of attention to – it actually isn’t sex per se, it’s reproductive opportunity. [It is also] hooked up to the pleasure centers of your brain – the exact same centers you use when you laugh at something. Oddly enough, I think that’s one of the reasons why humor can work. If you can pop a joke or at least tell an interesting story, it’s actually inciting those areas of the brain that are otherwise devoted to sex. You don’t become aroused by listening to a joke. I’m saying those areas of the brain can be co-opted. You can utilize them, and a good speaker knows how to do that.

What are Questions 5 and 6?

“Have I seen it before?” and “Have I never seen it before?” We are terrific pattern matchers. There is an element of surprise that comes when patterns don’t match, but the reason why that happens is because we are trying to match patterns all the time.

Is there a Brain Rule that addresses whether you should try to control the use of laptops and phones during a meeting session?

I have this rule response, based on data, and then I have a visceral response, also based on data. In other words, I’m about ready to tell you a contradiction. Are you ready?

Yes, I am.

Alrighty. I do believe what you can show is that there are attentional blinks. The brain actually is a beautiful multitasker, but the attentional spotlight, which you use to pay attention to things, [is not]. You can’t listen to a speaker and type what they are saying at the same time.

What you can show in the laboratory is that you get staccato-like attentional blinks. Just like you come up for air: You look at the speaker, then when you’re writing, you cannot hear what the speaker is saying. Then you come up for air and hear the speaker again. So you’re flipping back and forth between those two, and your ability to be engaged to hear what a speaker is saying is necessarily fragmented.
At the same time, if your speaker is boring, you could have checked out anyway. So you see, in many ways it depends upon the speaker.

How so?

If the speaker is really compelling and is clear and is emotion- ally competent, and has gone through those six questions, letting you come up for air every 10 minutes, I’ve actually watched audiences put their laptops away just to pay attention.

I have a style that is purposely a little speedier. And the reason why is that it produces a tension that says, “I need to pay attention closely to him or I’m going to lose what he’s saying.” I don’t make it so fast that it’s unintelligible – at least I hope I don’t. But I do make it fast, and occasionally I see comments that say, “Great speaker, but you know, you were too freaking fast.”

This interview originally appeared in the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) magazine

Increasing the Graduation Rate


(From NPR Sunday November 27, 2011)

The typical college student today isn’t “typical” anymore: Only 1 in 4 lives on campus and studies full time.

But part-timers and commuter students are much less likely to finish — most part-time students are still without a degree or a certificate after eight years. Higher education is desperately looking for strategies that improve those numbers. There might be one in Tennessee.

Many higher-ed institutions brag about all the choices they offer: lots of courses and majors to choose from, pick your own schedule. But for some students, choice can be the enemy, says James King, vice chancellor of the Tennessee Technology Centers, a state-supported career-training program with 27 locations strung across the state.

 “We do not use the Burger King Approach — ‘Have it your way’ — because, most of the time, employers do not have that approach,” he said. “You work according to a schedule they set.”

‘Scared To Death’

Carol Puryear is the director (and den mother, you might say) of the Murfreesboro Center, not far from Nashville. She and the other staff do a lot of hand-holding to make sure students get to their goal — a certificate and a job. Many community college programs let students pick and choose classes, but once they sign up at a Technology Center their class schedule is decided for them.

“They decide on the program and they decide if they want to be full time or part time and that’s pretty much it,” Puryear said.

Students don’t have to worry that their schedule might change from semester to semester. For the 16 months she’s enrolled, student Heidi Khanna knows exactly when she has to show up for her drafting courses: 7:45 to 2:30 Monday through Friday.

Attendance is taken and makes up about a third of your grade. It’s a lot more like high school than the typical on-again-off-again schedule of many college students.

Khanna is working on a computer-aided design program. Yes, architecture is in a slump, but she’s also getting the skills to move into mechanical drawing. The Technology Centers work closely with advisers from local businesses to keep their programs in sync with economic reality. That’s one reason why around 8 in 10 students finish and get a job in their field — amazing statistics for any higher-ed institution. But it’s still scary leaving the nest.

“I’m scared to death,” Khanna says laughing. “I don’t know, scared of change, you know, just getting back out into the workforce.”

 We do not use the Burger King Approach — Have it your way — because, most of the time, employers do not have that approach. You work according to a schedule they set.
 

– James King, Tennessee Technology Centers

Khanna already has a degree — but her associate of arts in liberal studies wasn’t getting her the work she wanted, so she’s starting over at age 39. Other students plan to use their certificates to get a job to pay for more schooling.

Working With Industry

Jeremy Miller, 23, already has an offer to be a surgical technician. His earnings will rise to around $40,000 a year.

“That’ll do for me,” he said. “That’s better than what I’m making now.”

He laughed when asked how much that is. “Nothing,” he said.

“Next August I plan on starting where I left off the first time I went to school with my prerequisites, to start my bachelor’s degree in biology and then hopefully off to med school after that,” he said.

Transferring to a new school is a big challenge for many students, but the Technology Centers have good arrangements with other colleges so students can continue without losing credits.

The centers have followed much the same program for more than 40 years, and it’s actually pretty old school: create a closely knit program, like a small Ivy League college. Now, as more schools realize just how bad college completion rates are, they’re looking in this direction.

Next September, the City University of New York will open a brand new school called The New Community College, with Scott Evenbeck as president.

“We’ve designed a curriculum and core curriculum that everyone will go through together,” Evenbeck said. “And the students will all be, at least in the first year, enrolled full time.”

These schools are building on evidence that shows many students simply take the wrong classes or they can’t get into the right ones; either way, they waste time and money. The longer they take, the more likely they are to drop out. The New Community College will start with a summer program that introduces students to the school and one another.

“Then when they come in the fall, they’ll have an intact schedule where a cohort of students will take everything together,” Evenbeck said.

There are signs this approach has promise for one- and two-year students. The question is whether these tightly focused programs have something to teach bigger four-year schools, where graduation rates are also pretty low.

The Real Meaning of mLearning


The mobile web has eradicated any wired person’s dilemma whether to be offline in the real world, or online and stuck in one location (an office cube, a living room, or worse, the basement).

Offline is now online, and online is offline.

mLearning will be the driver for Learning 2.0. Today’s smartphones and tablets – e.g. iPhones and iPads – are just the beginning. We now have real meaning when we say learning anytime anyplace. It first meant someplace other than the classroom. Now it means the freedom to learn when and where you need to know.

The implications for learning are as profound as the creation of the formal educational system. That system was created to support an Industrial Economy where mass production required mass consumption. Learning 1.0 was all about learning as an event, a beginning and an end, ADDIE, Kirkpatrick’s Levels, SCORM and ‘asses in classes”.

Learning 2.0 is all about performance, connection and conversation, mentoring and support, learning as a process that occurs over time and can now be supported with mlearning when and where you need to learn.

The implications for design and delivery are profound. Courselets. 10 minute time limits. Compelling emotional stories to pull a learner in and provide lessons from the real world …

… that’s only the beginning. There’s the added benefits of Social Media and Social Networking = Social Learning. The mind boggles …

Welcome to the new world of mLearning. Like my friend Marcia Connor says in one of her new Learnativity posts (which I recommend you RSS ASAP) “In Naming Elephants, Sue Hammond and Andrea Mayfield write, “Ignorance and knowledge grow at the same rate because the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.””

Get used to it … the more you can learn about mlearning, the more you know you don’t know. Like the unk-unk I use in groups to whom I speak. It means the unknown unknown. You can’t know what you don’t know. You can only keep learning, and discovering, and pushing the boundaries of your expectations aside.