As a nice complement to my last post on Understanding by Design, comes this piece on Pseudoteaching that Donald Taylor (who runs the excellent UK Learning Technologies conference) pointed out. The premise is that much teaching that appears good to both the instructor and observers is really ineffective. And this is instructive in a couple of ways.
First, it’s easy to believe that if you’re preparing, and presenting eloquently, you are communicating. And that isn’t necessarily so. For learning to stick, there are several necessary components, the most important being that the learner needs to be engaged in meaningful activity. That’s not likely the case in the classroom where learners are in your control. Now, if you’re giving meaningful assignments before the lecture, and then extending the learning afterward, you have a chance. Otherwise, the content is likely to fall on deaf ears.
And, to fend off the hoary old canard about why do we attend conferences then (and I give a lot of talks): if people are doing meaningful activity, like their jobs, then a presentation related to their work can serve as a valuable reflection opportunity. So, speaking to practitioners makes sense: it can provide new insights, inspiration, and more. But not for learners who don’t have meaningful activity and aligned content resources.
Which brings me to the second point, you need to start with thinking about what you want learners to be able to do after the learning experience, and then align assessment and learning materials accordingly. Like the post author, I too probably was “doin’ a Lewin” when I first started lecturing, but I coupled it with meaningful and challenging assignments. And not as well as I now would do, but I improved over time and if I ever get a chance to be an instructor again, I will continue to improve (I’ve got some courses or a program I’d love to run).
It’s real easy to delude ourselves that good production equals good learning, but the evidence is to the contrary. Similarly, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’ve given the learners the necessary information. That doesn’t work either. You’ve got to understand learning, formally or intuitively (and the latter is not the way to bet), and align the elements to succeed.
That’s if a significant skill-shift is what’s needed, and there are lots of times a course isn’t the answer. But when it is, get it right. Please. We really can’t afford to waste money and time like it is all too easy to do.