Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

17 March 2011


Clark @ 6:26 am

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.


  1. For all the times I’ve griped about people lecturing about the evils of lecturing, this is the first reasonable explanation I’ve seen of why it can *sometimes* be useful. Thanks, Clark!

    I suppose your point helps explain the value of TED talks, as those are often about topics people are engaged in at some level, or at least suppose they want to have a trendy opinion about. So the meaningful activity they support is, to some extent, the shaping of one’s identity trajectory. What do you think?

    Comment by Mark Notess — 17 March 2011 @ 7:29 am

  2. Mark, thanks for the feedback. Glad if my explanation makes sense. I think your insight into TED talks makes *some* sense, but I do wonder if it’s more a knowledge trajectory. Most people I know do give credit to the speaker. And, personally, I *hope* I watch to get new perspectives, not to have a trendy new opinion! :)

    Comment by Clark — 17 March 2011 @ 8:41 am

  3. Clark, yeah, yeah. But there are other aspects, too. One conference attendee can stand in for many people in his or her organization. Standing in other people’s shoes gets the person reflecting on multiple levels. I coach people to ask their peers what they want to find out about before they attend an event.

    Another item, and admittedly this is a pet peeve, taking notes provides an opportunity for reflection. I do not understand why most people miss out on this opportunity. Using a mind-map to record notes is even better. This keeps the listener engaged, always weighing what’s worth recording and how things relate to one another. As my long-time readers know, I used to thoroughly document what I discovered at conferences on my websites. I wanted to share the knowledge, sure, but I was the primary beneficiary, for this helped me reflect and set what I’d learned in my noggin.

    Comment by Jay Cross — 17 March 2011 @ 11:18 pm

  4. [...] Pseudoteaching by Clark Quinn (Learnlets) [...]

    Pingback by Pseudoteaching Update for 3/29/2011 | Action-Reaction — 29 March 2011 @ 8:44 pm

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