How do you make learning feel like a priority when it’s not treated as such? We all have things we would like to learn, but it’s difficult to set time aside — there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Check out three lessons I’ve learned in the transition from teaching weekly 3-hour undergraduate courses to on-the-fly trainings sandwiched between meetings.
Context is King
In 1986, Lee Shulman introduced the concept of pedagogical content knowledge – knowledge focused on the teaching of content rather than mastery of the content itself. Did I lose you yet? When time is of the essence you have to begin with a context the learner can relate to.
Let’s start over. Remember that brilliant professor who couldn’t communicate with his students despite being an expert in his field? Or when dad did an awful job teaching you how to drive even though he’s a great driver himself? Neither of them knew how to teach their expertise, they lacked pedagogical content knowledge.
Much better. Building on a context the learner is familiar with bypasses the initial trauma of trying to find your bearings when learning something new. By easing the learner into the content, not only is valuable time is saved, but the potential for the learner to disengage is reduced.
Don't Be a Gatekeeper
“Next time on insert-tv-show…”. I used to embrace the anticipation, treating the next 6 days and 23 hours as an exercise in patience. On the flip side, it’s disheartening when your instructor puts a pin in your question, “that’s what my [office hours, emails, open hours] are for”. That used to frustrate me to no end. I don’t need an exact answer, but at least point me in the right direction. We’re working with a short timeframe, there’s no time for obstacles!
When I caught myself doing this I wasn’t very happy. A big part of being an effective educator is anticipating the stumbling blocks learners will encounter. You don’t want to necessarily give them a pass, but making sure they have access to the resources they need to grow afterwards.
Design training so you are not the gatekeeper to further learning. Include links to helpful resources and promote learner-learner interactions through chat/forums. The goal of each training is not to produce a polished learner, but to plant a seed and cultivate an environment where obstacles to growth are removed. Now your 30 minute training has become an extended thought exercise.
Leave a Souvenir
I’ve never been a big picture taker. In the moment I just don’t think of it, but later on I wish I had those pictures to remind me of the fun memories. Objects trigger memories and that’s no different when it comes to learning. Whether it’s a story that resonates with the learners, a tangible product for them to keep, or a question that spurs deeper thought, the secret to effective teaching in 30 minutes is to find ways for it to extend beyond the given timeframe.
I’m a firm believer in a deconstruction model of learning, presenting a solution that will be dissected and reverse-engineered. I have three main criteria when choosing an exemplar to deconstruct: (1) the context is meaningful to learners, (2) the deconstructed parts can be related to existing knowledge, and (3) the exemplar can be modified and extended afterwards.
When designing and delivering compact training, the true challenge is having it stick. It is difficult to make a real impact in 30 minutes and present content that will be readily recalled by the learner. Knowing this, I always include a tangible souvenir of the training to assist with recall and spur further creativity.
A Checklist for Compact Training
What type of an educator would I be if I didn’t model my own advice? Below is a checklist to guide your future training. Know your learners, work within their context, break down obstacles to learning, and leave them with a memento of time well spent!