Technological delivery may make training efficient. It does not necessarily make for effective learning. It is the relationships among people and sharing contextualized experiences that create emergent knowledge that is the basis of education.
Mark Federman also says that “education is not merely about transferring information”, which is the part of the question that Will Richardson is wrestling with in the context of teacher professional development [lots more on Will’s post and worth reading all the comments]:
But the workshops are a different story. In the best case, they are a full day of one or two particular tools. In the worst case, they are one or two hours on a lot of tools. Either way, the experience usually serves to overwhelm, and at the end of the day (or hour) the participants head back to the craziness of their teaching lives where I’m guessing much of what they have “learned” fails to take root.
Much (most? all?) of our training and education is still based on transferring information, whether it be “death by powerpoint” or a hands-on workshop. I’m just as guilty as others in trying to get everything covered in the allotted time. So how do we change?
I have a few engagements coming up in 2008 and I am going to start practicing a new approach to my workshops and presentations. One of my inspirations comes from this article in The Star, about Carl Wieman and the Science Education Initiative at UBC, reinforcing what I already know, but still don’t practice well enough:
“Studies show we can remember only seven items at a time and can process only four ideas at once, so having an expensive professor read from a textbook is not an intelligent way to transfer information. It’s like overloading a computer that doesn’t have enough memory,” Wieman says.
Old-style introductory science lectures were “rotten for most people;” he says.
“The average student never mastered more than 30 per cent of the key essential concepts.
“But if you reduce the load of information and have students work the brain vigorously – very much like developing a muscle – research shows you can increase retention to about 65 per cent.”
Often, with paying participants or attendees at conferences, we may not feel comfortable in challenging them and getting them involved in a learning process. The easy way is to present information [hopefully in an entertaining way so that we get invited back] or give follow-me activities and then let them ask questions at the end. People can tune out, yak on the back channel or check their e-mail.
Even when you provide additional resources and avenues of conversation after the workshop, few people follow up because they’re too busy with the craziness of their lives. The learning moment, which may only be one, has to happen there on the spot. Instead of a shot-gun lecture approach, covering lots of ideas and information, focusing on only a few key ideas and reinforcing them through engagement is the cognitively superior approach. However, forcing participation may turn off people used to the lecture approach and may even result in fewer smilies on the feedback sheets. It could be an interesting year.