10 November 2005

Looking to Kindy

After hearing about another person's experience at a workplace seminar, I tried to summarise what I see missing from many learning sessions. And I came up with Kindergarten.

At a corporate seminar, you may listen to a talk. Unless the speaker is a gifted storyteller (not speaker, but a storyteller), the ideas or skills they want to you to understand or learn are generally lost one hour later. A quality learning experience requires putting the lesson into practice. You do not become an acclaimed world-class pianist by hearing someone describe how to play piano. You do not become a successful accountant by listening to someone talking about best practice in accountancy.

The learner needs a range of inputs to work with. And they need to interact and practise.

Adults are no different to children in learning, except we adults have learnt to hide our boredom and suck it in. The attention span of an adult is not that different to that of a child. If a talker is boring us, we adults suck it in and try to focus on them again, but it is an uphill battle. We usually avoid talking to the person next to us in a lecture, or playing with the hair of the person in front of us.

But children in kindergarten provide a great reminder of how learning works. If a kindy kid is bored, you will see it! They will stop listening and walk away, or fidget, or pull Freddy's hair, or find worms and put them in their pocket. It is a fantastic visual reminder to the teacher that they want to interact.

A kindergarten teacher knows this. Consider Mrs Schloogle. She will talk to her class of kindergartern children for 30 seconds at most (unless she is storytelling - a different thing altogether). Then it is time to have the kids actally play the recorder, not just hear instructions. (Or painting a picture of their house. Or build a Lego house together.) The teacher knows that little Billy may not have every instruction needed, and may put the wrong end of the recorder in his mouth. But that can be quickly corrected one-on-one. Billy will know that Mrs Schloogle cares, and that he didn't get bored.

So if you are teaching, or helping someone learn, remember Mrs Schloogle. Remember Billy. Remember kindergarten, and treat your audience as if they were 4 years old. Less talking and more interaction is a good direction for better learning. The biggest barrier is inventing or researching ways for the audience to interact with the content.