Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of things trying to come up with the right approach to a new book.  Here’s an interesting thought:

Imagine a different type of school.  Take away the boundaries and focus on getting results as quickly as possible.  Focus on how people actually achieve high levels of performance and not preserving or even improving the status quo.

Here’s the announcement on the first day of school:

“Welcome to your first day and the New School.  You are about to embark on a headlong journey to excellence.

As you’ve probably heard, we have only two courses out our school.  First, you’ll be taking communications.  You’ll start today and complete this course when you can effectively communicate with anyone about anything.

Second, you’ll be taking problem-solving.  You’re going to learn to solve problems big and small.  And of course, you’ll be asked to convince others that your solutions are correct.”

Our teaching method is simple.  We will be driving to our goal as fast as we can.  There won’t be any true and false tests, no multiple choice, no fill in the blanks.  We aren’t teaching test taking here.  We will be evaluating your performance by watching you work, listening to your presentations and reading what you write.

Good luck and let’s get going…thank you for your attention.”

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Do teams always outperform individuals?  If not, when to individuals excel over teams?  As a general rule, I’d say teams work best when there is more to do than one person can handle, there is enough time to work on team formation and team work, collaboration will produce a better outcome and there is a need for a wide range of skills and talents.  On the other hand individuals work best when time is critical, you require unique talent or require superior individual performance.

Let’s take the example of something as simple as a tug of war.  On one side you have a team of three who have practiced together and now work well together.  One the other side, you have the world’s strongest man acting alone.  Guess who wins?

How about something creative?  If you have a team of successful novelists together writing a book, do you get a better product than if a single author wrote the book?  For the answer check out the audio book, “The Chopin Manuscript.”  This is a collaboration of great mystery writers.  It’s nothing special.  I don’t think team Rembrandt would have improved things.

As a general rule, when you need teamwork use a team, when you need individual excellence use an individual.

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21.     Focus on 100%80%, 90% and certainly 95% are good test scores.  However, that’s a lot of errors and mistakes on the job.  For example, you wouldn’t stay in business long if you got 80% of your orders right.  Also, that’s only one test.  In addition what you don’t get right on one test accumulates test after test.  Just image the sheer number of question a student got wrong from K-12 if they missed 10% on every test.  Instead, it’s important to focus on a 100% and to keep working toward mastery.  It’s also good to make sure the tests are accurate and students are simply missing the trick questions or ones the instructor got wrong.22.     Practice SpeedAn important part of being fully up-to-speed is being fluent and confident.  It’s one thing to be able to answer questions on a sale call if given enough time and another thing to be able to provide answers quickly because you really know them.  One of the best ways to develop this level of competency is to practice with the clock ticking.  See how many answers you can get in 60 seconds.  As you practice, you will get better and better, and any test will seem easy.  23.     Try Speed ReadingSpeed reading is one of many fast learning tools that make everything easier.  Most people learn to read by sounding out words either out loud or in their head.  As they get better at reading, they recognize whole words or even phrases.  Speed reading on the other hand uses visual learning to see whole sentences and paragraphs without sounding out the words.  Since you can see much faster than you can speak, speed reading can easily double or triple reading speeds.  This helps you read more information faster or to reread something in the time you could read it once.  Speed reading in many cases can also improve comprehension.  Speed reading requires a lot of practice which is something few people work at in the traditional way of reading.

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1.     Don’t Forget the Big Picture

All too often education is presented in pieces and parts.  Everything is done as building blocks toward something that is larger.  However, it’s harder to learn without knowing the big picture and how things really go together.  Think about how much faster it is to complete a jigsaw puzzle when you know what it’s suppose to look like when you’re done.

2.     Play a Game

Learning doesn’t have to be dull and boring.  In fact, playing games is not only fun, they can also help integrate a range of skills and knowledge together.  Games also make it easier to spend the hours and hours of practice required to master many skills.  Games that simulate real situations are often the most effective.

3.     Find a Mentor

There’s no reason you have to figure everything out on your own.  That’s really the slowness of trial and error learning.  In many cases, mentors have already made all the mistakes and can help a student avoid them. 

Even just skipping one or two of the most time consuming and costly mistakes can really speed up the learning process.  A good mentor can also help structure experiences so that students learn what they need to learn quickly.  Finally, being a mentor is another way to improve your own knowledge and understanding.  It’s part of teaching to learn.

4.     Think Quantity Before Quality

Building classroom, online or self-study courses can be very expensive and time consuming.  There is usually a trade off between more courses or better looking courses.  Unless all the bells and whistles speed up learning, it’s better to look at getting more done than making things look pretty.

Copyright Learning Paths International 2008

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1.     Blend Hard and Soft Skills

In most organizations hard (technical) skills and soft (people) skills are taught separately.  This is because the experts in area aren’t the same.  That’s why engineers get a bad rap about their people skills.  However on the job, employees need to be able to use all these skills at the same time.  Teaching them separately doesn’t mean students will ever be able to use them together.  A better and faster approach is to teach them together in the way they are used on the job.

2.     Skip Knowledge Tests

In the workplace you often see a difference between test scores and performance on the job.  Many people think this is due to test anxiety or poor study habits.  However, that doesn’t explain why people who do well on tests often don’t do well on the job.  That’s because the job isn’t to recall knowledge.  Even in a job like an answer line, the job is more complex and involves doing several things at the same time.  For the answer line, besides knowing the answer, the employee also needs to ask good questions, interact positively with the customer, use the computer and the phone system.  Therefore, you can cut classroom time by eliminating knowledge tests and get a better idea of what someone has learned through direct observation and feedback.

3.     No More Sink or Swim

Throwing students into the deep end works well for the swimmers.  However, it’s really hard on the sinkers.  In fact, there are usually a lot more sinkers than swimmers.  This is a very popular method for a lot of sales forces.  The training consists of here’s your desk, here’s your phone, go to it.  When you think about the cost of hiring people, this is a very expensive way of doing things.

4.     Add More Reality

The great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.”  All the role plays, simulations and practice can go out the window when an employee faces the reality of the job.  Take a customer service rep who learns how to deal with problems in the classroom and then faces a real angry customer.  To speed up learning, it’s critical to build in these real situations.

copyright LPI 2008

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I’ve finished some one paragraphy descriptions of ideas to speed up the learning process.  I’m going to post them in bunches.

9.       Teach the Way You Learn
There is usually a big difference the way people are taught versus how the actual learn something.  When you think about being taught, you usually think about someone telling or showing you something.  When you think about how you learn, you usually think about a discovery you made or the hours of practice you invested.
Teaching the way people learn often means setting up learning experiences where others will discovery what they need to learn.  You find these experiences by asking top performers how they learned something and often they will tell you about these experiences.  This also means setting up enough structured practice to ensure that learners get enough repetition to make things stick.
10.       Know Your Learning Style
We all learn in slightly different ways. Knowing your own style or the style of your students and adapting really speeds up learning. Some people will tell you that they need to write things down before they learn them while others have to try things out before they start to learn. Some people learn really well from seeing a demonstration on a video while others simply won’t get what you’re trying to do.
As a teacher it’s hard to adapt everything individually. The answer is to use multiple methods of teaching and experimenting to see what works best. As a student, it’s to your advantage to pay attention to how you like to learn and then seek out that type of instruction.
11.       Focus on Speed
This may seem odd as a suggestion but the longer it takes to learn something the harder it is to keep the learner motivated.  Looking for ways to increase speed actually will increase speed.  As you set up a measurement system for training, try adding a speed measure such as time to proficiency. 
12.       Teach in short segments
People tend to remember the first and last parts of any lesson.  With short segments, you have more firsts and lasts.  Once things go beyond about 30 minutes, you’re starting to lose effectiveness. 

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One of the key activities in improving quality is to eliminate waste.  You may have been part of a Kaizen event that did this.  Waste can be anything that isn’t necessary and in particular in speeding up learning, you’re looking for things that are a waste of time.

So where is the waste in education and training.  One major source of waste is everything that is taught one day and forgotten the next.  Think about your K-12 years and even your college years.  How much were you taught that you no longer remember.  For most people it’s a staggering amount.  I took three different languages in school and today I can’t speak or translate any of them.  While I might have had a good time in class, I consider it a waste.  I guess I could have been wasting my time with something else.

But there’s more..books than noone reads, DVDs that noone watches and lectures that noone stays awake for. 

Speeding up learning requires looking at each course or training event and looking at the retention rate.  If it’s low, you need to toss it out or try something else.

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