Don’t teach anything new!

Craig Browne

I vividly remember a lecture I attended in my first few weeks of my education degree …

The lecturer shouted at us,

“Don’t ever let me come into one of your classrooms and hear you teaching something new to your students!”

You could see puzzled looks on all our fresh faces. After all, isn’t teaching all about providing new information?

Well, it turned out that he was making an exaggerated point to drive home the importance of finding familiar ‘hooks’ and ‘hangers’ in each of our student’s minds for any ‘new’ content we were offering.

I was truly impacted by this experience and it has stayed with me ever since. And it’s at the heart of what makes CCS Cards effective – more on this later.

Driven by this philosophy I recall working hard in my teaching and museum education days to plan sessions that sought to stimulate interest and capture attention by first trying to find hooks upon which to apply any new knowledge.

As a museum educator I became so interested in this field that I took a scholarship to the US and was based at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. I worked for a short time with Minda Borun, who was researching the concept of ‘naive notions’. Minda was concerned about how a person’s current understanding of a particular concept affects their interpretation of new information that is being presented to them.

It is known that a learner’s pre-formatted schema may affect the degree to which they engage in a new learning opportunity. That is, they may come to the situation thinking they don’t need to know and/or they may believe they already know and so do not feel the need to participate or modify their current understanding. If we are going to be effective as trainers and educators, we need to interrupt this! We need to find reliable ways to create the need to know.

One such way is to have participants draw upon their own lived experience. If we can help them richly surface ideas they have developed through lived experience, then declare, share, compare, and discuss them with others, we can lead them to critically reflect and to want to know more. We help them create their own need to know. They experience a kind of tension between their (just revealed) current understanding of something and how that compares with the world around them (see Mezirow). And then we can introduce them to the new information we want to teach them or have them consider.

So, if you are an educator or trainer ask yourself:

In what ways do I start my sessions to ensure participants can genuinely identify and share where they are at with a topic and what their genuine lived experience has been? And do I do it always?

I ask this, because at its purest and best, I believe this is the way to develop and to train. It is the key to how we should structure our learning environment, how we should structure our sessions and is a potent source of the motivation for behavioural change.

We should always strive to provide opportunities for participants to demonstrate to themselves the difference between what they know to do and what they actually do. (They may not think they know, or they may choose to believe they don’t know, or perhaps they think they are already doing it – but ultimately, they probably know what to do and just need some guidance and nudging.)

We can trace this idea back to the source, the Latin root of the word education – ‘EDUCE’.  It means, ‘to draw out’ ‘to bring up’ or ‘to lead forth’. And a root of the word train – is also, ‘to draw’. So maybe we should be called eductors, not educators!

However, while educing may be the root goal, my experience as a school teacher, education officer, trainer and developer of training products, suggests that while we are aware of the imperative of this approach, we don’t always practice this ‘pure’ approach. In fact, we sometimes do the opposite. Instead of ‘drawing out’ we ‘pour-in’.

And why not? Pouring in has a lot of advantages!

  • it appears faster, it’s controllable and is easily timed
  • you can plan for all audience types
  • it’s easier to deliver and well-suited to inexperienced trainers (or people who have to take on training roles)
  • it produces a predictable, material consistency, a standard
  • you can demonstrate what you have covered, making it easier to sell to decision makers.

But, of course, there’s a cost. There are myriad down sides to pouring in? I know you’ll know them, but I’ll list a few:

  • lack of interest, irrelevance
  • minimal behavioural change
  • cynicism
  • wasted resources
  • do they even believe what you are telling them?
  • do they understand?
  • no need to know!

So, let’s get back to educing.

A simple Eductor
A simple Eductor

In the world of pumps and dredges there is a device known as an EDUCTOR.

The eductor is a beautiful piece of physics. It is a jet-type pump that contains no moving parts – it’s all about its shape. An eductor moves liquid from one place to another by entraining the pumped liquid in a rapidly flowing stream of water (the venturi effect – like a venturi in a boat). In short, it is a device that draws-out one liquid using the movement of another.

So why are eductors used?

So why are eductors used? Why not just use an ordinary pump?

Well there’s lots of reasons, but here’s a few keys that will help make my point:

  • It can be faster: the eductor can often perform the pumping at a greater rate of discharge than normal pumps
  • Can do more with less: eductors use a unique venturi design which enables smaller pumps to circulate large volumes of tank solution.
  • Controlled introduction of content: eductors are used for controlled mixing of chemicals, suspending solids, “sweeping” debris or sludge toward a filter
  • Get things started: good for priming other pumps 
  • Less effort: eductors don’t have to use any power source other than the flow of the water
  • Handle volatile situations: eductors can be used to pump liquids that cannot be pumped by other portable pumps or liquids such as volatile fluids or fluids that contain small particles.

What a great list!

Let’s be eductors

I put it to you that as corporate trainers, learning designers and educators, we should all be eductors! With the right approach and tools, we can:

  • create the ‘suction’ to draw out much more from our participants in a shorter time
  • control how much we mix our content with what is coming out from our participants – maybe we don’t even need to introduce anything!
  • prime the learning situation
  • use less effort – be more like learning environment managers or facilitators
  • more easily raise subjects and issues with potentially volatile responses. People tend not to argue with their own data – so we don’t just pour in new data, we draw out theirs first.

CCS Cards for eduction

So, how can we ensure that eduction is a key and regular component of our training situations?

I was once asked to name the one thing that has made CCS Cards such a popular tool for many trainers and facilitators. I’m not sure I answered the question all that well at that time, but I am now certain that it is its capacity to help people to make eduction a regular part of their training programs – despite the regular challenges of time, non-disclosure, inexperience, loud people, large numbers of participants, etc.

In a nut shell, the non-threatening atmosphere, insight and ease of communication that are natural effects of CCS Cards (even in virtual situations) allow it to behave as a tool for eduction.

CCS Cards:

  1. Provide individuals with a readily accessible way to open up, draw upon their lived experiences and clearly articulate them – readying them for new learning.
  2. Help a group identify common ideas, to reach consensus, to build commitment and motivate achievement, and to genuinely learn about, and from, each other.
  3. Add a nice dose of enjoyment, curiosity, and self-discovery.

Listen to all these people share their CCS Cards experiences

Go forth and shuffle and educe!

So, if you are a trainer, educator or learning designer, (with or without CCS Cards), be sure to remind yourself to not teach anything new to your participants! Well, you know what I mean. 🙂

Craig Browne

Craig is co-founder of CCS Corporation, co-developer of the CCS, a designer, educator, product developer and award-winning game maker.