Stop Yacking AT your Learners…Engage them!

Why are lecture-heavy webinars dangerous? Because if you are disengaged in what you are teaching, how on earth do you expect your learners to be engaged? So how do you stop lecturing and start engaging your learners?

Ever since university, I have been involved with education.  First as a student as I completed my Bachelors degree, next as a student and a Teaching Assistant as I pursued my Masters.  Then I began my career in the museum field, which was a deliberate choice on my part for two reasons:

  1. I have loved museums since I was a child, and the idea that you could spend all of your time in one and get paid for it was sort of like finding the Holy Grail for me.  I am one of those people who dream that the events in the Night at the Museum series would happen to me!
    Night at the Museum
  2. I have always hated the way education is done at the K-12 level.  I love history, but the way that it was taught made me hate it.  Since the advent of “educational reforms” like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and their heavy emphasis on standardized testing (which I remember with great anxiety from my school days), the educational system has practically enshrined methodology to guarantee that learning will not take place.

I remain in the education field today, even after leaving museums behind me and transitioning to e-learning and adult education in the technology sector.  I serve as a software training specialist among my many hats, and frequently give webinars and educational sessions to customers to teach them how to use our software platform.  For the first year or so, it was new and exciting…but just like new car smell in your first new vehicle, that shine wears off after a while.  The software platform adapts and makes changes over time.  Adding a field here, moving these fields there for example.  But the overall function doesn’t change much.  This is where the challenge in teaching comes in for the trainer.  Once you have learned the basics, you switch over into what I call Deep Learning, otherwise known as the back-end or the why and how.  You are still learning, but the pace has dramatically slowed and the things you are learning are not the typical topics of training; they are the crazy, might-only-need-this-every-few-years type situations that don’t belong in most standard education sessions for new learners because the information is so situational-dependent that most of them won’t need to use it.

Bored at Work Why is this challenging for trainers?  Because if you are disengaged in what you are teaching, how on earth do you expect your learners to be engaged?  You tend to resort to lecture-heavy information dumps, trying to run through the training as quickly as possible so you can get back to your other responsibilities.  So how do you beat this slump?  Can it  be beaten, even if you are just teaching the same things over and over again?  Dr. Ray Jimenez of Vingettes Learning knows you can…and he’s here to show you how!

I love Dr. Jimenez’s webinars because they are supremely informative and entertaining at the same time.  One prime example is a webinar he presented in February (still available in recorded form on the Training Magazine Webinar Archives page) called The No-Lecture Webinar: Engage Learners and stop ‘YACKING’ at Them.  See?  Even the title is fun!  Dr. Jimenez shares my frustrations with typical education, namely that it is boring and ineffective.  He is a big proponent of chunking information as is consistent with principles of adult learning, or as we know it in the e-learning field, micro-learning.  The basic principle is that you break learning down into chunks of information that the learner needs at the moment they need it.  It’s basically acknowledging that trying to teach your learners everything about a subject is doomed to failure, especially when the content is particularly information dense.  So breaking the content into chunks that the learner can refer back to later, when they need it for a particular task, is far more effective.

So how do you go about converting your webinars into micro-learning?  Dr. Jimenez recommends creating a Header and a Footer for your specific pieces of content.  Something like this:

Chunking your Webinars

One Chunk of a Webinar

In the Header, you ask questions specific to the content you are teaching.  Things like “What would happen if the audit report doesn’t have a secure signature?” and “What are the consequences?” and “How did I do this in the past, and what is my next step?”  This establishes Scope and direction for the section…kind of like objectives, but in a much more relevant and engaging way.

In the Footer, you ask questions like “Does this meet the criteria?” and “Will this be accepted?” and “Am I done?” to provide closure to the section.  It also gives the learner a chance to summarize what they learned (which is a higher form of understanding according to Bloom’s Taxonomy) and it gives the trainer a chance to assess how and what has been learned before you leave the section.

Then, you simply repeat the chunks illustrated above until the content is covered.  You frame the content between the header and footer, similar to stacking meats and veggies between two pieces of bread to make a sandwich.  The Header and Footer put perspective around the content and provide you direction as  you begin and end.

Dr. Jimenez recommends using this in combination with Scenario-based learning.  In other words, don’t just present information to you learner.  Embed your facts into a story which is designed to draw the learner in.  You make your learners think about the scenarios, and this “tricks” the learner into learning without realizing it.  It’s instant engagement!  Just like I used to do back in the museum days with hands-on activities and storytelling during my tours.  I found that the visitors retained much greater amounts of information when the tours were based on stories and the learners were allowed to indulge their imaginations during the tour.  It’s one of the reasons modern-day learning and assessment-based education methodology is doomed to failure.  Using scenarios and chunking is how the brain works in real life, so why would you want to force the brain to work against itself during learning?

I highly recommend viewing the archived version of the webinar to get a better example of how micro-learning and scenarios can be used to create more immersive learning experiences.  You can access the archives here.  I know I plan on using these methods soon!

  1. […] to another hot topic sweeping the e-learning world right now, namely micro-learning.  In a previous post I mentioned attending a webinar by Dr. Ray Jimenez of Vingettes Learning.  Dr. Jimenez is a vocal […]

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