Four Core Elements of Great Learning — and How to Avoid ‘Teaching by Telling’

I recently covered an MBA class for a Ph.D colleague of mine. Though the class lesson was to cover global HR, the instructor required that at the beginning of each class, one or two teams of students present an overview of critical concepts from that week’s reading.

The first team presented slide after slide of tiny text, and, as most novice presenters do, turned and read every word of every PowerPoint slide to the class. Everyone in the class began nodding off. No learning was happening. I had to stop the mental massacre.

What was meant to be a program on global HR became a program on teaching, learning, and changing behavior. Just because you’re an expert in a topic doesn’t mean you’re ready to teach it. And the following core components are at the heart of good teaching:

1. Clear expectation of learning – what is being taught?

2. The value of the message — what is the impact or result of using this new information?

3. The right delivery method (everyone learns differently — what is the right approach for this audience and this message?

4. A follow-up process to assess the effectiveness of the lesson — how did the class or audience understand and use the new information?

There is a phrase among the education community: “Telling isn’t teaching.” Teaching is a dynamic process that constantly assesses the content, the learner and the method to find the right combination that optimizes results. Great trainers are always watching for these components, even mid-program, to modify on the fly if necessary and to be sure this audience gets this message.

I have been to hundreds of training programs (I group meetings into this total because virtually every meeting contains elements of training in it) that use PowerPoint as the delivery method.

The ones that were successful used the slides only to direct, guide or reinforce. The slides had limited text, non-distracting backgrounds and powerful images. Slides were used at the appropriate time and were blacked out when the discussion moved to something different than the content on the slide.

Most, however, missed these points. They were either a standard, prepackaged program delivered without regard for the learning style or needs of the audience, or were an opportunity for the presenter to look like the “sage on the stage.” I saw my MBA class heading in the same direction.

So after some coaching, the student teams started again and made some significant improvements in moving the conversation and adapting to the learning styles of their audience. It wasn’t necessarily easy, but they got it.

We are in a world that is constantly sharing information — in effect teaching, coaching, and educating others. Taking this responsibility seriously is not only the responsibility of training professionals, but it is the responsibility of anyone who moves to the front, either in person or virtually.

Telling isn’t teaching. And PowerPoint isn’t the only option.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Geetesh Bajaj.