Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Education Delivery Disorder To Brain-Friendly Meetings in 3 Steps

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was in Junior High School (aka “Middle School”)  One of my fondest memories is of my English teacher, Mr. William (Bill) Boyd.  This guy was nothing short of awesome.

Students EngagedI liked Mr. Boyd instantly.  Every single kid in my class felt the same way.  He was  patient (tolerant of our early teen foolishness), humorous (playful dry wit), caring (his actions showed that), and passionate about people, the English language, literature, poetry, and the written word.  Most importantly, he was committed to impacting every one of his students in some positive way.

For most of us Language arts was one of the most boring subjects of all (especially grammar).  Yet, somehow Mr. Boyd made learning an adventure.  He captured our complete attention, by making his class stimulating, entertaining, humorous, and relevant.

So why is most adult learning delivered in such uninteresting ways?  Why do educators choose to spew their thoughts at us in an information dump, from behind a podium, or a head table?  Do presenters just like to hear themselves talk?  Have we, as consumers of that content, become lazy or complacent about our learning?  Or, are we just following education tradition, engaging in “good ole fashion learning?”  Sadly, there may not be much learning occurring at all.

“Designers of educational tools must be artistic in their creation of brain-friendly environments. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not through lecture, but by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely.”

From the research I have done on this issue I’ve learned most typical education models for conferences are not aligned with brain science.  Most professionals schooled in adult learning practices are saying Educators need to shift their thinking, and lesson plans, to a more brain-friendly learning environment.

BrainOne such individual, Dr. John Medina, wrote a very interesting book discussing the relationship of the human brain to the learning process.  In “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School.” Dr. Medina outlines 12 things that are known about how the brain works.  He calls them “Brain rules.”  For this article I’m going to focus on “Rule 4:  We don’t pay attention to boring things.”

EDD (Education Delivery Disorder)

Medina contends studies show before the first quarter hour is over, in a typical presentation, people usually have checked out.  He says “if keeping someone’s interest in a lecture were a business, it would have an 80 percent failure rate.”

In the meetings business there is an epidemic of Education Delivery Disorder.  Here are two significant reasons why this problem exists:

Information Overload — Instructors “overfeed” their students with too much information, without giving them time to process, or “digest” the material.  They literally become a human version of “foie de Gras.”  A sixty minute lecture, with no breaks, and no interaction is a classic example of “overfeed.”

Context is Key — Contrary to popular belief the brain is not capable of multitasking.  If a speaker introduces a concept, without providing context to the rest of the presentation, the audience is forced to simultaneously listen to the presentation and define how it fits in to the rest of the discussion. This is the equivalent of trying to drive while talking on a cell phone.

Creating Brain-Friendly Meetings

Here are three steps from Dr. Medina, on how to structure your presentations to increase student engagement and learning retention:

Step One:  The 10 Minute Rule — Divide your presentation into 10 minute segments.  Each of these intervals should address a single core concept.  Spend the first minute explaining the “gist” or high level overview, of the concept, with the remaining 9 minutes focusing on its details.

Step Two:  The Brain Needs a Break — At the end of each segment, some sort of stimuli must be introduced to arouse the brain.  (Called emotionally competent stimuli, or ECS)  More simply you can refer to it as a “hook.”  The hook must trigger an emotion, have relevance to the topic, and must be placed between modules.  Storytelling is a great example of an effective hook.  Another alternative is to introduce a brief collaborative exercise.

Step Three:  Repetition is Key — It’s very important for the instructor to explain the presentation plan at the beginning of the class, with numerous repetitions of “where we are” throughout the event.  This will present the audience from trying to multitask.

Incorporating these three steps into your educational routine will generate a noticeable increase in attendee learning, and satisfaction with their event experience.  I would highly recommend Dr. Medina’s book, as it is fully of terrific insights into how the brain is wired for learning.

Question:  What are you doing to get your attendees more engaged in your conference education sessions?  What hooks are you using to keep them stimulated and receptive to learning?  Please share.

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Donella Evoniuk July 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Great points, Mike! We are using technology and self-directed learning to really keep people focused and engaged. By self-directed, I mean that we are providing people with the opportunity to present to each other without going through the formal session adjudication process. Of course, we have the traditional session formats as well — yet we are finding that people’s engagement in those methodologies are deeper since they do have the chance to engage directly with each other. Our attendees are professional teachers themselves, so they have an edge on how to present most effectively to each other and need little babysitting in that regard. Another great tool we use is backchanneling — it takes thought and strategy to use it well rather than simply “using it.”


Michael M McCurry CMP July 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Hi Donella,

Can you elaborate, for our readers, on what you specifically mean by “back-channeling?”

I am guessing you are referring to a Twitter conversation, but want to make sure that is what you mean.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!



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