Observations and arguments.

Learning through speech

Amid the raging river of content known as my Bloglines feeds are the writings of Seth Godin, a bit of a rockstar iconoclast in the marketing world. A big idea guy, or as he might posit, a small idea guy.

In a post from Sunday Godin asks: “What’s the point of talking to a group?

He suggests that giving a speech to a group of people–oration–might work to incite emotion or to sell (he sidesteps religion in posing his question), but that it falls short as a teaching tool, particularly in a culture comfortable with the remote control, YouTube, and Bloglines.

I can’t help but think Godin has extrapolated from his own boredom at a recent class or training session and concluded that his own learning pace and style is shared by everyone.

Yes, instructor-led training is often poorly conceived and executed (in the example he cites, the teacher read unwaveringly from a prepared text), constrained by politics and resources, and is often inappropriate for the material. But of course that’s why there’s been such a massive shift in the past fifteen years towards self-paced interactive learning systems–first CD-ROM “Multimedia”, then web-based–in corporations and universities. (This of course comes with its own problems, e.g. the assessment of skill acquisition using multiple choice questions.)

Sometimes when looking at the challenge of guiding a population of learners towards knowledge, having a teacher stand up in front of a group of people (even if some of those people are watching on screens from far away) is the best medium for the task. Because as Godin himself admits, sometimes engagement and human emotion are important parts of the learning equation.

Ask anyone who’s learned from remarkable teachers–there’s no technological substitute.


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