There is a 3D movie at the Disney theme park where I was a stage manager, the Disney-MGM Studios (now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios). It features the beloved characters made famous by Jim Henson: the Muppets. Called Muppet*Vision 3D, the show is presented in a theater and is supposedly the Muppets demonstration of 3D video technology. Needless to say, Muppet mayhem breaks out and the show ends in complete, and very funny, chaos. One set of lines from that film always leaped off the screen to me. It is especially relevant to learning.
The scene sets up the show finale. Sam Eagle—pompous, stuffy and by-the-book—has been tasked with staging the finale. Showrunner Kermit the Frog, desperate to salvage something from what is becoming a chaotic mess, asks Sam what the finale is about. Sam replies, “It’s a glorious three-hour production about all countries, but mostly America.” Kermit barks back, “You have a minute and a half.” Sam Eagle disappears in an indignant huff and the finale begins. The resulting scene is one of complete chaos as Sam crams all three hours of material into a minute and a half. The result is, of course, an incomprehensible mess.
(Many of you have probably already figured out the connection to learning.)
Sometimes, trainers are a lot like Sam Eagle. Many instructors think that everything they know is important. They fear that they might never see these learners again and that they have only one chance to impart all their knowledge. They throw everything they’ve got at the poor, unfortunate learners. The result is often comprehension chaos. And, unlike Sam Eagle, it is not funny. Those learners usually leave the classroom brain drained and confused.
Rather than being about all things, our instruction must be about specifics; delivering what the learners need … and no more. Some helpful tips for pithiness are listed below.
Learners Want Relevance – Experts are often too expert. We know the subject so well that we cannot comprehend what is relevant to someone who does not. We can argue vehemently to include some obscure point because it is interesting background information that adds perspective on the whole. But, when you learn to drive a car, for example, you don’t need to know how to change the spark plugs. The learner needs to get the car down the driveway first.
Learners Don’t Care About History – The only valid reason for sharing our background stories, scars and woes is because the information makes critical points. For many newer workers, the past is ancient history. The reasons why something used to be done in a certain way are irrelevant. Learners have enough trouble learning how to effectively deliver current procedures without having to comprehend what did not work in the past. The organization’s past is not the trainees’ prologue. Only the present matters.
Learners Want Minimal, but Critical, Detail –Although learners may be interested in background information and technical factoids, they want a focus on specifics they can use. Instruction that delivers the basic points required to perform the task at hand is sufficient. If you were to teach the phone book to a learner, for example, would you teach every name in the book? Of course not. You would focus on concepts rather than detail, and teach HOW to read the phone book.
Learners Want Connections – Learners’ brains, like all human brains, seek to relate what they are learning with what they already know. Each person’s brain stores information in a way that makes sense to it. New information is usually compared to older, already filed, information and then placed in context with the old. This sorting and filing take time. When instructors pile detail on top of detail, the time necessary for the brain to make and store these connections is compressed. The learners absorb less and less as their brains overload and shut down.
Learners Want Focus – Learners resent it when we don’t get to the point. When we meander around the topic, the information becomes hard to follow. They get lost and they can’t, having no previous history with the content, know what information is important and what is not. They try, as a result, to absorb everything and get lost in the process. What they most need from us is a tight focus on the concept with the minimal details clearly aligned within that concept.
Learners Want Applications – Information that does not provide immediate, relevant and identifiable applications is wasted. When they cannot tell how something relates to their needs, they stop listening.
Learners Want Practice – We’ve all been in situations where the instructor has more content than time. When this happens, the learner application practice is often discarded. Instructors keep talking in a vain attempt to give the learners every morsel of information they may ever need. Content covered is not content learned. In order to absorb the information, learners need to try it for themselves.
A Glorious Production.
So, unless you want Muppet mayhem, don’t try to cram three hours into a minute and a half. Give your learners what they need, when they need it and where they need it. The result may not be as funny as the Muppets, but it will be a glorious production.
Want to Learn More?
This guest post was written by Lenn Millbower, The Mouse Man™, and comes from the webinar Speak like a Mouse: Eight Strategies to Pixie-Dust Your Presentations.