Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Learning By Stealth

Humour is a fantastic asset to any learning environment. It's a great way to help people learn - opening their mind, fostering creative and imaginative thinking, reducing stress, encouraging people to risks and make mistakes and it creates natural stickiness.

But boy, can it bomb.
I recall watching a new trainer deliver her first presentation. We had introduced the concept of humour as a learning tool, and she had taken that rather too literally. So she started her presentation with a joke. She was very nervous, the joke was poorly told and I am sure you can imagine the learners' reactions. Embarrassed tittering. They were now in a right state, rather than the right state.

Humour in learning does not demand that you become a stand-up comedian (or comedienne), or that you tell a stream of knock-knock jokes. It is about creating playful and imaginative scenarios, surprising your audience with the unexpected, perhaps even (if you are able) telling the occasional funny story or witty quotation.

To my mind, humour comes best when it is a reflection of your own attitude to the learning process. If you want to be playful and enjoy yourself, then your learners will generally join in. If you set yourself a goal to have fun, then you will design exercises and find materials that support that aim.

There is a great book by Steve McDermott* where he exemplifies the principles of learning by stealth. The entire book is written as series of instructions not to do. So there are suggestions as such:
  • don't stop having a deep fear of failure and of making a fool of yourself
  • if you do have goals (you shouldn't), don't put them in writing and if you do, don't think too big
  • don't know what you value in life (and if you do, lose sight of it)

I loved this book and was reading it at a station in London, waiting for a train home, laughing so much that a man bought me a drink for cheering up his day. We talked and laughed and I missed at least one train connecting with this random stranger, who was drawn to someone laughing (or was it the way a smile makes anyone look ravishing?).

A few years ago, I designed a brief sketch on sexual discrimination at work. Instead of following a predictable path, we designed in some subtle twists. First we placed the scene in the pub, at a Christmas party (by law still a place of work) and two women made innuendos towards a male member of the audience (who we knew would respond in character). It raised some eyebrows as well as making people laugh. I am sure they remember it all the more for the twists.

You can use humour in very simple ways. If you create pairs in exercises, you can pick the person to go first (A) using suggestions such as the one with the longest little finger, the one with the most celebrity sitings in their life, the one who has the biggest head, the one with the most expensive unused kitchen gadget.... These are not necessarily inherently funny, but they are a surprise, they are lighthearted, they are playful.

Here is your challenge then - how can you be more playful in what you teach or train or learn? How could you use the opposite to help people engage in your subject?

*"How to be a complete and utter failure in life, work and everything. 39½ steps to lasting underachievement" by Steve McDermott.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Inspire or Inform or Both

Today I want to let you know my thoughts on information or inspiration.

I have attended too many learning events (workshops, presentations and the like) where talented and gifted individuals informed me of many things. They shared their knowledge and experience. They gave me principles, guidelines, handouts and more handouts.

A few of these I actually remember.

What made these stand out of the many hours spent learning?
They inspired me. They touched my heart and my emotions and grabbed the whole of my attention.

Legislation is one topic that too many people highlight as a "boring" topic. You can choose facts - such as the dates of all the legislative statutes, the history of the legislation, what the law says. Or you could use a story, a case study and inspire people to truly understand.

One great session on discrimination used photographs of people set to the music of Christina Aguilera - her song Beautiful. In two minutes it had us all engaged and inspired and somewhat humbled as we considered our own beauty and those of the various images displayed. I remember that over three years later.

Did it inspire me? Without a doubt. Do I remember all the information given - not completely. But I do remember my own reaction to the video (revelling in the sheer diversity and wonder of the human race) and that I learnt how it important it was for me to treat every single person as a person - with respect, with dignity, with compassion. Probably the most important thing they could have taught me.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Welcome to My New Blog

This week I set a mission: to change the way one million people learn - moving into a new realm of learning which is interactive, engaging, memorable and even fun!

I want learning to be:

  • imaginative - using all our creative juices to grab the attention of our learners
  • inspiring - so that our learners leave the room full of enthusiasm and wanting to learn more
  • sticky - I want the learning to stick in their minds, for all the right reasons
  • passionate - I want teachers and trainers to be passionate about what they share and to pass that passion on

If you think you already do this, get in touch and I might even award you with the coveted Sparkie award.