Show and go, or, blink and think

In the way that New Hampshire has places worth hiking, Cathy Moore has ideas worth hearing. A recent example asks, “Can your learners wing it?” What she’s asking is whether the training you develop allows people to think for themselves — especially in situations that don’t exactly match those in training.

And, you know, in more than 30 years of full-time employement, the only places I’ve encountered multiple-choice questions are automatic teller machines and the Motor Vehicle Administration. (One of those locales has been weighed, measured, and found wanting.)

Cathy’s post made me think about design advice that makes sense to me, like “show and tell” rather than “tell and show.” That’s meant to capture the idea that by demonstrating something — say, the main steps in some process — you’re offering a conceptual frame onto which people can hang the specifics.

Her post has great examples based on the idea of using “I statements” appropriately in difficult situations. The recommendation about moving from a demonstration to some sort of application — “Here’s an example (not a sermon). Now, do something.” — made me want a quick mnemonic like “show and go.”

Make \'em blinkA better mantra for a design approach might be blink and think. Instead of yammering away about “seven keys to effectively manage difficult conversations,” go right to a striking example or demonstration — something to make them blink.

You want a little ambiguity, because brains are all about forming patterns — and when things don’t quite add up, we work harder at making sense (finding or creating patterns).

Make them thinkMeaning before details, remember.

What happens after a blink? We think. We try to figure out what’s going on. We’re not always right — but that’s okay; learning hinges on not always being right.

I know I’ve spent lots of my instructional-design time busily constructing safety nets, seat belts, suspenders, safety harnesses, overview, intros, and before-you-begins. (It’s a perverse variation of the Gaelic proverb that says, “A day’s work: getting started.”)

Better by far to treat learners as intelligent adults. You don’t want to plunge into esoterica, the way a Wikipedia page on, say, refraction clobbers you in the fourth sentence with Snell’s law:

(unless you know they’re already into the mathematics of physics). But you do want to assume they understand, interpret, and connect the new to the already known.

Blink and think photos both by K. Sawyer.

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