Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Meet Me!

 I've been designing and delivering instruction for a while now. Here are the four things that guide me, no matter what the project, audience, or platform.

1. It is more important to teach people how to evaluate what they know and don't know, and how to learn to fill the gap, than it is to teach them any particular skill or concept. If a person can do this, then she will always be employed, and she will always know what she needs to know to navigate life. Teaching these meta-cognitive skills are the golden key that ends all suffering.

2. Adult human brains work in a particular way and instruction needs to take that into consideration. Adult brains aren't children's brains. And just because "we have always done it like this" is true, it doesn't mean we should do it that way now. Everything is is up for grabs. We have to constantly be reading new research and asking ourselves, "How can our instruction benefit from this?"

3. Cognitive load really matters. Cognitive load is the amount of effort that it takes for a brain to assimilate new knowledge. There is the load created because the student doesn't have a background in the subject and can't figure out what is important and what isn't important. There is the load the is created because we are teaching in a way that isn't helping the student assimilate the material. And there is cognitive load that is inherent in the content itself. Minimizing the load that we can control by creating presentations that help students is one of the best things we can do to make instruction effective.

4. Ok, this last one is pretty radical, so hold on to your seat. Students need to control what they learn. There is no need to do anything special to motivate students if they are learning something they wanted to learn in the first place. Think back to when you learned to skate, or ride a bike, or drive a car, or play a particular video game. You put in endless hours mastering it, didn't you? Did someone establish a wiifm (what's in it for me) for bike riding for you? Of course not! You wanted to ride the bike for your own reasons, and they were enough. What if students don't want to learn to write a five-paragraph essay, you ask. Well, what if. What if they waited until they needed to write that essay and then they learned how. My guess would be they would learn it faster and more completely, because they would be strongly self-motivated. In every way we can, we should make our instruction as student driven as possible.