It is often said (repeatedly in fact) that repetition is the key to learning. Well is that true? Is that a fact? It must be true if it is said often enough, surely?
This blog piece is about using and misusing repetition as an awareness technique, repeatedly.
You may have come across the classic 3-step tell-em technique for classes, lectures and seminars:
- Tell them what you're about to tell them about.
- Tell them it.
- Tell them about what you told them about.
It's a simple, or rather simplistic approach, a crude technique based on simple repetition. You have probably sat through repetitive classes, lectures and seminars by teachers or speakers that follow the advice slavishly, every time, some of them even pointing out what they are doing as if that helps. It's obvious, without being pointed out. You don't need to tell us that you're using the tell-em technique!
In my experience, the tell-em technique is most often used by teachers and presenters who are not comfortable teaching and presenting: they are still practicing, repeating the same basic, tedious approach until/unless someone points out that it's not the most effective technique, if we're lucky.
Repetition is one way to teach and learn, certainly, but not the only way. There are other forms of teaching and learning apart from repetition. Learning and teaching, teaching and learning, can take place without repetition, however repetition can be a useful technique for learning. And teaching.
Repeating things is the essence of practicing, gradually becoming familiar with whatever it is - especially by repeating physical activities such as yoga, skateboarding, teeth-cleaning, yoga or escaping a burning building. Repeating activities such as yoga makes them familiar, well-practiced. Eventually with sufficient repetition they become subconscious, autonomous or 'natural' as we master them.
Unfortunately, subconscious or autonomous responses can be exploited by social engineers. "Hurry, click here to prevent your account being frozen!" they tell us, hoping we'll reflexively click the link and login without a moment's thought. They might even repeat it. "We warned your account would be frozen, and so it is. Click here to unfreeze it."
Unfortunately, with repetition, things can also become boring. Who isn't sick of endless repeats on TV? Are you getting as bored as me with the repetition in this very piece? Repetitive isn't it?! Over and over and over! "Get on with it!" I hear you screaming. "Stop the repeats already! You've made your point! We get it!"
Repetition is also used to emphasize things. It emphasizes them, makes them stand out by repeating them. Emphatically. "I told you not to do that. I told you so!" or "I've told you a million times: don't exaggerate!".
Repetition is obvious in branding. Advertisements repeat brand images and tag lines, endlessly ... and they also repeat messages at a less obvious/more subtle level. "The real thing!" is not just a tag for a fizzy drink product, but a direct appeal to avoid the near-identical but plainly inferior fizzy drinks made by competitors. "Finger-lickin' good" curiously suggests that licking one's fingers indicates extreme oral pleasure, not just bad manners. The Dyson brand is associated with innovative technology through being used repeatedly on novel products, perhaps avoiding the association with vacuum cleaners that plagues Hoover.
We use repetition ourselves. We have brands. We say some things over and over, although we're not usually quite as blatant about it as in this blog piece. We say things in different ways, for instance, and in different contexts. We use diagrams and words to describe the same stuff, each reinforcing the other. We draw out the main messages from briefings and presentations as summaries or conclusions. We take differing perspectives, different points of view, drawing out different messages. We update the awareness content to reflect what's happening today, rather than just churning out the same old same old every time until it goes stale. We seldom resort to repetition for emphasis, preferring visual techniques such as bold, italics, enlargement or even engorgement, and color.
So, there you go, a repetitive piece about the perils of excessive repetition, and some other less-repetitive approaches.
Let me close by reminding you that this was about repeti ... oh, I see, you've nodded off.