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22 Feb 2020

NBlog Feb 22 - the educator virus

From time to time, people get all excited about micro-learning, the educational equivalent of eating a chocolate elephant - one bite or byte at a time.

"It's easy", the line goes. "Simply break down large indigestible topics into lots of smaller edible chunks, spreading them out enticingly for people to snack on whenever they feel peckish."

I've tried that with our digital awareness content. For some strange reason, nobody was hungry enough to consume the random assortment of ones and zeroes, hundreds and thousands of bits all over the disk.

Evidently it's not quite that easy. Education is never easy, if you want it to work well that is. Micro-, milli- and macro-learning, online learning, traditional classroom-based courses, webinars and seminars, conferences, educational events, rote and experiential learning, on-the-job training and demonstration classes, mentoring and so on are neither simple nor universal solutions. They each have their pros and cons. 

For one thing, they all just tools in the box. For an educator who happens to be a master craftsman, almost any tool will do, but he has preferences and a range of experience. 

Likewise for the students: some of us like reading and thinking things through in private, or debating the ins-and-outs at length with colleagues.  Others need to be shown stuff, just briefly, or put through an intensive boot camp complete with sadistic 'instructors', hard beds and nasty food. Some appear stubbornly resistant to all known edumacational techniques and do their level best to skip class, and we all have our cognitive issues occasionally.

The fact that there is such a variety of techniques suggests that none of them is ideal for all learning situations. The advice to use, say, micro-learning could be taken to mean "use ONLY micro-learning" but that would be a mistake, in just the same way as "send them to college" or "gamify it"! It's well-meaning but naive silver bullet advice.

Consider how we learn stuff in general. We take classes, go to night school, take driving or diving or cookery lessons, read-up on stuff, watch You Tube vids, read/listen to/watch/contemplate sage advisors, ask someone ... and generally muddle through by ourselves, learning as we go from our successes and failures.

One thing that's common to all those approaches is the student's desire to learn, or at least the willingness to give it a go, try it out and maybe pick up new skills. Without the motivation, the perceived value or payback from their investment of time and energy (and often $$$), learning is less likely to occur, which perhaps explains those stubbornly resistant drop-outs. It also, for some of us at least, explains why a passionate, enthusiastic, energetic teacher can make a world of difference - someone with the skills, knowledge and motivation to teach. Conversely, a dull, uninspired, untalented teacher can suck the life out of even the most interesting topic, an educational black hole. 

If you're an educator, good luck expressing your passion, enthusiasm and energy in micro-bytes, or Learning Management System modules, shoot-em-up games or Tweets, evening classes or lunch-n-learn sessions - preferably several of them. If you're a student, good luck finding approaches that suit your preferences, and passionate educators keen to pass on their knowledge and infect you with their enthusiasm ... for that's how the cycle repeats, like Coronavirus spreading from person to person. 

Give a man a fish and he's fed for a day. Teach a man to fish and he's fed for life ... and maybe one day he'll feel compelled to teach the whole village to fish, provided they can spare the time from their cookery classes that is.

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