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The problem with programmed How-To courses

by Rick Baker
On Aug 19, 2013

When it comes to education, people won't bend over backwards!

The problem with programmed How-To courses - I mean the problem with book-long, multi-lesson, packaged education with role playing - is - they do not work.

On average, people can remember about 7 things, maybe 9. So, no matter how terrific a How-To education course might appear to the folks who spent hundreds or thousands of hours creating it, other people will understand little of the content and put even less of it to good use.

Most people cannot remember dozens let alone hundreds of pages of How-To instructions. So, as soon as they see a volume of self-improvement education they turn off. Even if they suspect it could contain good stuff, most people know they will not take the time to study the volume. If they start to read it, most people soon stop and replace the activity with something offering more-immediate gratification.

Everyone knows that.

And most people don't bend over backwards to obtain self-help.

To address this problem, the folks who teach self-improvement focus on increasing the entertainment value in the delivery of the knowledge.

Yes, entertainment value = near-term gratification [of some sort].

But, single doses of entertainment value do nothing to promote improved learning of good habits. Prolonged repetition of single doses of entertainment value may breed some near-term warm-and-fuzzy-this-education-is-fun thoughts...and may even go so far as to provide a little jolt of self-motivation. However, entertainment value will not cause the lessons to stick and take hold. 

To help people self-improve we need to do 2 things well:

  1. We need to deliver education in small doses...small simple steps. In the long run, simplicity outruns entertainment value. Simplicity captures clarity and appeals to common sense. Learners have always built their learning on simplicity: consider the building blocks of our childhood and the building blocks of the Great Pyramids. Simple pieces. Spirited Leaders has developed 1-Page Tools with this in mind. To accomplish much - learn, take, and repeat simple steps until they become foundations for good habits. We need to resist the urge to create even-more-clever emotion-grabbing phrases and fancy-packaging of advice. We need to keep our entertaining acronyms and educational mind-pictures under control. We need to be more comfortable expressing common sense.
  2. We need to customize the education to fit individuals. Textbooks work well when students are facing the gun that demands, "Learn or fail". And, even if there is no performance gun, textbooks work well for some people...for example, those people whom Gallup assesses as 'Learner' tend to enjoy textbooks and full-length How-To manuals. On the other hand, Gallup-Learners are only a small fraction of the people we encounter every business day. Most people do not like textbooks, manuals, or other things that remind them of the learning-guns they faced when in school. Yet, most people do want to learn...they just don't want to do it your way...they want to do it their way. We can help them develop skills by incorporating their real-life situations into our education processes rather than asking them to suffer through things like awkward role playing. To do this, we need to expand 1-on-1 education activity...with a focus on customizing rather than standardizing.
So, when we help business leaders we need to:
  • ensure we capture common sense,
  • seek simple,
  • deliver education in small doses, &
  • customize education to fit individuals.


1-Page Tools | Habits: Good Habits, Bad Habits, & New Things | Seeking Simple!

Comments (2) -

9/15/2013 4:25:39 AM #

Hi Rick,

I think, a big part of the reason why our economic model is broken is because our education system is broken.

- Kids are born naturally curious and inquisitive
- Then, for the next 20 odd years of their life. They go through an education system that conditions them to act and think a certain way. Which is not the actual problem itself. But creativity and creative thinking take a back-step.
- Then we enter the workforce, where everyone realizes that we need creativity, creative-problem solving and innovation in order to propel the institution forward and help come up with solutions to complex problems.
- But when we go about searching for those creative problem solvers. We find that they are few and far between.

Why is this the case? Trace it back to how education is imparted.  

Education should be about:

- Teaching individuals how to think. Not what to think
- Teaching constructs and framework. Assessing if the individuals "get it". Not testing to ensure that they get the details (in bits and pieces). But whether they get the logic and the construct behind what is being projected.
- A big part of education should focus on making things, dismantling things (breaking things) and putting them back together.  This would work wonders for society and the economy at large. Because, it's a skill that would encourage individuals to be more inventive from a early age.
- More ideas along those lines here: http://adeelkhan.ca/?p=1897 and then some more.

But doing so would necessitate that we fundamentally change the way that education is imparted.

Things are changing and changing for the better. Slowly but steadily.


rick baker
9/20/2013 9:13:07 PM #

Excellent points, Adeel.

The dismantling and putting back together reminds me of the stories of Chrysler....who took cars apart, put them back together, and built an empire.

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