A few myths about teaching debunked

Killing the myths: why most of what we know about learning and workplace training is wrong.

We have all gone through a painful learning experience, whether at school or college. All of us have had our share of good, bad and boring teachers. And then we join the workforce, where we are besieged by mediocre trainers and training.

Over the past few decades, the world of learning has changed through new methods and technologies. But many atrocious practices continue to rule, to the detriment of the learner. I have been teaching for 17 years and I am in an unique position to demolish a few widely held myths about learning, ranging from the misleading to the dangerous. (In this piece I will use terms such as “trainer”, “teacher” and “instructor”, which all pretty much mean the same thing).

Myth: The best way to teach is to give information in a well-planned lecture

Fact: Lectures remain the predominant method of teaching in many schools, colleges and companies. However, it’s a one-way activity that only promotes lower level learning. Research has proven that you retain 10 per cent of what you read, 20 per cent of what you hear, 30 per cent of what you see, 50 per cent of what you see and hear, 70 per cent of what you say and 90 per cent of what you say as you do.

Myth: Fun is marginal to learning

Fact: Fun is not just meant for the playground, it’s essential for learning. The number of school teachers, university professors and trainers who are duller than watching paint dry are legion. Burdened with an alarmingly huge dose of formality, pretentiousness and dullness, they simply don’t get the glaring fact that a complex subject must be made interesting for learning to happen. In fact, one of the most treasured pieces of feedback I ever received from a student was: “He made finance fun”.

Myth: Each learner has a distinct preference (kinesthetic, auditory or visual) and they will only learn in these modes

Fact: People do have preferences but most simultaneously process information through multiple senses. Hence training sessions with visual, auditory and interactive elements will increase learning and retention because you are using multiple senses.

Myth: Subject matter knowledge is a trainer’s biggest and best asset

Fact: This is one big reason why we are cursed with so many mediocre teachers. We believe in the universal infallibility of qualifications. For example, many universities insist that faculty should have a PhD but this doesn’t mean that he or she is a good teacher. A PhD simply means that someone is patient, smart and hard-working enough to complete a thesis on an obscure topic. Instructors are not gods. They do not have the power to transfer skills. They are supposed to guide, facilitate, act as a catalyst, inspire and mentor.

Myth: Technology on its own will revolutionise education. Teachers are dispensable

Fact: While I am not particularly technologically smart, I get the merits. Technology enables distance education, information-sharing and significantly improves teaching and learning efficiency.

However, we have come to believe that technology in the form of mobile apps, gamification, e-learning and so on is the solution to most of our learning problems and is the future of education - an illusion fabricated by some clever marketing by the companies flogging the software, hardware and related services.

Myth: Most learning happens only in the classroom

Fact: It turns out that learning happens mostly outside the classroom. And it’s simple – learners need time to digest what they’ve seen, heard and done. They need to connect the information picked up in the classroom with the real world such as their workplace. Learning happens when information meets experience.

Binod Shankar is a chartered accountant and CFA charter holder. He is the managing director of Genesis Institute, a leading financial training company

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Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM


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