“Your brain hosts a truly staggering number of loops. The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory.”
~Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Learn by Doing
We forget things. We forget important things — information we need to know to be a success at our jobs.
Are you frustrated with learning? Do you feel like you forget what you have learned shortly after you’ve learned it? You are not alone. There is something called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. This curve basically shows that over the course of a week, we lose about 75% of what we have learned.
What is the solution? It’s simple, really. Apply what you have learned while you are learning it. Afterward, you can teach others what you have learned. And review what you have learned in the days following.
Without the application, your brain will just cast off learning as unnecessary.
Learning Can be Boring
Did I mention that learning can be boring? Argh! There is nothing worse than having to sit through an hour-long webinar with a subject-matter expert who is smarter than everyone in the room, but can put the audience to sleep with the sound of his voice.
Part of the problem with webinars is the speaker can’t see the audience and get feedback from them. If you gave a presentation and everyone in the room was either asleep or focusing on their phones or laptops, you’d probably get the message and change how you present.
On a phone conference or webinar with PowerPoint slides, you can’t see people’s reactions. Many times, employees are required to sit in on these presentations as their registration is considered mandatory. But do you know what often happens?
People login, mute the webinar and minimize the screen so that they can do other work. They think they’ll read the slides later or watch the recorded webinar, which they never do.
Why do we torture employees with these types of training? Why do we require employees to take mandatory training if it’s boring? The reason it’s boring is it’s PASSIVE.
Notice on the chart below, that as you move up the learning pyramid, the learning activities are ACTIVE not PASSIVE. The more you involve learners in their learning, the more they will be engaged and retain the information you are sharing.
My solution to boring meetings is make all meetings optional. Then, if a boring subject matter expert is presenting and nobody shows up, perhaps they will get the message. Additionally, if you do show up to a meeting and it’s not delivering on the promise, you should be allowed to leave at any time during the meeting–and more importantly, you should be allowed to provide anonymous feedback to the presenter.
So on my mission to create more engaging training, I started doing these Learn by Doing webinars, where the presenter gives an introductory presentation of no more than 10 minutes and is followed up with a step-by-step demonstration of the technology they were talking about. This demonstration had to include the participants ACTIVELY creating work product while following along in the demonstration.
We had a great Learn by Doing webinar with one of my colleagues, Markus Van Kempen, wherein we created a web-based application. It was very interactive. The web-based app interfaced with a mobile app which showed message data going back and forth between the two. We spent an additional 90 minutes on developing this as we followed along. And do you know what? The time flew by! When’s the last time you spent 90 minutes in corporate training and not looked at your watch a dozen times?
Apply What You’ve Learned
You are just getting started. You will be tempted to stop reading after the first few paragraphs. But DON’T! There is so much value in here that I wouldn’t want you to miss out.
I like to learn by doing. I would rather read some brief instruction and try out what I’ve just learned. In my 25 years of software development at a national mortgage company and eight years of corporate training at a Fortune 100 Technology company, I have always learned best through doing.
Do you know if you go to a one week corporate training, you will have forgotten 90% of what you learned by the following Monday? Why, then, do corporations continue to invest in these types of ineffective training methods?
The very best way for most of us to learn is to learn something for about 20-25 minutes and then apply what we’ve learned. Or better yet, while still learning within that 25 minute interval, we should be immediately applying what we learn.
As an example, I’m going to tell you how to do something cool right now in your browser. As soon as you learn it, I want you to open up your Internet and type it into your browser. Remember my motto, apply what you have learned? I guarantee you will remember how to do this one week, one month and possibly even one year from now.
Are you Ready?
Instructions, TYPE these three links into your browser:
- Find out what is trending on Google: https://trends.google.com/trends/trendingsearches/daily?geo=US
- Find out what is trending on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/feed/trending
- Find out what is trending on Twitter: https://trends24.in/
Go ahead and TYPE all three.
You may already know how to do this. But if you don’t, you just learned it–and because you actually typed it into your browser, both you and the browser will remember it. In the future, just type “trend” into the URL line and you’ll see these URL’s come up.
And you learned it right here in this blog post because you did something with the information I shared.
You learned by doing and you won’t forget it. If you do happen to forget, just come back to this blog post for future reference.
But because you typed it in, because you did something with your knowledge, you will remember it (and your browser will too!).
Learn by Doing is so intuitive. We get it. It’s how we learned as kids.
I remember attending a couple of really good Learn by Doing Webinars. Keep in mind I have attended and lead hundreds of webinars. But the ones that stick out are the ones which go beyond just hearing a speaker drone on and on over PowerPoint slides jam-packed full of data.
The two webinars I really remember, and from which I still recall how to DO what was instructed are:
1) Node Red: https://nodered.org/ . “Node-RED is a programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways.” The presenter on this webinar spent all of five minutes giving us a PowerPoint presentation and the remaining 85 minutes was walking us through how to create a Node-Red Flow to hook up to data coming in from a Twitter feed and displayed on a mobile app. It was quite empowering as the speaker took us from Beginner to Intermediate learning–and we had a work product we had created in the 90 minute webinar. NOTE: if you want to learn more about Node-Red, here’s a digital badge you can earn on Node-Red in just 4 hours: Node-Red Badge.
2) Data Science for Gamers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWtNgd3Lt0I . This presentation was fantastic, as the presenter actually showed us how to evaluate live game data using Jupyter Notebooks. After this presentation, I became very motivated to explore data science more, which lead to me earning several data science badges.
Unlike these Learn by Doing webinars, when I worked as a Learning Consultant for a Fortune 100 Company, I experienced a lot of boring training. It was almost like reading page after page of a reference manual. There was no interaction. There was no practical application. But from the corporation’s point of view, the knowledge in this format was a data dump of what they wanted people to know. And it was safe. I’m sorry, but we’re not human computers that just automatically learn information because you jacked it into the back of our heads ala “The Matrix”.
Unfortunately, it is difficult for people who are real experts in their field—I mean people who have been neck-deep in their area of expertise for 20+ years, to think like a beginner. And because they can’t think like a beginner, they can’t communicate their information to beginners.
What is Shoshin?
In Zen Buddhism, there is a learning path which starts with Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind. It’s learning with no preconceptions or prejudices about a particular subject. The beginner’s mind is open to all possibilities. The expert has already limited the possibilities, so they are hesitant to consider new options. Often times this is what limits medical advances. It can take 20 years for a new procedure to gain acceptance amongst peers.
There is a fantastic graphic novel about Steve Jobs I would like to share with you. It talks about the Beginner’s Mind: https://www.scribd.com/doc/246591614/The-Zen-of-Steve-Jobs-pdf
So, how to get an expert to learn to teach to a beginner? If the expert can take a beginner through a Learn by Doing exercise then they can get into a beginner’s mind.
I had the experience of teaching a group of non-developers how to create a cloud-based web application. In using the Learn by Doing approach, I gave them step by step instructions. After the exercise, in which I walked them through creating the application step-by-step in the online class, many attendees reported back to me afterwards the link to their new application, which they proudly displayed like a child showing off their coloring page to a parent.
This also gave them a work product which they could then show to their manager or future employers.
Create your own Trivia Quiz
This will take you about 30 minutes to create on your own in just 5 easy steps.
- Sign up for a free account at: https://repl.it . Repl.it gives you an instant Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to learn, build, collaborate, and host your code all in one place.
- Create a Trivia Quiz Game application using HTML, CSS, JS. You do this by clicking on the new repl button in the upper right hand corner that looks like this: Next click on the Language drop down and click on HTML, CSS, JS and then name your Trivia game (example: myTriviaGame) and then click “Create Repl”.
- Next download the zip file for the code for this simple trivia game from Github: https://github.com/jaymar14/TriviaGame. Extract it and drag and drop the files and folders into your Repl.it application.
- Click the green run button and play the Trivia game in the Console Screen.
- BONUS: modify the questions in the app.js file (located in the assets folder) to create your own quiz with your questions and answers.
Don’t like Friends Trivia Quiz Game? Try this Office Trivia Quiz Game here: https://github.com/gmtisrad/the-office-quiz and you can modify the questions in the file index.js
Making Your Ideas Stick
In the audiobook, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors Chip and Dan Heath point out that the Curse of Knowledge is a real problem.
Why do subject matter experts create content that is difficult to understand?
It’s called the Curse of Knowledge. “This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.” (Source: Made to Stick: Why some ideas Survive and others Die)
What value is there if you know your content but can’t communicate your ideas effectively?
The authors give you three ways to help your ideas “stick.” You need to make your ideas Interesting, Actionable and Memorable. You do this by following these three guidelines for your message:
1) Mysterious – Get your audience to think, “What’s going to happen next?” and “How is this going to end?” This will keep them listening on the edge of their seats.
2) Unexpected Event – Inject the “Unexpected” into your story. Just like a good storyteller, surprise your audience with plot twists that they are not expecting.
3) Personal Story – Don’t forget to make your story personal. People will connect if you tell them about the needs of an individual versus just sharing generalized facts about a large population. The reason for this is people will be able to empathize with the person you are talking about.
If you just take some time to apply these three principles to the presentation of your ideas, you will connect with your audience and get them to buy what you are selling. No longer will you see your audience with glazed looks in their eyes, but people will stare at you with intently and maybe even have a tear in their eyes.
And your income will definitely grow!
Don’t Give Up
My question to you is: “Why don’t more people Learn by Doing?” I think it is because people prefer to sit there and passively listen. It’s easier even though it’s ineffective.
Learning can be challenging. If you learn something new, you will always hit what is known as the Learning Pit of Despair.
Take, for example, any one of the free technology courses I recommend in my blog at: https://bit.ly/uc-mindmap. If you are new to the subject, you will find the introduction to the course will contain some familiar topics. You will think, “This isn’t so hard,” and you’ll blissfully continue along in the course.
Before long, however, you’ll hit a new concept that is completely foreign to you and you’ll panic. “There’s no way I can learn this! It’s too hard! I should quit now before it’s too late!”
This is a necessary step. Oftentimes, when you hit this point, you should just take a break and let your mind marinate on the content you have learned up to this point.
But you need to keep going. For me, a big motivator is to earn that digital badge at the end. That has kept me going in courses that I would have otherwise given up on. That’s the reason I’ve earned 21 digital badges, but only finished two other online courses where a badge wasn’t involved.
So after you’ve take a break, come back to the course and review the new information with fresh eyes. You may find it’s not so difficult, after all. You press on and climb out of the pit.
You achieve a new level of knowledge and feel great about yourself.
Realize that this whole process is a necessary part of learning and don’t give up. There is another great book I recommend called Grit by Angela Duckworth. In the book she talks about the one distinguishing trait of those who are successful and those who are not, and that is their ability not to give up. The skill of perseverance can be tested and improved in small ways by taking two-to-four- hour-long courses and completing them!
To learn more about the Learning Pit, check out this great website by James Nottingham: https://www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/learning-pit/
Learn by Doing…Again
Have you forgotten the curve I showed you at the beginning of this blog post? As a reminder, it’s called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. You might want to take a look at the chart at the beginning of the blog post to review it. And, as you read other blog posts in my blog, it would be a good practice to review the previous blog posts before you go on to the next.
This is great Learn by Doing practice.
Because when you remember what you have learned and put it into practice, you will increase your income!
BONUS: You might also like:
- 10 Ways to Save your Company from Boring Learning
- One Day Builds: Automating my Projects with Python
- I coded a Trading Bot and gave it $1000 to Trade with Python
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