Are teaching and training not quite what we thought?
What if we’ve got it all wrong?
We believe that a teacher or trainer imparts information which is digested and ‘learnt’ by the student.
What if that’s not what’s happening at all. What if the ‘learning’ is a by-product of another phenomenon, a side effect of something else? What if all the theory of ‘learning styles’ is wrong?
Could we be looking at it from the wrong angle? When it comes to teaching and training we focus on the information and the delivery style. We collate masses of information that needs to be transferred from our notes and brains to the student’s notes and brains. Yet we all know that people retain only tiny amounts of information just a few hours after the teaching session. We spend ages working out the best way to get the information across and all believe we’ve found the right mix of audio, visual, kinaesthetic, interaction, jumping up and down, shouting, playing, flipchart, group work, powerpoint, dictating and so on. We find what we think is our ‘sweet spot’ of a mix of methods and assume learning will happen.
But what if it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with all that?
What if, instead, whatever we say, whatever information we impart, whatever delivery style we use, all that is happening in a teaching session is that we are training the students to think like us? What if that is ALL it is?
The more the audience adjust their neural pathways to be like us, the more bits of our information stick. The more the student likes the teacher, the more they think like them, the more they want to be respected by them, the more they want to be like them, the more they want to BE them.
If our teaching or training fails, is is really because the audience didn’t like us and didn’t want to be like us?
Take two of the greatest ‘teachers’ that come to mind, let’s choose Jesus and Gandhi. Both were actually information content poor. There are no bullet points in The Sermon on the Mount. All of Jesus’ recorded works that we have access to are contained in a short historical narrative in one book’s worth, from a teaching career of just three years.
Gandhi was equally un-prolific in content creation. He run few lectures, gave just a handful of speeches, none of which were turned into home-study courses and information-products in his lifetime. So how can these two be such great teachers when they taught so little?
The answers is that what they taught was not information. Information is a new toy and one that is overrated. Some might say, ‘they taught a message’. No they didn’t. That too is a side effect of us focusing on the wrong thing. We’re so geared to the trees of ‘information’ that we fail to see the wood.
What the great teachers taught was how to think like them, and therefore how to be like them. It’s not that they walked the talk (that’s being information focused yet again). It’s that they walked the walk and showed their audiences that walk, by walking it. Everything else was secondary. Everything else was hundreds and thousands (information) on the icing (so-called message) on the cake (the teacher himself).
In the school classroom, children learn more about who to live, how to think and how to grow from teachers they like, who inspire them. Children who respect and inspired by a parent want to ‘follow in their footsteps’ – to be like their parent, to be that parent when they grow up. Children look to the role-models of sportspeople, pop stars and celebrities: they want to be like them, they want to be them. Role models give a mould, a model example to follow (whether they actively know it or not). They have the power to inspire (for good or ill) by modifying how the child thinks, therefore how they act as the child uses the one and only, genetic, built-in, human method of true learning: imitation.
It doesn’t matter how good the message is if the messenger is uninspiring and unlovable. If the audience don’t want to be like, to think like, to live like the messenger, there is no message.
Tony Robbins is an inspiring teacher. He delivers his near-messianic message of personal success to audiences of tens of thousands at a time. He has a cult following that has grown up around him that borders on being a religion, i.e. it has a model for living your life. When people go to Robbins’ events, they may make notes of some of his rhetoric and catchphrases, certainly, but the main things is that they have an overwhelming desire to either be his friend (they feel a close affinity with him and that if they could only meet, they’d be the best of friends) or they want to BE him. That’s why his audience is made up from coaches, trainers and speakers. Those people are attracted to him in the first place but after attending, most people find that their destiny is to BE a coach, trainer or speaker (just like Tony).
If a teacher is exceptionally successful we call them a ‘guru’. Originally that term applied to just religious figures but now is linked to people like Tony Robins and others who are exceptionally good at making people think like them.
This is why people listen to wealthy people. They want to be wealthy like them. It may be a sad inditement but it’s true. Gurus can be good, bad and neutral.
Let’s take The Beatles as being one of the best examples of individuals who attracted unusual levels of adulation. They weren’t teachers in the traditional sense, but with our definition of ‘guru’ their success can be explained in a similar way. Girls wanted to marry them, boys wanted to be them (so that the girls would be attracted to them). It wasn’t just about the music. Many people love Beethoven with a passion. But he doesn’t make them scream.
What if teaching is a con? What if it doesn’t actually exist? What if, instead we have gurus who show us how to think and how to be like them?
Information will soon become irrelevant. We don’t need to store information in our heads. What we store in our heads is how to get the information we need. Within a generation, people will have a totally different view of information than us and our predecessors in history. Information will be even more easily available than it is now and will be grabbed as and when it’s needed. Personal memory will be used to remember context instead of facts.
The question is, will our education systems and our training operations be able to grasp this idea? Will they become an outdated and irrelevant waste of time?
If we want to educate people, to improve people, to get them to take the action we think will serve them, to improve society. If we want to give our children the best way to succeed in their lives – we can’t teach them what to do. We can’t train them what to do.
We have to capture their imagination and their attention. Then we have to SHOW them who we are so that they think like us.
The most important think we can ‘teach’ a child is HOW TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES. Ask yourself the question: is that happening to the children you know?
If we are in the so-called information business, the education arena, the training world, we may have to question our approach, our methods, our very existence.
Perhaps we need a new paradigm. My conclusion is that we have to be the guru that our students want to follow. We have to be the guru they can believe in. We have to be the guru that they want to become. Otherwise we’re just creating more white noise that wastes time and dulls potential.
IF this is true – are we up for the task?
Can you ‘walk the walk’?
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