Education is all wrong: Training doesn’t work. Teaching doesn’t exist

education is wrongAre 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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19 comments on “Education is all wrong: Training doesn’t work. Teaching doesn’t exist

  1. Like the idea of ‘the sermon on the mount’ with bullet points and power point, might have prevented the life of Brian scene where the two guys at the back are mishearing the message:
    “I think he said blessed are the Greek…”
    “Not the Greek you idiot he said the meek”
    “Oh, it’s nice the meek are getting something”.

    Serious points raised in the article – a lot of educational assessment does tend to reproduce whatever world view held by the ‘elite’ that wrote it. As someone working from within the government education machine, I’e experienced how a lot of so-called education IS personal prejudice dressed up as objectivity, and how a lot of narrow criteria invalidates some good work. The current thinking in education takes into holistic, ‘gestalt’ theories of self discovery and ‘blended learning’ – the student goes off and finds about something themselves from the available media before reporting back. But, as you say, a lot of educational power is in the hands of those delivering it and tends to represent their point of view too much.


  2. How true! I’ve done most of the things you write about here, including the affinity to Tony Robbins. I’ve never quite bought into the ‘guru’ thing and have met a load of charlatains over the years pretending to be one but I absolutley agree that education is not what it is portrayed to be.In all of the training courses I’ve run over the years, the subject matter is the convenient handle on which to hang the main points which are – think for yourself, make your decisions and take responsibility for them. Whichever way your life goes then is more under your control.
    Overnight started working out a book entitled ‘The real X factor – What THEY don’t know how to teach you at school’


  3. Ayd, what a stimulating post. Are you talking about a style of education which encourages people to change their behaviour? I aspire to do that and know from my own experience that a) I have to hear information a few times (often from a few angles) before it sinks in b) I have to experience a desire to change.

    Each of the people you cite (and many more people like them) took them some time and practice before they hit their tipping point (as per Malcolm Gladwell) and got into their stride. Is this a useful clue?


  4. Excellent article Ayd, as always. I think you are right in the sense that good teaching is merely motivation. No child or student in modern times has ever really learned anything in the academic sense without reading. Whether it is a book or a handout or a website, reading is central to learning. The best teachers are those who do not part information, but who inspire and motivate people to read the right stuff.

    The word “teach” is derived from words in Old English and Old German meaning “sign”. It seems that teachers were originally people who gave you a sign, they showed you the way. Early on in the derivation of the word it seems that teaching was all about the kind of things you say here – showing people the way to think.

    Over the years, the meaning has changed to “delivering content”, which is not the same thing at all. And that content delivery is driven by political needs, such as school league tables, rather than an actual desire to help learning.

    It all went wrong when universities were invented 800+ years ago. The Professor sat in “the chair” at the back of the stage in the lecture theatre. These were stone chairs embedded into the wall – you can still see them in ancient lecture theatres. Nowadays, when you become a Professor you get “the chair” in your topic. That’s how it was derived because Professors were the only ones who could sit in the chair.

    But 800 years ago most of your students could not read. And a professor was far too important to do such a menial task, so they employed assistants to stand at the lectern and read their words of wisdom. Nowadays, a senior academic position is “the reader in”…so that’s how that was derived.

    However, the focus changed from motivating people to learn, to giving them the content. Status and power got in the way and all that professors did was deliver content as a result.

    Of course it did work – delivering content got us to the Moon and back, it got us the internet, it got us modern medicine. So it’s not all bad. But I suspect that the engineers who delivered men to the moon, or enabled me to add this comment or provided me with that headache pill I’ve just taken got most of their learning from books they were inspired to read.

    As an aside….I try to inspire my university students by delivering my thoughts and ideas, not the course content. I try to motivate them to read the course texts. Strangely, I recently had a student come up to me after a lecture and ask me if what I really was asking them to do was to read the textbook…! When I glibly said what do you expect to do with the text book, make paper planes, he looked puzzled. “Other lecturers don’t make us read the text book, they just tell us what we need to know”. I simply replied: “I’m not like other lecturers”.


    • That last line, “I’m not like other lecturers” sounds like something from a TV series, a psychologist version of The Incredible Hulk or Honk Kong Fuey style, “who is the secret genious? Is it the mild mannered lecturer? Couldbe!”


  5. I agree with Graham, excellent article and teachers as motivators. I’m teaching my children to think critically, reflect often, question everything and approach their learning in a way that is meaningful to them.


  6. Ayd,

    As a trainer I read your superbly reasoned post thinking “how would I train differently”.

    I came to the tragic conclusion that most training is done for the benefit of the commissioning client contact, not for the delegates. Of course the delegates want to be inspired. Even more, they want a more automatic way to deliver the traits and skills ‘taught’ in the training.

    Once the learning descends to the subconscious, the delegate no longer needs to remember ‘what to do’ in a certain situation. I becomes automatic.

    To get to that point of ‘unconscious competence’ though takes time. A lot of time. And much of that time in training is taken in generating rapport with the delegates.

    Sadly, clients of A&P Training often dictate to us the training points they want covered, rather than the outcomes they desire. In other words “show the salespeople how to close” rather than “make the salespeople better closers”. I am priveleged to work with a handful that have a more enlightened attitude.

    In addition, clients of sales trainers like me frequently don’t want to allocate the budget for the training or risk the opportunity cost of the delegates’ time out of the business to follow your philosophy.

    I will continue to dream of the ideal client that ‘gets’ what you are saying. 😦


  7. It is obvious that you are not in touch with education, or at least with education in the world.
    Few think that the teacher is the “sage on the stage” and that students are “empty vessels” waiting to be filled. In any case, not good educators who have studied pedagogy, child psychology, learning theories. The “learning styles” approach was also dismissed years ago as being untrue to the real nature of learning which is by far more complex than that.
    Learning is one of the most intricate aspects of education and it is greater than the sum of its parts – the learner, the teacher, the system. It is a personal act and thus includes myriads of factors – from age, innate abilities, interests (from the side of the learner) to content being learned, strategies being used, class dynamics, school vision, leadership etc. To assume that the teacher personality is the sole trigger of learning is superficial.


  8. +1. To me the best part of the blog is to invoke the thinking. Let people know and decide how to react to such viewpoint. Education reform or education improvement should be nature. We are all different as individuals, what’s good for the mass may not have a nice fit for each of us. How to resolve the unfit in current education system should be our aim.


  9. • Become a speaking GURU – agree!
    • Identify with the wood within the tree
    • Imagination is more important than knowledge – Einstein
    • Don’t read books read comics lol 😉
    • Education, then enterprise… Next? The future is ENTERTAINMENT.

    # Creativity #Storytelling #Rapport #Fun


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