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    If They're Not Listening . . .

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Recently on Facebook I saw a post about a new study accusing not only TV but also video games of interfering with students' ability to concentrate on schoolwork.

    It was followed by a biting response along the lines of "Who could have predicted, given a choice between self-directed problem solving in an imaginative video environment, and dull rote-work for no apparent reason in school, young people would prefer to spend time with games."

    Of course, it's not just school children. Adults around the world are being accused of too much TV time, too much Internet, too much texting, and too short an attention span in business meetings or training sessions.

    It's time to face facts. The problem isn't a generational lack of focus. It's that the old lecture model of conveying knowledge has outlived its usefulness. Information today is expanding too rapidly for any one person to take it all in, evaluate it, and try to pass it along to others. By the time trainees receive it, it's old news. That it's presented in a hypothetical example just makes it more pointless.

    What's needed is a mentor model that teaches how to find information, evaluate it, and apply it. Trainees need to be empowered, not merely certified.

    The first step is to make training matter to them. A high school student learning "f of x" to calculate a tennis ball's trajectory during a robotics competition is better prepared to understand calculus than if she were staring at a theoretical problem on a page. So too is an employee better able to learn effective writing while working on an actual memo for his company than while watching a trainer point out features on a white board. The closer a trainer can get to that real-world experience, the more quickly a trainee can perceive the gap between his own writing and truly effective writing, allowing him to step across.

    Do you have any tips for making training real instead of hypothetical? If you speak to groups, what tricks do you use for getting the attendees involved? We'd love to hear your comments.

    - Lester Smith

    Photo by Orange Beard