Everyone probably remembers the one kid in high school who would start every mathematics class by asking ‘Why do I need to learn this? How is this relevant?’ I found him incredibly annoying and felt he was purposefully obstructing class with his stupid questions. I’m sure the teachers found him equally aggravating. We all thought he was just trying to sabotage class. But isn’t there a possibility he was genuinely trying to figure out how understanding polynomials would impact his life, because he knew it would help him take it all in?
Let’s start by establishing that for effective learning we need two elements: content and context. No one will challenge the premise that content is crucial to learning, but getting to good and relevant content is not as straightforward as it might seem.
If you want to sharpen your coaching skills you could start by asking Google, which gives you an overwhelming 400 million hits. You could also turn to quick fixes such as ‘5 tips to …’, ‘the 7 rules of …’ and ’10 easy steps towards …’. Unfortunately, these do not fit the way most of us learn. Professional Learning & Development platforms add enormous value by helping you get to content that’s relevant for you, either by curating existing content or by creating proprietary content. Instead of asking Google, you could use platforms like Feedly or AndersPink.
Context is important
But regardless of how good and relevant content is, it only sticks when presented in the right context. The necessity of context is often overlooked but is just as important as content. The reason why can be shown with a simple example. If I would ask you to read two full pages of text and afterwards ask you a comprehension question, answering would probably be quite difficult. However, if I would ask you the question before reading the text it would be much easier. The reason is of course obvious: you know what you’re looking for. And that’s exactly the point of context.
When you fully understand why you learn what you learn, how it fits in with existing values and believes and how it helps you improve, it’s much easier to be fully engaged and internalize the content. A facilitator should connect it to your everyday life and to what you already know. They should present it when it will helps you find answers to upcoming (and preferably daunting) situations. That creates focus and excitement, which is crucial to make learning stick.
So just as there is no effective learning without proper content, it’s also fair to state there is no effective learning without context. To be honest, I don’t believe that kid in my class understood this, even on a subconscious level, and I don’t think he was displaying his eagerness to learn. But that doesn’t mean training facilitators shouldn’t take his questions to heart and spend more time on context. To maximize impact, learners should fully understand why they’re learning what they’re learning and why they’re learning it now.
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Also published on Medium.