No Notes, No Practice, No Learning

Big sigh. Hang head.

Yet another client wants a four-hour class to cover what six years of grade school, two years of middle school, four years of high school and four years of college could not. Grammar, emails, writing for the Web–I’ve heard it for all of them. Time and content are truly related. You can’t become an expert in four hours.

Bart know practice. He does it at the start of every show.

“See one, do one, teach one,” is the new business mantra for learning. That means that after you see a procedure, you can do it correctly without practice,  and then are capable of teaching it. Business people must be a lot smarter than I am.

I teach business writing –how to write an email that gets read,  how to write a good PowerPoint (seriously, cut down on those bullets) and then deliver it, how to write and give a good speech with no PowerPoint at all, listening skills, negotiation skills, and dealing with difficult people.  But I can’t do it in four hours. When I suggest eight hours, the client, universally, suggests cutting the exercises. Exercises are the part of the class that help the participants learn the “how” and  figure out the “why.”

The other part of the mantra in business education is that no one should have to take notes. That’s what class materials are for. I’m always surprised when participants show up for a class with no paper, no pen, no laptop. Just a phone so they can text. I’m guessing those texts are not class related.  No class material can be so detailed that the topic can be learned by listening to an instructor and reading notes afterward. You have to practice to know how to do anything.

Here’s a giant secret: in the history of the universe, no one has learned anything well by hearing it once, not practicing it, and then claiming to be an expert at it. Practice takes time. A good class allows people to try out their own learning techniques and see what they understand, adjust it, try it again, ask questions, try it again, then find out what’s needed to make it stick, try it again and then practice on their own.

I don’t want my brain surgeon to be a “see it, do it, teach it” learner. In fact, I don’t want the bank teller, the mail delivery person, the bus driver,  fire fighter or the pot-hole fixer to be a “see it, do it, teach it,” learner, either.  (Although I think I’ve met the bank teller already.)

You need practice to learn something. You need practice over time. A hundred dives of the diving board in one day will not make you as good a diver as 10 dives of the diving board a day for 10 days.

There isn’t a workbook, textbook, or classroom handout that will give you skill without practice. And having someone come in for four hours and expect to train your group well enough so your group is skilled in something as difficult as listening, problem solving or giving presentations is unrealistic.

Sure, I know it’s money and time. But both of those are wasted if you don’t allow your participants to practice, and practice often.  “Practice makes perfect” was repeated by someone who didn’t bring a scribe and tablet to Periander’s class. The original quote, by Periander is, “Practice is everything.”

For my practice, Martha Graham said it best: “We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”

-Quinn McDonald is an instructor whose classes all contain exercises to practice each step along the way.

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20 responses to “No Notes, No Practice, No Learning

  1. Quinn, I retired after 30 years of preparing income tax returns. Nothing would upset me like the occasional client who’d ask me to sit down with them for 30 minutes and teach them how to keep their books. Eventually I learned to see this as the miserly audacity that it was. I was lucky to be able to turn down business (which I learned was always right in the end, trusting my gut and what would help me sleep better at night), and so I would give my standard reply: “Sorry, I do not teach accounting. I do it. They have classes at the local college that will help you achieve your goals.” If you do not insist upon your work ethic, then you will live by theirs. There is really no way to convince someone that your talents have value when he or she doesn’t agree, especially when they have no idea how you obtained yours. Sigh…..

    • There is an interesting truth here. About knowing what someone else’s work is and respecting it. And leaving work to experts. We have to develop a lot of stock answers over time.

  2. One of the more well-known photographers said to his students (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the quote.) “Take 10,000 shots. Good. Throw those all away, and begin anew. Now you will take photographs.”

  3. OMG OMG OMG
    This is so right on. When I get back to my desktop I’m linking this on my blog.

    What is happening right now is a lot of students rushing into business and forgetting that the word Professional means something. And we all have to pay for it with botched jobs and lawsuits and the end of dreams when a new artist can’t sell his work because he’s still a neophyte.

    Thanks for this reminder. I hope to slow down and continue to learn so that what I provide te world has value.

  4. Oh, I am a part of one of those companies…..I’m the HR person. There is nothing I would enjoy more that having you in on a regular basis to work with us. I see so much talent and we never seem to get out of the gate.

  5. I never heard “See one, do one, teach one” before- sounds like it was made up by the same person who made up “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”- as if you can teach something that you don’t know how to do. And Pete, I’m stealing your comment :)

  6. Remind them that good writing is the difference between ‘knowing your shit’ and ‘knowing you’re shit’ :-)

  7. I think you’ve just summed up why the “training” we get for work (and pay outside vendors a pretty penny for!) is pretty much a waste. And a reminder to me in my personal practice to do just that–practice!

    • The training you get at work is not a waste if you show up ready to learn, take notes, ask questions and don’t expect to be an expert in four hours, particularly if you don’t participate fully in class. “Education” comes from the root word meaning “to draw out of” not “to stuff into.” Participants have to work to learn. Ah, yes, the pretty penny theory. Please remember that what you pay for training also covers what you don’t see–the hours of development that went into preparing the class–from research to typing. You probably get paid a salary, which means that if you take a longer lunch, don’t work hard, or go to class, you still get paid. Freelancers don’t. The money we earn in a day of teaching has to cover the days we spend looking for work or taking classes, too.

  8. So you didn´t reveal the end of the story – is it in the title ?
    It´s a bit scary but I do hope that the people you describe are a minority -sigh. For me taking notes is to anchor the info in my mind. And I´m never as free as when I do something for the first time because I have no expectation. This can be quite sensational :)
    Thanks for sharing your insights !

  9. Just love that quote from Martha Graham! Athlete of god…

  10. I have to take notes, I have a head like a sieve!. I work for hours each week on my French hoping that one day the penny will drop, I improve slowly! Last night I watched a marvellous programme about David Hockney and his latest paintings fantastic they were too. They said he gets up early to paint, he paints every day, and so I started a piece late last night and this morning I got up early then, after reading a few emails (yours included) I finished the painting with your word practice in my head. Many thanks for your daily blog.

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