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.