Why you need conversations to help you learn

by | Mar 5, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

My colleagues in Charleston where I now live often ask me to join them at PechaKucha, DISRUPTHR, and similar style of events. They also suggest I speak at them too.

Each time, I respectfully decline, explaining that I’m so over this style, especially since it’s the antithesis of what I appreciate. Nor does it appeal to members of my tribe, which was confirmed for me again this past week.

If you’ve not yet experienced one of these fast-paced speaker series, consider trying one. At least you’ll know what the buzz is all about.

Here’s how they work. You watch 10 to 20 speakers talk back-to-back for five to six minutes with their slides rotating automatically every 15 to 20 seconds.

As an audience member—and you’re definitely a spectator not a participant as there’s no question and answer segment—you’re exposed to a variety of topics, which is a big selling point.

The talks are brain snacks, high in novelty and calories and low in nutrition. They may be tasty in the moment, especially if you discover something you want to take a bigger bite of later. However, your recall of your first nibble will probably be minimal.

The event organizers emphasize the other benefits they say they provide. For example, they describe the value derived from shaking things up, exchanging information, making you think differently, teaching you in the moment, learning about others’ passions, becoming energized and inspired, feeling empowered, and on and on.

If you’re a fast learner who gravitates toward short bursts of high-energy entertainment, you may like this format.

However, for those of us who prefer other learning formats, these events may feel more like gavage – the force-feeding process to fatten up ducks to make foie gras. (While my gut doesn’t hurt that much from these events, my brain starts to pound and my eyes glaze over.)

When you’re watching multiple speakers talk quickly one right after another, you may feel like I do. You can’t chew on any of the morsels being offered up. There’s no time to pause and reflect on what you’ve heard. Nor do you have any opportunities to think, ask questions, and engage in conversations.

What’s the result? A week later, you can remember that you attended one of these events. You may even be able to recognize the speaker and slides if you were to see them again, but you may not recall much. (As one of my colleagues says, “I’ve enjoyed these presentations, but I struggle to recall more than 5 %.”) Yet, recall is the gold standard of learning.

By contrast, the science of adult learning shows that adults achieve recall when they follow a totally different process than these fast-paced one-way presentations.

Adults learn by taking time to talk about what they’re learning. Furthermore, more conversations lead to more opportunities to gather new points of view, think, and reflect. By doing so, you often generate your own insights. The reflection time and the self-generated insights help you increase your understanding.

Plus, the act of conversing can be incredibly social, which is also enjoyable for many. In fact, many of us retrieve our memories first by recalling who we were with. We then remember the content, or at least figure out a plan for recovering the content. (Hey, you were with me when we learned that. Do you remember what we talked about regarding…..?”)

The employees in my March 1 corporate learning and development workshop “Leading with the brain in mind” took advantage of the interactive opportunities I built into the format. During this 45-minute workshop, the participants had two five-minute table talk discussions plus quizzes and a question and answer session.

The table talk discussions were the biggest hit of the workshop, based on the noise level in the room and the post-session questionnaire. (One write-in comment said we should have had at least three discussion periods.) Participants enjoyed sharing how their brain worked with their colleagues.

And they all benefited from a brain-friendly experience.

For more about adult learning, check out the blog How to figure out your best way to learn. Meanwhile, do you know what your tribe likes best for its learning and development workshops?


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