Tag Archives: education

How I Still Struggle with The Most Common Communication Mistake

public speaking

As a teacher and speaker, it still happens to me. Almost all the time actually. Even after many years of practice. My Toastmasters colleagues often remind me, but I can’t seem to learn.

In my lectures and speeches, I deliver too much info, I speak too fast and afterwards, I wonder why I can’t manage to fit all the material I prepared.

In his great book Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina calls this practice force-feeding, and says it’s the most common mistake in communication. Actually, the problem isn’t so much the amount the information, but the time given to connect the dots afterwards.

Why do teachers and trainers overstuff their students?

They focus too much on the feeding (teaching) and too little on the digesting (learning). Don’t get me wrong. Lectures and speeches are one of the best ways to quickly communicate knowledge, but the problem is that very little learning occurs while they’re given. Learning is an active and internal process that takes place afterwards.

What can you do to remedy that?

The solution is to prioritize learners, and learners want focus and clarity. Most experts forget what it’s like to be a novice, and flood their audience with too much information.

As a professional speaker once told me, a good speech should only deliver one point, and your audience must be able to clearly identify what it is. Lectures should similarly focus on one core concept.

So how can I defeat that communication demon, and finally become a great communicator?

I must understand that less is more. I must slow down, eliminate needless information, and focus on the one thing I want my class or audience to remember after I stop speaking.

Why The Most Depressing Fact in Education Isn’t That Depressing

how to prevent forgetting

I’ll always remember what our stats professor told us at the beginning of the semester years ago: “You’ll only remember 5% of what you’re currently learning at university.”

As a teacher now, I must bow to the evidence. The battle against forgetting has no end.

And Ebbinghaus’ famous forgetting curve confirms that. Students typically forget 90% of what they learn in class within 30 days, and most of that forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class.

This has got to be the most depressing fact in education, don’t you think?

Actually, not quite. For two reasons. There are two types of forgetting, and each plays an essential role in learning.

The first type of forgetting is active, and acts as a spam filter. It enables you to prioritize information and focus on what your brain thinks is important.

But what exactly does your brain deem important?

Our brain has evolved to retain info and skills that we need to use over a long period of time. Basically, we’re evolved not to waste a lot of energy learning what’s going to be used only one time. What is considered useless gets filtered out.

So for the brain, repetition means usefulness. Rehearsing and repeating tell your brain not to lose track of that info or skill because you’re going to keep needing it in the future.

This leads to the second type of forgetting, which is passive and referred to as decay. Memory fades with time, and that’s a pain, isn’t it?

But here’s the good news. Dr. Robert Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse shows that forgetting actually increases learning. Memory seems to have a muscle-like property; breaking down promotes rebuilding. This means that without some forgetting, you may get no benefit from further study.

As a peak learner, you should see forgetting as what it really is. It is a filter that blocks the background noise so the right signal can stand out.

You should also make the most of it. You want to remember something for a long time? Space your learning periods. This will enable forgetting to strengthen your learning.

Why I Send My Kids to A Traditional School (Old vs New School)

old school teaching

My two daughters attend a good old traditional school. They wear a uniform, learn respect, and have to memorize things. A lot of things. Sentences, formulas, dates, and many other facts.

Is this focus on raw knowledge justified? Is there a case to be made for rote learning? The answer is yes. If you want to become a peak learner, you first need to prioritize memory over thinking.

The supporters of the modern curriculum like to quote Montaigne, who famously preferred a well-made rather than well-filled head. They also argue that facts quickly become obsolete, are easily forgotten, and memorizing them is often a waste of time since so much info now lies at our fingertips. So learners should instead hone their reasoning, creativity and critical thinking.

No doubt, such skills lie at the core of what peak learning is. Relying on rote learning alone would restrict you to solving past problems.

But developing your thinking without a solid mental database is like starting a building without having all the necessary material. It’s counterproductive, and the best planning and building skills can’t make up for the lack of material.

As Hirsch notes in his famous essay “You Can Always Look It Up”, a simple definition can only be understood if you already know a large part of what you read. Ironically, you learn what you already know. That’s why experts are peak learners. They learn more, better and faster, precisely because they have access to a rich repertoire of knowledge.

Like in all things, balance is key. Learning without thinking leads nowhere, but reasoning and analyzing without having a good grasp of the facts will often prove as sterile.

Do you want to be a peak learner? Do like my kids. First master the fundamentals; then the higher levels of thinking will come naturally.