Here's a very simple principle anyone who makes presentations or leads workshops should commit to memory: for every segment of content, a more engaging way to present it exists.
As a result, designing powerful learning experiences requires us to go through a simple process for each content segment of a program:
- brainstorm possible ways to teach it, ones that move participants from passive to active whenever possible;
- select one of those options as our initial planned format/teaching technique;
- order the content in an appropriate flow, both in terms of content and learning format; and
- examine the flow of the draft teaching techniques and revise as desirable.
Great content, poorly presented, sucks the life out of participants. This is the shortcoming of many subject matter experts presenting at association conferences. They know their stuff, but don't really know how to engage others in learning about it any way other than talking at them. I previously wrote about this challenge and offered some practical tips in this piece for the ASAE Professional Development newsletter.
Or a presenter gets so excited about using a teaching technique (case study, audience voting, role play) that they lost the necessary connection between content and learning format. Interesting and varied teaching techniques can initially mask weak content selections, but ultimately are like cotton candy: the good feeling dissolves and leaving nothing behind.
Calibrating the selection of appropriate content and learning formats is as much art as science, but doing so is a commitment each of us needs to make to honor the interest and attention of the learner and the process of learning. I like how Jeff Cobb defines learning on his Mission to Learn site: "Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes."
Robust content presented in ways that engage participants in active learning should be a minimum standard for success, not an aspiration only few strive to achieve. Recalibrating both content and technique in real-time based on what's happening in a program is the new capacity we all need to develop. Too many presenters focus on presenting information instead of facilitating learning.