Clayton Christensen’s #1 Rule for Effective Teaching

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    In a recent conversation with Clayton Christensen, he reminded me that people learn when they are ready to learn, not when we are ready to teach them. This comment is so true and applies to all aspects of learning from grade school to corporate learning to recreational learning.

    Have you ever tried to teach something to someone when they weren’t ready? It’s a lot like feeding an infant. I remember feeding my children. Most of the food that’s prepared to feed them usually winds up on their head, face, hands, clothes, and on the floor…not in their mouth. Then once it’s in their mouth, only about half of that is actually digested. Then about an hour later, they are hungry again. Now consider the contrasting experience a few months later when they learn to feed themselves. Suddenly the plate is clean and they are asking for seconds.

    Adult learners and hungry infants have a lot in common. I recall an experience as a sales trainer where I had to train a sales force how to use and sell a complex piece of medical equipment. New reps were hired weekly, but I could only hold the training every 12 weeks. This meant that in the same room I had people who started days ago sitting next to people who started months ago. They may have well been from different planets based on the learning challenges of the environment. Beyond this, they are maverick sales reps who didn’t want to sit in a training room and learn for an entire week. It wasn’t right for them. Even though I had prepared a wholesome and delicious bowl of knowledge, most of it wound up on the wall or the floor.

    So if it wasn’t right for them, how did they learn to do their job? Informally. They learned through observation and conversations in networks of peers, mentors, and managers.

    Why wouldn’t they prefer to learn in the training room? Just like the hungry infant. The learning needs to be right on time and right for them.

    Do you have any tips for more effective teaching? Please share them.

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