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Passing On Learning - Grasshopper

I realize the title of this writing can be taken a couple of ways, especially depending on the vocal inflection used. It could be interpreted as “taking a pass” on learning, or it could be about “passing on” what you’ve learned to others.

Allow me to reflect on both.

 

It seems most of us take a pass on learning when the subject matter seems too difficult to tackle. That’s usually a result of the topic being poorly presented or poorly taught. Anything can be learned more quickly if it’s broken down into bite-size, easy to understand chunks. For example, I’ve noticed that the online crossword puzzle I do is laid out like that. On Monday, it’s a breeze. On Tuesday, it’s not much harder. When Wednesday rolls around, it takes me longer. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are incrementally more difficult, and Sunday is the 800-pound gorilla.

 

If I decided only to do the Sunday one, my frustration level would be higher than usual, and I may never complete it. But being brought along slowly, increasing the difficulty each time, conditions me into the mindset of solving, and makes Sunday not as big of a mountain.

 

So how do we go about passing on to others what we’ve learned? A lot of what we learn is passed on by osmosis, especially in our formative years when we adopt attitudes, beliefs, mannerisms, and the like without even knowing that we learned them. I often point to the accent that we speak with as an example. We didn’t conscious learn it; we absorbed it by the examples that were presented to us early on.

 

Then, there comes a time when we want to formally pass on the knowledge we’ve acquired to others. This is much harder to do because of a blind spot many of us have. We expect people to learn the lesson quickly when, in fact, it may have taken us a lifetime to learn it.

 

One of the ways to shorten the learning curve for others is to be a model of what you want to pass on. You can’t expect someone to learn from you if you follow my grandmother’s directive: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Be the example of your teaching and you’ll be easier to learn from.

 

Reminds me of a story I’ve told before. When I was in high school, we had a neighbor who was the head dietician at the local hospital. She would preach to anyone willing to listen the benefits and necessity of good nutrition. She was quite knowledgeable. She also weighed 300 pounds.

 

Her information was “spot on” but she displayed the model that turned people off.

 

Next, you have to find your audience. Not everyone is interested in learning what you know, so if you’re preaching outside the choir loft, expect it to be a slow go. You can’t teach someone who’s uninterested or unwilling to learn.


Once you find your peeps, you have walk them step-by-step through a process. That’s why we like great story tellers so much. They lead us down a path that’s easy to follow and guide us to the conclusion they want us to reach.

 

Contrast that with a blathering cable TV host. These folks want to dazzle you with their knowledge when asking their guests questions. They attempt to show how brilliant they are by loading everything they know into a long-winded question and by the time they’re done, you’ve forgotten what they’ve asked. The audience would be better served by them simply asking a straight-forward question and letting the guest, who’s likely well versed on the topic, to give their expert opinion.

 

I’ll take a little liberty with the famous K.I.S.S. example to illustrate how to pass things on: “Keep it simple . . . and sequential.”

 

You’ll have a better chance of passing on what you know, by adhering to some golf swing advice on how to take your club back: low and slow. By low, I mean go for the lowest common denominator. Don’t assume people know as much as you. Make it as simple as you can. And slow means to not move on to the next point until the current one has sunk in. Pay attention to your audience and watch and listen for indicators that they’re with you. You can do this by periodically asking a simple question: “Does that make sense?” and then pay attention to the feedback.

 

I’ll end this suggested practice with a rhyme: If you make your teaching an arduous, uphill climb, you won’t be passing things on; you’ll just be passing time.

 

All the best,

John

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