7 Principles for Better Teaching
“(There is a) remarkable asymmetry between the ways our mind treats information that is currently available and information we do not have. An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist.— Daniel Kahneman
If there is one single element at the core of teaching and learning it is the capacity to retain learning, information, and knowledge over time. Teachers need to foster it, and students need to master it.
The following principles make for better teaching because they focus on effective learning experiences that facilitate retention of learning.
- 1. We learn by doing what we want or need to learn. One principle we often forget is that the learner is the agent of learning, not the teacher. If the teacher, instructor, trainer, or presenter is doing most of the work it’s a safe bet that he or she is the one doing most of the learning. Passive learners don’t learn and fail to retain information.
- 2. We learn to do what we do and not something else.What we ask learners to do (the learning activity) must be congruent to the end we want to achieve. If we want the learner to learn to ride a bike he or she must actually ride a bike. If we want a learner to learn a skill—whether physical or cognitive—then he or she must perform that skill, not sit and listen to someone else who has mastered the skill. If want the learner to learn to be a leader then he or she must actually lead, not merely study about leadership.
- 3. Without readiness, learning is inefficient and not retained. Learning comes at its own time for each learner. Some things cannot be learned before their time. Until a learner is ready cognitively, emotionally, circumstantially and volitionally he or she is not orient to meaningful learning, regardless of how hard we as teachers may work at it.
- 4. Without motivation there can be no learning. Learners must be willing to learn as well as ready to learn. One is a matter of capacity, the other is a matter of volition. You can’t teach the unwilling. The greatest motivation for learning is an unmet or unrealized need.
- 5. For optimum learning, responses must be immediately reinforced. The greater the lag time between practice and feedback the less retention there is and the greater the chance for misunderstanding or misapplication.
- 6. Meaningful content is better learned and longer retained than less meaningful content. Trivia may be entertaining, but unless learners perceive that the content of their study is relevant and applicable to their lives—it meets and immediate need—-it will not be retained.
- 7. For the highest levels of retention, learning should be acquired in the way it is going to be used. In other words, form and context really do matter—how you learn something, and the context in which learning takes place matters. Pretend learning is ineffective; learning a skill in the classroom context does not automatically transfer to application in the context it needs to be used.
How well and how consistently do you teach for retention?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).