Forward Thinking

What If Everything You Think About How Attendees Learn is Wrong?

Real learning occurs through discovery, not the delivery and receipt of information.

Educators have been talking about Bloom’s Taxonomy, critical-thinking skills, executive functions of the brain and HOTS — higher-order thinking skills — for more than five decades. However, those foundational learning principles have not transferred to most adult education experiences. Conference organizers still have a tremendous amount of work to do to involve adults in cognitive learning practices.

So much of our commonplace practices and conventional wisdom about learning is wrong. We are stuck in legacy lecture and panel formats that are delivery-based. Instead we have to transition into the research-proven methods of discovery and inquiry, which result in better outcomes for participants.

We need to design learning experiences that involve learners in making meaning of the content, not just receiving information. We have to give them time to link that content to their own knowledge and experience. We have to give them the opportunity to test ideas of how to apply that content on the job.

Compare and contrast the current delivery system of education vs. the discovery system of education:

Delivery System of Education

  1. Participants are expected to accept information via a 45-, 60-, or 90-minute lecture, panel, video, or from reading materials.
  2. The education experience is one-size-fits-all, impersonal, and disconnected.
  3. The speaker is doing the majority of the thinking, sense-making, and explaining — not the participant.
  4. We measure how well participants learned by evaluating their right and wrong answers on a test.
  5. The speaker does the step-by-step problem-solving and shares solutions. Participants then copy the solution.

Discovery System of Education

  1. Participants uncover what the content means to them, not what it means to the expert.
  2. The participant is encouraged to assume more of the cognitive work in thinking about how to use the information, not the speaker.
  3. Understanding and sense-making result in new ideas and approaches, not just copying the speaker’s new ideas and approaches.
  4. The presenter measures the audience’s quality of thinking instead of just identifying right or wrong knowledge answers.
  5. The presenter directs the presentation based on the learners’ questions during the session.

Here are two types of discovery activities that presenters can use to encourage participants to use higher-order thinking instead of just passively receiving content:

  1. Analogies — Participants are asked to compare the current topic to a different topic. Participants then proceed comparing how the two topics have similar attributes.
  2. Elaborate and evaluate various perspectives — Ask participants what could account for the expert’s point of view? Have them expand on a variety of other ways people could view this issue.

For more, download and distribute this PDF of revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs from Azusa Pacific University to your speakers: Encourage speakers to build presentations around learning outcomes that use Levels 3 through 6, so participants practice higher-level critical-thinking skills. 

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.