I spend way too much time reading on the Internet. Yesterday alone, I learned about body language, native advertising, mid-life crises, gardening, seat belts, anti-busyness, blue auras, dog tumors, television spoilers and more. Offline, I read a newspaper too.
But the trouble with this information onslaught is my tendency to forget. The next time I go to shake a hand, I’ll won’t recall which side I’m supposed to be on. I’ll get mixed up and plant the seeds in old coffee filters instead of toilet paper rolls. I will mumble when I want to name the new president of Ukraine.
So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut (or is that John Updike, David Foster Wallace or some other white male American writer?) would say.
When I was taking a course on teaching adults recently, this theory resurfaced from the dusty, deep caverns of my consciousness. Only now it makes sense.
When I only consume information, I forget a lot. When I apply knowledge, I remember more. When I teach , it goes into the memory vault.
When you teach adults, you’re supposed to encourage them to practice immediately, first in a controlled setting where they’re either right or wrong, then giving them enough latitude to perform the task imperfectly and learn from their mistakes. Next you let them interpret what they’ve learned by applying it to something a little different.
While they are learning and doing, group work encourages the more advanced students to teach the ones who are struggling.
When I first went to university, the professors stood at the front of the class and lectured. From talking to my daughter and her friends, I know a lot still do. Good marks still often depend more on short-term memory tricks than long-term knowledge storage.
On the positive side, more educators engage their classes by giving them assignments to breathe life into their new knowledge before it can plummet down the rabbit hole of memory. There’s more group work too.
Similarly, top physicians often work at teaching hospitals so they can share their experience with students. Sales people sell more when they have a new guy under their wing.
Teaching is learning. We can all be teachers.
So how will teach-do-learn help you become a better content creator?
The next time you offer advice, include ways your readers can immediately apply it. Encourage them to start applying it in a controlled way, building to interpretation and critical thinking. Let them teach each other through comments and conversations.
Appreciate that your posts and other content marketing are forms of teaching. Just as writing this post is reinforcing for me what I learned in the course, this kind of teaching will benefit you as well as your readers.
Look for other opportunities to share your knowledge. I don’t mean the easy sharing of links on social media. I mean helping others understand, apply, interpret and challenge your expertise. For example, you can explain Russian history to the guy in the next cubicle who comments on the news, show a boomer how to better use their phone or model desirable behavior for your children.
In a world where people often feel overwhelmed by information and change, teaching opportunities abound. If their eyes don’t shift to the nearest screen or glaze over, your expertise is probably welcome.
Very few people can remember all the information they ingest every day. Much of what’s not immediately relevant slides down the hole, never to be seen again. If that didn’t happen, information overload would probably short-circuit our brains.
But some sticks. Like learn, do, teach.
Oh, the mysteries of mind and memory.