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Actualize Blog

September 4, 2015

Essential Ingredients for Teaching Tech: A.G.E. (Always Give Examples)

Explaining how to do things is very hard. You already know how to do X. Bob has never done X before. He has never even seen X being done before. And you need to teach him how to do X. If X is hard, then explaining how to do X is even harder. Why? First off, communication is hard in general. But here it’s even worse. You need to essentially boil down X into spoken (or written) words, and then Bob needs to convert the words back into X. Converting X into words is hard enough, but you need to do the conversion in such a way that Bob can easily recreate X based on your words. Now, what good would this article be without an example? Imagine teaching chess or checkers to someone without having a gameboard and pieces in front of you. You may be able to come up with the clearest and most enlightening instructions, but would you honestly expect the student to be able to play the game? You obviously need to show example moves and gameplay. It’s no different when teaching tech, or anything else for that matter. A lesson is never complete without an example. Pure explanation is never sufficient alone. Even when you think it is. An example has a way of bringing a lesson home that words alone simply cannot do. With words alone, there is always a conversion of thought-to-words (and vice versa) that is fraught with misunderstanding and ambiguity. Indeed, in many cases, all you need is an example. A good example can often get the point across without requiring any additional explanation. I think everyone appreciates a good example. We’ve all experienced the clarity that an example provides when trying to learn something new. Then why is it that so much instruction is given without examples? I find so often that teachers and speakers drone on and on with concept and theory and often provide few or no examples. Why is that, if the value of examples is so obvious? I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and rule out laziness as being a factor here (although it probably is in some cases). There’s another issue at play: It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a concept is so clear that it needs no example, and that’s because the concept is already crystal clear to the speaker. But teachers need to keep in mind that it’s axiomatic that the student will not have the same grasp of the concept as the teacher (initially, anyway). And that’s why a teacher always needs to provide examples. If you don’t think an example is necessary, give an example anyway. Just remember: AGE. Always Give Examples. Your students will thank you.