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Thinking the Undoable

My project management class at Drake University is currently going through a major overhaul. What was an elective is now migrating a required course. And the university is moving us to more of a blended learning environment, meaning a smaller amount of time is spent in the classroom and more time passing content through videos and web chats. This morning, I'm giving my mind a break from critical path networks to write this blog post. (Okay, I'm giving my mind a break from critical path networks because they are HARD -- not to understand, I'm a project manager who's been doing this stuff for decades -- but to EXPLAIN to a group of students who will NOT be in the classroom with me when they absorb this information.) For the past sixteen years, I've been able to see the puzzled looks on students' faces and break down any component of the lesson in real time as we cover the material in class. Now I have to take this information to its lowest common denominator, assuming that this is new information for all of my students. And I have to approach the curriculum in such a way that will minimize questions without offending the math-minded in the room for whom this will be review.


I am reminded of what the Heath Brothers shared in their book, Made to Stick, about the curse of knowledge. Often, we assume that because we understand all the nuances of a topic, that those to whom we are speaking also share those same understandings. The Heath Brothers cited a study where people were paired off into "tappers" and "listeners." The tappers then were given a common song and were asked to tap out the rhythm on the table while the listener had to guess what the song was. The telling part of this study is that tappers estimated the listeners would guess correctly about half the time. The actual success rate was closer to two percent. Why the disparity? Because the tappers had the melody and the lyrics in their head as they were tapping and ASSUMED that the listener would be able to guess. The listeners only had a series of random tap frequencies.

How often are people confused by your instructions? Are you tapping something out without sharing the full background of what you know and how you arrived at your knowledge? Do your listeners know why the tapping is important? Just some thoughts as I slowly, excruciatingly go step-by-step through a critical path network and explain via video what could be explained in class with a FRACTION of the class prep effort. My solution? I'll probably show the videos to my wife and children to see if they can understand what I'm trying to get across. How about you? The next time you need to explain something, will you just "tap it out," or will you approach it from the learner's viewpoint?

Back to my lesson plans!

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