Ten Quotations about Teaching: A Tribute to Forrest McDonald

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” ~Margaret Fuller

My father once told me that it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the student learns, so long as the student puts forth the proper effort. That made a big impression on me, and I’ve shaped all my own teaching around that idea. It’s up to me to be creative in my teaching; make it work is the only rule.

Forrest McDonald in his office.   My father passed away this week, and he was one of the greatest teachers—as well as one of the best men—I have ever known. In tribute to him, today’s post offers 10 quotations about teaching.

Does the Thumbnail for Your Video Make Anyone Want to Open It?

Never forget that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression—with investors, with customers, with PR, and with marketing.” ~Natalie Massenet

You know those pictures of you that you wish your “friends” had never posted on Facebook or Instagram? The ones when your mouth is open, you’re making a terrible face, or your hair looks like Godzilla was your stylist… Or in the case of the thumbnail here, I look like I’m savoring a piece of really good chocolate.

VideoBadOpen   Why is it that we will beg for those images to be removed ASAP, but we’ll post videos for our company, our online courses, or our lead magnets that show a thumbnail of us at our worst?

What Do You Think about Micro-Learning?

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” ~Henry Ford

Micro-learning is content designed to learn in little bites. It’s meant to be swallowed quickly and digested easily. It’s a snack, not a four-course meal.

Fritos on Plate.   Proponents claim that micro-learning reflects how we learn (i.e., in chunks, on the go, on mobile platforms, and in as little time as possible) and that it leads to better outcomes.

In the world of micro-learning, courses are typically 3-7 minutes in length to reflect students’ ever-shrinking attention span. The claim is that micro-courses enable us to process and retain information better than when we’re hit with multiple facts and ideas over a longer period of time.

Do You Buy this Argument?

Or are we training ourselves to think less deeply, thoughtfully, and comprehensively?

Just by way of perspective, the average attention span when I was a kid was 20 minutes. Now it’s hovering around 8 seconds.

Let that difference sink in.

I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts on this topic, because we should be discussing this. It’s a trend that affects not only what we know, but also how well we can think about it. I can see both sides of this fence.

Here Are the Pros

  • Information does need to be “chunked” to be processed.
  • You can absorb only 3-5 major points in half an hour, so it’s logical to think that breaking those points apart in shorter segments could make them more memorable.
  • Micro-learning and micro-courses might improve the completion rate of online courses (although you’d need to consume a lot of these “snacks” to match the content in a standard course).
  • Step-by-step tasks, mechanical processes, details without context, and tips could arguably be learned in short bursts like this. In other words, things you have to memorize more than things that you need to understand fit best in the micro-learning paradigm.

And…that’s the end of the “pros” for me.

Here Are the Cons

  • The number of subjects that micro-learning won’t work for seems to far outweigh the number of subjects that it will work for. You might learn something cool, but can you really understand philosophy, history, or physics in a sound byte?
  • How information fits in a larger context helps us to remember—and more important, to understand—that information better. Where is the room for contextualization in a mini-course? Do you create a separate micro-course for context?
  • What about connections? This is similar to contextualization in that connecting information to other, related concepts means you are bringing the material into broader perspective. That, in turn, makes it both more memorable and more meaningful through the process of association, a vital neurological component of memory. Again, would each micro-course require a separate micro-course on connections?
  • What about exploring the many details that go into fully comprehending a subject? Or are we supposed to accept that this [name the subject] is simply the way it is, so don’t worry about the details, since there isn’t time for them in a micro-course?
  • Is it truly a benefit to our society to contribute to reducing our attention span, as micro-learning surely does? Aren’t there scads of complex questions, relationships, solutions, and concepts that require deep and extensive thinking to understand and resolve?

Use Micro-Learning for Micro-Topics

In other words, I’m a fan of micro-learning only for certain micro-topics. I can see, for instance, how a series of micro-courses on photography could teach you essential techniques and tips.

On the other hand, I can also see that it would be difficult to gain appreciation for photography as art or as documentary without richer context, deeper discussion, and more connections than those brief micro-courses could allow.

Goldfish in bowlBut then, if my attention span shortens to that of the current average (less than that of a goldfish, at 9 seconds), maybe I just won’t care.

Did you enjoy this post? Please share it! Share on LinkedIn. Share on Twitter.

Please send me your questions for future issues, and tune in next Friday for Issue #42 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.”

Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course. 

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Procrastination, Like Crime, Does Not Pay: 10 Steps to Conquer It

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” ~Pablo Picasso

If you’ve never put off until tomorrow what you should have done today, don’t bother reading the rest of this. On second thought—go ahead, since you’re bound to be lying!

Fireplace   New Year’s Day seems an appropriate time to haul out a resolution that we should make every day, and that’s to do today what we should do today.

Why am I telling you the same thing your parents, teachers, spouse, and countless self-help books have told you? It’s because I have seen procrastination ruin courses that should have been—would have been—amazing, had the teacher simply built it slowly and steadily.

10 of My Favorite Quotations about Learning–and a New Year’s Challenge

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

My posts usually focus on teaching, but today I want to share some of my favorite quotations about learning. Without this side of the equation—people who love to learn—all our teaching is empty.

Books on bookshelves   Yes, it’s our job as educators to make people want to learn, but it’s also our job to model that by being passionate, lifelong learners ourselves.

Here are 10 of my favorite quotations to inspire you.

7 Ideas for Improving the Online Course Experience for Traditional Students

Education is the movement from darkness to light.” ~Allan Bloom

Last weekend I was hanging out in the kitchen with a friend of my son’s who is just finishing up her bachelor’s degree. She has worked full time while taking classes, and many of them have been online because that fit with her work schedule.

Her biggest complaint? “They’re so boring—just some professor reading slides slower than I can read them. There’s no interaction … no teaching.”

coffee mugs and coffeepot   As it happens, just the week before I’d been chatting about online courses with another friend, also in the    kitchen over coffee. But she is a professor. Her biggest complaint? “There’s no interaction … not enough chances to really teach.”

What Makes One Online Course Better than Another?

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

The world of online courses is peopled with both skeptics and believers, but whichever side you stand on, education has changed as a result. From my vantage point, I have seen some subjects taught dazzlingly well on video, better than they could have been in a classroom. And I have seen some courses that were so miserable and overpriced that calling them educational makes a mockery of the word.

Laptop with online courses   Earlier this week I was talking about this with Michael Kuzmenko, Manager of Academic Partnerships for Higher Education. He commented that “The market is flooded with online courses; it’s difficult to understand what makes one better than the other.” It’s a great point.

What does make one online course better than the other? Is it the teaching? The sheer availability? How well we learn? I have heard the argument that online teaching is weaker, and therefore so is online learning. In this paradigm, it is only availability that makes online courses worthwhile.

Improve Your Online Classes by Asking: Who Are Your Students?

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ~Plutarch

Last August I drove across country with all my household goods in a 26-foot moving van. My inclination is to check the maps frequently, write out directions ahead of time, and triple-check with my GPS.

Maps open on table   My traveling companion, on the other hand, wanted as little discussion about the route as possible. “We just need to keep going west,” he said.

For him, the most information conveyed in the fewest words is ideal. He prefers “show” to “tell” when he’s learning something. I, on the other hand, learn best when I’ve written something down.

5 Things You Don’t Need When You Make an Online Course—and 5 Things You Do

If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

For many years I believed that a Thanksgiving meal had to include not only an excess of food, but an excess of types of food. Not just one vegetable, but three or four. Not just one kind of potato, but two (and maybe a noodle dish as well). Not just one type of bread, but muffins and rolls as well. Not just one type of pie, but several.

Pies   Well, I still think you need at least three kinds of pie to make the meal truly outstanding, but otherwise, I keep it simple. Besides giving me more time with loved ones, keeping it simple allows me to bring out the best in each dish. I go for the highest quality rather than the most stuff.

I approach creating online courses the same way. You don’t need to throw in everything and gooey sweet potatoes too. You just need the best quality teaching, delivered passionately.

Use a Prewriting Checklist to Make Sure Your Organization Is Solid

Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure….”~Atul Gawande

Checklist Prewriting Organization   Who doesn’t love a list? Well, lots of people, but forget about them for a minute…and if you’re one of them, pretend for a minute that you like them. When you’re preparing to write—whether it’s a course, a book, a report, or what-have-you—the hardest work is what you do before you write. That’s the prewriting organization. It’s also the work with the biggest pay-off.

I’ve been talking about this topic for a couple of weeks, and I want to wrap up the series with a checklist.