Monday, January 5, 2009

Teaching the Teacher from Dexter J. Valles

The arbiter of knowledge and skills, the teacher, is a revered figure around the world. In India, the teacher is known as the guru, the wise one who can be trusted to lead the knowledge-blind and shine the light of competence and skills in the darkness of ignorance and incompetence.

Over time it has been realized that the wise one is not necessarily the most skilled teacher. Learning proficiently and transferring the learning just as well is not really as simple as it seems. It takes far more skill to teach than to learn.

The teacher has not only to have a full and wholesome appreciation of the subject but also know how best to transfer this in its entirety in a useful manner to the learner considering the learning styles and needs of each individual learner.

Whilst studies have been popularized concerning learning styles, and suitable adaptation of knowledge transference has been undertaken to match the varied learning styles of participants, the newer platform of transference has to do with the multiple intelligences that seem to be far more effective in reaching across to the learner.

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes several different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:

• Linguistic intelligence (word smart)
• Logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart)
• Spatial intelligence (picture smart)
• Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart)
• Musical intelligence (music smart)
• Interpersonal intelligence (people smart)
• Intrapersonal intelligence (self smart)
• Naturalist intelligence (nature smart)

How does this affect us learning facilitators and trainers and our participants?

The theory of multiple intelligences has strong implications for adult learning and development. Many adults and young professionals seeking to make their mark in life often find themselves in jobs that do not make optimal use of their most highly developed intelligences. For example, the highly bodily-kinesthetic individual may be stuck in a linguistic or logical desk-job like customer care when he or she would be much happier in a job where they could move around, such as in front-line sales.

The theory of multiple intelligences gives adults a whole new way to look at their lives, examining potentials that they left behind in their childhood (such as a love for art or drama) but now have the opportunity to develop through courses, hobbies, or other programs of self-development.

This is another way of chasing away the boredom with the routine or the mundane work one becomes habituated to accept and live with, lowering the levels of enthusiasm, responsiveness and creativity – some of the essential ingredients for success in these competitive times.

What we must recognize is that these multiple intelligences offer choices to (a) trainers/teachers/learning & development facilitators to use varied methods and practices of transferring and processing learning deliverables and to (b) participants to acquire and learn varied methods of addressing work itself, using creative methods to address work issues through the favoured and more developed intelligences

Let’s look at the eight intelligences and how training or learning methods can be matched against them.

Linguistic intelligence (word smart): Reference reading material, reference books, well scripted program handbooks.

Logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart) Case studies, problem solving models & techniques, inventory/ questionnaire/ response form/ instrument evaluation & analysis.

Spatial intelligence (picture smart): Use of graphs, charts, pictures and diagrams.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart): Role plays, projects, structured training games/activities.

Musical intelligence (music smart): Music with learning deliverable lyrics. Participants create musical learning summaries using popular tunes, leveraging nursery rhymes to advanced learning songs & anthems.

Interpersonal intelligence (people smart): Team exercises that need the identification and use of the varied resources of team members.

Intrapersonal intelligence (self smart): Presentations by participants on processed learning, role-reversals. Participants study and deliver (teach) selected modules in the program itself, participants are asked to create learning models/modules

Naturalist intelligence (nature smart): Learning from real world experiences, interpretations and guiding principles that emerge from such experiences.

Dr. Howard Gardner says that other than areas of developed expertise, most of us react or process and infer learning outcomes in all other areas in the manner we used to do as 5-year-old kids – the earliest levels of cognitive intelligence.

Implications of this are as follows for trainers/facilitators/teachers and our corporate participants:

1. As trainers/teachers/facilitators we need to be experts at what we teach else we are simply transferring our own 5-year-old childish reasoning and logic to the participants, who receive it believing it is the word of the expert. The snowballing consequences are nightmarish!

2. To be experts, demands more than average attention and learning in the area of study.

3. Extensive reading (to replace extensive research and study) is the minimal effort one has to undertake to raise the levels of personal awareness, knowledge/content and competence/understanding.

4. Participants are unlikely to react in the ‘expected’ manner in either receiving, processing or understanding the learning deliverables, as they are most likely to be at a level of ‘non-expert’ in these areas and therefore would have learning conclusions matching their own 5-year-old level of logic and belief.

Concluding remarks

This exercise leads us to some interesting conclusions in the training-learning process:

a. Content transference is easily possible at an adult learning level. Summarising received content at the end of the program is not an indication of learning or understanding as pointed out by Dr. Gardner.
b. Understanding can only be ascertained when participants apply the learning in simulated real world experiences that are necessarily different from the experience created when delivering the concept. For example, participants can offer each other their own past experiences and ask others how they would use the learning to have handled the situation, or offer their own new approaches to the old
c. Training videos, role plays, case study experiments, training exercises, need to be processed with ‘understanding’ in mind – not a simple analysis of what happened in the experiment or video or exercise, which is what participants tend to explain, but how this learning can be applied at work/back in real life.
d. Similarly hoping that the video/exercise or experiment is ‘self-explanatory’ is not constructive as the learning derived by participants is likely to be unprocessed content management and learning summaries are derived from the 5-year-old child-like ‘theories of life’. The ‘expert’ must anchor the learning rather than leave loose ends to be automatically tied.
e. Understanding can be investigated only by moving from basic questions like what, why, how to the more advance ‘aesthetic’ level questioning skills/questions that ask participants to offer personally processed input that has direct bearing on their work practices or behavior.
f. This points to program design and delivery process. Program designs which are packed almost like a school time table leave very little processing and understanding time. The program flow is often ‘impaired’ by handling lack of understanding or processing by participants and therefore participants learn to respond by cleverly managing the showcasing of content to represent learning and understanding, in order to release the program flow and time which tends to be the casualty, in a concept-crowded program.
g. The facilitator has to be equipped to deal with the following learning hurdles which participants will unconsciously throw up.

■Misconceptions: Based on their past experiences, pet theories and assumptions
■Rigid algorithms/formulas: Formed from their earlier explanations of how the world works; input to output formulas that worked or seemed to work; expert opinions of others they consider experts, information in magazines/MIS data (tabulated and charted data tends to overwhelm the thinking and understanding process).
■Stereotyping and world views held by participants to diagnose and judge the rest of the world , in order to make decisions, are usually based on earlier formed assumptions and perceptions which without confrontation or validity checks, often script the guide book of their current life.

Dexter J Valles, business and life trainer renowned for his programs under the “At the Steering Wheel of Life” and “Winning Edge” banners, is CEO of VALMAR INTERNATIONAL, a Mumbai-based management consultancy. Contact him at or

As seen on tickled by Life on Jan. 5, 2009

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