I recently watched a presentaion where the presentor sat at the front of the room with his back to the audience, reading his overpacked slides for 25 minutes. I was astounded because his topic was important and his knowledge flawless but my retention was 0.
Subsequently, I started reading Dr. Roger Shank’s book “Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools“. In the book, he talks about how Teaching = Telling was common practice for hundreds of years. Oral traditions of teaching are holdovers from the days when books and paper were rare commodities, but then television and the Internet entered the world and changed people’s ability to access vast quantities and qualities of information quickly.
Teaching = Telling isn’t just outmoded, it is dangerous. The practice of non-critically believing what people tell you, particularly people in authority or people with notoriety is what has led to the refusal to vaccinate children, creationism taught as science, financial scams by trusted advisors and a proliferation of non-evidence based healing practices.
Teaching = Telling in the medical classroom doesn’t engage minds in critical thinking, but it also doesn’t help students remember information either. Students attention to what they hear is the key components of learning in an auditory culture. If students’ attention span = 15 minutes of concentration on a good day, they will remember about 1/4 of what they heard in a 60 minute lecture. Combine the distraction of trying to pay attention to poorly constructed, overstuffed PowerPoint slides and retention drops even further.
So take a minute and think about – What is your teaching philosophy? How do you believe people learn?
For ideas about how to actively engage students in medical classrooms see the teaching techniques section on the right hand side of this blog.