Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 16, 1968

Teaching For Learning

Martin M. Broadwell

Now that we have discussed the question of "Why do we teach as we do?", let's consider the question "Does it make a difference how we teach?" If we admit that there are different ways of teaching, are we willing to admit that one is better than another? If we have observed different teachers using different methods and find that some produce better than others, are we ready to examine our own approach to teaching and see if we might be able to improve our technique?

It Does Make A Difference

During these articles we will use various statistics to make points on subjects discussed. While statistics admittedly are often misleading, the ones we will use are pretty well accepted by most people in the training field, and most of them can be shown to be true with a minimum of experimenting. For instance, it is fairly easy to show that 75% of what we learn is through the sense of sight. (Most studies show the figure much higher than this so we shouldn't worry about using 75%) Here again we must remind ourselves that learning is defined as the ability to do/or say something that we couldn't do or say before. One more figure will give us enough to talk about.

It is an accepted fact that we forget about 75% of what we hear after two days, assuming there is no visual assistance given to the memory. Stop a moment and think about the last class you taught or that you were in where someone was teaching. If there was some way to count all of the facts that were put out, and also a way to count all that were received (retained after 2-3 days), how much real learning was accomplished? Someone says "But we've been teaching this way for hundreds of years ... how have we learned so much?" There are several answers, but one thing is obvious: Much of what we have done has been inefficient!

In my instructor training I use a little experiment to prove this point. After having several people stand behind a screen and try to describe a fairly simple figure — an exercise that takes 10-15 minutes with little or no success — I take a similar figure and simply hold it up in front of the class with no words at all. In about 30 seconds everyone in the class has reproduced the figure on their own tablet. That's just one example of efficiency. It's like trying to teach about a cow, but not being able to show a picture of one. It just isn't efficient to describe what a cow looks like if we can show a photograph or draw a picture. But there is more to the problem than the time required. There is the actual amount of learning taking place. The statistics we have mentioned make it clear that for actual retention, that which stimulates the eye is much more likely to be remembered longer than that which is only heard.

Are Visual Aids The Answer

For some reasons beyond understanding, many people resent the idea that visual aids might help in the teaching program. All the evidence shows that in fact visuals do contribute greatly to learning. Later on we hope to discuss the proper use of aids which stimulate the brain through the eye, but for now let's just say that much of the prejudice stems from two things: A lack of understanding of how to get the best use from visual aids, and an unwillingness to expend the effort to prepare and use these aids. Instead of talking about visuals, though, let's try to demonstrate what visuals really contribute in the learning process. To over-simplify, let's say that when an image strikes the eye, hence the optic nerve, a message is sent to the brain that says "there is something out there." If the brain, acting like a computer, finds something in its memory that associates with this "something" it gives it recognition, perhaps even a name (i.e., cow, dog, triangle, house, Johnny, pecan pie, etc.). If there is no association, then it simply says to the rest of the mind, "I don't know what that is." Of course, the ear, nose, touch and feel processes work the same way. But some things lend themselves better to one sense than another. The sound of a train whistle is best transmitted to the brain through the ear. It can't very well be smelled. On the other hand, a Thanksgiving turkey cooking is rarely received at its best through the ear.

Now all of this has value to us when it comes to the difference between hearing something and seeing it. Some things are better understood through the kind of impression received from the eye than from the ear. Let's take an example. Earlier in this article we mentioned that 75% of what we learn is through the sense of sight. The expression "Seventy-five percent" can come to us in many ways. First, we could just hear the figure; next we could see it in writing, as we have in this article; finally, we could show a picture of a pie, with three-fourths of it lifted out and colored red, and the figure 75% in big letters showing beside it. Which of these would make the biggest impression on our brain? Obviously the picture of the pie. But let's go back to our inefficiency statement again. If we repeated 75%, 75%, 75% often enough, we would remember it. The pie chart would bring us up to a permanent stage of remembrance much sooner, though, so we say that this is more efficient learning.

Now, let's look at a trick in the learning process. In the last paragraph we said that some things are better understood through "the kind of impression received from the eye." It is possible to make that same kind of impression without actually going through the eye! We could have done it by describing the pie chart for you to hear without actually drawing it for you. In reality, you got the message (the picture) through words, although you read them rather than heard them. We could have spoken them, and your brain would have drawn the pie chart for you. Where good, clear pictures can be drawn with words the brain makes its own visuals and the results are almost as good, sometimes making an even longer lasting impression. In a real sense, this was a "learning by doing" process, in that you drew your own picture, albeit it was drawn mentally and not physically.

So What?

What does all of this say? It says that the Lord realized this a long time ago when he was doing his excellent teaching. Not just in the parables, which we recognize as being fine examples of verbal descriptions. But take the time sometime to count the number of times the Bible uses the expression "likened unto," "likened unto a wise man that built his house upon the rock.", or "Like unto a man that beholdeth himself in a mirror," and on and on. The key here is that the thing to which the message is being associated is actually completely unrelated to the subject at hand. But there is a way to cause the reader to get a mental picture through this illustration, then quickly make the transfer to the real message. This "third party" technique is used both in the Old and New Testament to convey meanings to the reader. The watchman on the tower who sees the enemy coming and either does or does not warn the people is a wonderful example of what we're talking about. Israel was being taught about its spiritual dangers but they could readily grasp the watchman analogy.

We do harm, though, if we see this only as an analogy. We must realize that the examples are appealing to our ability to draw mental pictures that make a more lasting impression on our brain than the straight message. But how can we use this in our teaching? Unfortunately, here again we find that the easy way is not this way. Many just take this as proof that they really don't have to use visuals after all, and go right on talk, talk, talking. When one looks for the mental pictures they are nowhere to be found. Or worse yet, there is always the teacher who says "All of this is good for the other fellow, but I don't really need it." Maybe he doesn't, but when I train instructors, I have them write a little phrase on top of their notes. It goes like this: "What makes you think you're so charming?" The statistics used earlier are true, no matter how hard we try to make them not apply to our situation. If few people have been able to accomplish learning without taking these things into consideration, what makes me think I'm so charming that I can do it? Think about it; it starts to grow on you.

Before You Go...

If you got this far, here's something for you to think about for the next article. If you are a teacher, or about to be one, suppose someone came up to you and asked, "What will your students be able to do when you finish the next hour's instruction that they can't do now?" What would you say? If you teach a class between now and the next article, ask yourself this same question, then see if they can do what you gave as an answer. Perhaps of all the things that are neglected in teaching, the proper answering of the above question leads the list. There can be virtually no successful teaching if we fail to give due consideration to answering this, in "behavioral" terms, that is, what do I want the student to be able to do. Think about it. Can you give a satisfactory answer?

2882 Hollywood Drive, Decatur, Ga. 30033