Get it? Got It! Good!

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You [Timothy], however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” 2 Timothy 3:10

Anyone who has sat in a class listening to a lecture (or, in a church listening to the message) knows how hard it is to remember the content.  It you took notes, then you might remember more.   I recently was preparing a message to give in a church in Nairobi, and one of my close friends who is gifted in the art of communication told me that the audience won’t remember 85% of what I said.  “That’s a little disappointing”, I thought, but it did help me to craft my message so that there were several memorable lines that could be easily remembered.

It turns out that the 15% retention rate might be high according to others who have studied learning.  In fact, a 5% retention is a better retention rate according to some experts.  The average retention rate of different teaching methods, according to the NTL Institute,  is:

Lecture                       5%

Reading                     10%

Audio Visual              20%

Discussion Group    50%

Practice by Doing    75%

Teaching Others      90%

The NTL Institute (www.ntl.org) is a non-profit educational institution which came up with a “learning pyramid” which graphically shows learning retention based on the above teaching methods.  After I studied the above chart, it made sense to me because a lot of what I tried to learn by sitting in a classroom never really “stuck” in my head. I never really “Got it!“.   If I took notes, I did better because I could study them, but just listening to a lecture wasn’t my best method of learning.  For pastors, a sermon is the equivalent of a lecture, so it might be a surprise that what a pastor says is not remembered very well.  It’s really not the audience’s fault:  even someone paying attention will not remember a majority of the message.  When I spoke in Kenya last year, I made a point of trying to make a memorable phrase which I repeated several times.  Several months afterwards, the Bishop who was in attendance told me that people remembered what I said by those short memorable phrases which was encouraging.

The leadership training that we do at MentorLink uses the discussion group format – even our Institute training involves a small group people discussing the content. We do not lecture on purpose.  As one of our participants in the Institute recently said, I already am familiar with the content, but I learn most from the experiences of others.  We emphasize mentoring as a discipline which encourages exercises where the menthe or protege learns by doing, not just by reading or listening.  One of the goals of MentorLink is to duplicate and multiply leaders, so at the end of the day, we encourage our leaders to effectively “teach” others.  As you can see from the chart, each of those steps results in enhanced retention and learning.

Finally, look at how Jesus “taught” the disciples.  He didn’t hold class or gave homework assignments.  He walked around with them and gave observations on life lessons as they occurred.  Even then, just when you thought the disciples “Got it”, they would come up short in their understanding which shows that even their learning curve was not perfect.

My challenge for today is to think about your “teaching” style and consider whether it needs modification so that your audience actually learns something and retains it.  Does your “lecture” or sermon need to be modified to make it more memorable?  Can you come up with creative phrases to aid the listener in remembering the major points.  Paul taught Timothy by his “way of life“, not just verbally. Do you need to mentor where your teaching is in a small group or one on one and your audience can observe your way of life?  Remember: the purpose of “teaching” is learning, and if no learning is happening, then you might consider changing how you communicate or employing other methods to insure real learning is taking place.  That would be “Good“.

Bill Mann

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