This month, The Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog is to do with New Presenter and Learner Methods and Skills.
Multitasking is now every presenter’s problem. Tony Karrer posits, “that there are things that presenters and learners should do to address this.”
Multitasking is binge thinking. It has the potential to distend the capacity of the brain so that normal thinking to do with any one task, including learning, becomes severely impaired. Tony says it all here.
Scott Flansburg is a supreme example of how a person can perform amazing calculative feats. He executes thinking skills that traditionally command extremely high concentration levels and all the thinking power that permits this. His unique ability to close down areas of the brain normally associated with other peripheral tasks makes him a matchless unitasker.
Thinking tires the brain
I am convinced that people often shut down areas of their brains automatically to make it easier to think. For instance, it is now known that when making decisions, the brain’s executive resources can be taxed to an extent that cognitive ability is considerably impaired. To prevent this happening in some situations, fast track routines are adopted.
Too much decision making over a short space of time literally tires the brain. Do people make decisions when attending a presentation? You bet they do, if they make a genuine attempt to learn from it.
PowerPoint and other potential vagaries
So why is it that when the audience is supposedly concentrating on the single task of learning, the presenter insists on giving them a series of tasks to perform synchronously? Cognitive overload associated with the misuse of PowerPoint has become a talking point. It is an issue because it’s real.
Learners well know that when the presenter reads the text from a PowerPoint slide, the best thing to do is to shut the eyes and listen.
So why is the text on the PowerPoint slide in the first place? For the presenter? No! It’s there because the presenter knows nothing about cognitive overload. A better way is for the presenter to shut up and let the learner do his or her own reading.
Tony refers to backchannel as a distraction for the presenter. I’m not surprised he finds it distracting. It is nevertheless an inevitable activity if learners are engaged in taking notes, by whatever means they use.
Through years at school, university and attending hundreds of seminars since then, I have learnt to take notes while giving nearly full attention to a presentation. It’s one multitasking practice that I’m good at. But not everyone has this skill.
What I’ve found often helps is if the presenter provides printed notes on the PowerPoint bullets – before the presentation. This frees up the brain when it comes to taking notes. I just write my additional notes on the PowerPoint printout.
But there is another aspect to presentation – and that is of intent.
What does the presenter really want the learner to take away from the experience? If the seminar has a sales pitch, it may be better not to dwell too much on the facts and details that a learner may take away.
Research has shown that the verbal content of a presentation, whether in speech or text, is only a small part of the total message conveyed to the attendee. How often has a conference goer raved about a ‘keynote’, reporting that the best thing about the presentation was its entertainment value?
What if the presentation was entirely lacking in entertainment, yet the same factual information was presented? Herein may lie a pedagogical message.
Entertainment provides two important features to the learner. It provides the necessary breaks between learning tasks and prevents the possible onset of cognitive overload brought on through multitasking. It also adds interest and factual significance by association.