The popcorn of learning

Alex Mayyasi reports some fascinating research on how much we actually learn from apparently brilliant talks compared to the more normal dreary ones. Groups were shown two presentations one TED-esque and sparkling and one where the speaker droned on reading from notes.

Unsurprisingly, the first one was much more highly rated than the second. People thought they got a lot from it.

But when researchers objectively measured what people had actually learnt… there was little difference.

Of course, a great talk will get spread a lot more so it’s certainly still useful for the speaker to put on a good show.

But this tends to underline my own feeling that the format of expert lecturer is really fundamentally flawed. It’s simply not the great way for people to learn that we all were made to believe in school. Presentation skills may be the popcorn of learning.

This reminds me of Keith Sawyer’s brilliant study of perceptions of creativity (blogged here). We kid ourselves that we’re more creative under stress, when adrenalin is flowing. But objectively it seems creativity is actually a much more ordinary process.

Too many innovation agencies peddle what I call the sugar-and-caffeine approach to creativity: lots of buzz and excitement, the conflation of high energy and stimulation with productivity.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

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