What about when you hear a live band, or soloist perform so wonderfully, with incredible expression that you are in awe of their skill. How about when you hear a talk, either at a conference, or possibly at church, when you laughed and smiled nearly as much as you nodded and agreed with everything they said.
Whether what they said was profound or light-hearted, you were entertained, and chances are you can probably remember what they said too. In my continual thinking about how I can teach children, I learn that often the same ideas can be applied to adult education though we simply forget, or settle with our first idea of presentation style, namely, talking.
Recently I came across a book by Tammy Tolman titled Piece by Piece. It is a good children's ministry resource for those looking at building a framework for a church based children's ministry.
Towards the end of her book Tolman borrows a term from Leonard Sweet about how we are to teach children. This term was to 'edu-tain' and be 'edu-tainment'. It's a term that describes the need to not only keep children's interest, but possibly entertain them as they learn.
Now there is an obvious danger here, that we may breed a generation that only learns while it is fun or exciting, and thus accidently bypass the love of learning. The age of discovery is somewhat behind us, as children, teenagers and adults alike can find practically any information they want from the likes of YouTube and Wikipedia.
Helicopter of learning
I read a writer on a popular website the other day saying with a degree of certainty that he has learned more from YouTube than he ever did at high school. Obviously there is a sense of hyperbole here, but I can confess, when I am thinking of basic practical skills I have occasionally turned to YouTube to find such information.
Anything from 'How to play a C chord', or 'how much paint do I need on my brush' or most recently and somewhat embarrassingly, 'how much water do I need with rice' (no jokes, there are a more than a few 'how to cook rice' videos on YouTube).
In a world where 6 month old children are using ipads, where primary school children are learning multi-media skills, and high school students are writing their mobile phone games, it should not be surprising to hear a concept that suggests that simply telling children isn't enough… This hardly a new concept!
It was in the 1970'sthat the idea first came out, that people learn in different ways: the idea of individual learning styles. So, when we teach, when we share, when we preach, there is a need to be interesting, engaging, on one level, entertaining. Some of that can be understood best as learning styles. There are many and varied ideas around learning styles . For the sake of brevity, I will mention one of the more well-known theories on learning styles, the three styles of learning: visual, kinaesthetic, and auditory.
We will catch more people's attention when we best cater to their learning style. For visual learners, it seems obvious to say, visual aids are your friend. This does not mean you simply add pictures. You need to think strategically about how you can use visuals that best support your main point or idea. This could be on the projector or on a handout, or maybe even a prop that best helps the presentation. If you have a main point, have it on the screen or written on a sheet in your audience's hand.
Auditory learners love ideas of rhythm, repetition, music. Anything to do with sound is a winner. If you are teaching a bible verse, and you know your students of any age are auditory learners, and then have them sing the verse, repeat the verse, or beat it out as a rhythm.
Kinaesthetic learners take more creativity than the other two. They need to move or use their hands to best remember the main idea. Have an object they can manipulate, such as play doh or clay. Gestures work well, movements are also good. They need to move, touch, or even sculpt your main idea.
It is always wonderful to see the children and adults remake a scene using all sorts of materials. It is also a great chance to create discussion, as they use their hands.
The main idea
Learning styles are a great tool, and should be considered whenever we give any kind of presentation. But with these learning styles comes a warning. Make sure these learning styles back up your main idea, and doesn't over take it! We want the audience to remember the main idea, not just the activity that they did.
Now here is the kicker. As we get older, our learning style does not change. The more you think about learning styles (and there is lots of reading you can do on it) the more your audience will remember what you have taught them. Use visuals well, not just pictures, but rather, memory cues. Have your audience use their hands, have them move, ask them to use gestures to help remember your main point. Finally, use repetition, music, or rhythm.
These are not ideas for children, but rather for learning. These will not only keep your presentation engaging, but it will also edu-tain all those who listen. Learning styles should not be forgotten as we get older, but rather a tool to be used to help engage our audience of all ages.
Stephen Urmston is based in Melbourne and is completing a Masters of Divinity at Ridley Melbourne. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and Music and has been involved in children's ministry since 1999. He adores music, puppets and movies, and is currently an associate children's and family minister at St Jude's Anglican Church, Carlton in Melbourne.
Stephen Urmston's articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/stephen-urmston.html