A few years ago, the famous magicians Penn and Teller gained some notoriety by sharing seven basic techniques that most magic tricks are based on:
- Palming – Holding an object in an apparently empty hand
- Ditching – Secretly disposing of an unneeded object
- Stealing – Secretly obtaining a needed object
- Simulating – Giving the impression that something that hasn’t happened actually has
- Loading – Secretly moving an object to a place where it’s needed
- Misdirecting – Leading attention away from a secret move
- Switching – Secretly exchanging one object for another
These techniques take advantage of the way our brains are “wired” to process sensory data. By deceiving the observer, a magician can do things that appear to defy the laws of physics, confusing and perplexing the observer. Apparently we enjoy being treated this way. For millennia, people have been willing to pay good money for a convincing magic show.
Like it or not, misperceptions and confusion arise naturally in the learning process, both in formal and informal learning situations. We know that a bit of struggle on the part of the learner can even serve to motivate and underscore the importance of a particular concept or principle. But usually we want the learner to perceive information clearly, accurately, and in its entirety – as quickly and efficiently as possible. We want to remove the magic, so things are not confusing and are exactly what they seem to be.
If there are seven basic techniques to confuse and confound then perhaps these same techniques can be used in the reverse to clarify and confirm. For example, when we introduce new data files in a lesson, we should be purposeful about showing what, if anything, is new or different in the data file. When we start a new lesson, we should remember to provide a lead-in, lesson overview, and objectives.
I’ve observed business training programs that seemed to have been designed to keep the subject matter mysterious. As if in anticipation of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the instructor doesn’t provide any sort of advance organizer or overview of what will be covered. In the interest of time, key steps or procedures that a learner should understand are skimmed or left out completely.
Starting with a clear sense of how all the pieces will fit together and then actually seeing them fit together confirm the learner’s understanding and eliminate the sense of “magic” or confusion surrounding a new technology.
What do you do in your classroom to minimize confusion and eliminate the sense of “magic”?