One of my favorite learning and teaching metaphors comes by way of both the martial arts and Quantum Teaching (Amazon link). Imagine for a moment that the knowledge you have to impart to students is in the shape of a mattress. Imagine that it’s immutable, meaning you can’t magically shrink it or carve it up.
Now imagine that the minds of your students are like doorways, but a wide variety of doorways. Some have narrow doors. Some have french doors cast open. Some have a portcullis. Some have a screen door.
Your job as a teacher is to fling the mattresses through the door into the students’ minds. Assuming you are strong enough and skilled enough to do so, this should be a relatively simple matter, right?
Here’s the catch: when you are teaching more than one person, you have more than one shape of doorway to get through. This is why most teaching isn’t as effective as it could be. Many teachers learn in educator training to fling a mattress just one way. It’ll get through for some students, students who are attuned enough to that teacher’s style or whose doors are wide enough to accommodate nearly any teacher’s style. For a significant number of students, however, the mattress will at best get only partway in the door. For some students, it’ll just bounce off completely.
The very best teachers can work around this in a couple of different ways. Some teachers, like my teacher Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center can teach so richly that they effectively fling a whole bunch of mattresses all at once, knowing that at least one will get through. They teach to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners all at the same time. This sort of teaching is powerful and effective, but unfortunately for our larger education system, it takes decades to master. Decades of teacher training is not an amount of time we can easily spare for educator training.
For teachers who are not outright masters of education, there’s inspiration to be had from social media in the form of crowdsourcing. In education, its called collaborative learning and fundamentally it means that the teacher does the best they can to get the mattress in the door of as many students as their skill permits, then asks those students (who have their own method of conveying information that may be more compatible with fellow students) to help them get mattresses in the doors where the teacher missed.
For marketers, the implications of social media should be much more clear now when it comes to conveying information to your audience. Unless you are a master marketer, your mattresses are going to miss just as teachers do. If you are lucky, clever, or don’t have many people to market to, you can mitigate this to some degree, but you’ll still miss an uncomfortably large number of times. (this is the heart of persona marketing, by the way – finding statistically the greatest number of doors that can be reached with the fewest mattress flings)
If you can energize your customers and evangelists, not to sell for you but to help you teach what you have to offer, you’ll suddenly find more mattresses in more prospective doors than ever before.
So, how are you throwing your mattresses, whether as an educator or marketer? Are you getting into as many doors as you would like? If not, take some inspiration from social media and consider getting help from your audience while you work towards the lifetime achievement of being a master mattress thrower.
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