Lecture. A word that strikes terror into our hearts.

I‘ve given a few lectures, I’ll confess. And lectures can be outstanding. In college, I sat entranced in a large SRO classroom while Professor Leyburn gave his famous, tear-soaked lecture on the death of Socrates. His passion transported us all, even as sophomoric (literally) as we were in those days.

A lecture is, at root, a performance. Like a play on a traditional Proscenium stage, a lecture can be very powerful and engaging. Yet the performers are on a different plane than the audience, always at a distance even when most powerfully connected.

Television extended this platform of performer/audience separation. The action occurred behind a screen; we sat and watched. The Internet, love it, hate it, or whatever, may be tearing down the “invisible fourth wall.” This is happening more or less concurrently with a new approach to learning. More democratic—not politically, but rather a diffusion of power—as experience, cultural change, access to information and research about the human brain and motivation—suggest learning can happen more fluidly (and effectively) through conversation, the two-way exchange of perspective and insight.

There are practical reasons for this shift as well. Fewer organizations are willing to fly people around the country to attend training sessions. Schools are, albeit slowly, moving away from being dispensers of information to providing opportunities for students to apply and create. The focus on emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation, trust, and vulnerability as emerging factors in leadership and learning supports equity over expertise as central to mutual enrichment.

An important shift we can make in how we see learning—our frame—is to focus on conversation as the primary mode for learning.

In a conversation, at least a functional one (as opposed to dysfunctional), we exchange thoughts, ideas, information, and insight as equals. Without denigrating expertise, we can honor the concept that every person’s insight is unique and valuable. Even when one person’s knowledge far outweighs another’s, we can converse, “keep company with,” to engage, exchange, and share understanding.

The greatest advantage to conversation is its omnipresence—it demands no classroom, projector, professor, or handouts. When we create a place that’s ripe for conversation, safe, candid, and free of judgment, we all gain. All the time.

Click here to listen to the podcast, featuring Bob Hill


Mac Bogert
Mac Bogert
I fell in love with learning, language, and leadership through the intervention of two professors—I had actually achieved a negative GPA—who kicked my butt for drifting through my first couple of semesters at Washington and Lee University. After graduate school at U. Va., I started teaching English at a large high school in northern Virginia. A terrific principal lit my fire, a terrible one extinguished it. I left after five years (the national average, as it turns out, maybe the only time I did something normal) and started an original folk/blues/rock band. That went well for a time until the record company sponsoring us folded. I toured for some years as an acoustic blues musician, primarily as an opening act for bands like the Muddy Waters Band, Doc, and Merle Watson and such remarkable talent. As that market dried up (disco), I earned my Coast Guard Masters License and worked for the next decade as a charter and delivery captain and sailing instructor. At the same time, I was working part-time as an actor and voice-over artist, selling inflatable boats and encyclopedias, and working as a puppeteer. Itchy feet, I suppose. I came back into the system in 1987 as a teacher specialist in health and drug education in my county school system, also part-time as Education Coordinator (and faculty member) for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. I ‘departed’ both jobs in 1994 (therein lie more stories than 350 words could hold) and started my own business. AzaLearning is the career I’d been dodging for decades. I serve 200 clients around the country, helping with all kinds of coaching, planning, transforming conflict, creative problem-solving, communication, and mediation (I also trained and worked as a community mediator somewhere during sailing and teaching): learning, language, and leadership. In 2016 I published Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education and actively contribute to a couple of online education magazines as well as publish a newsletter, a blog, and the learning chaos podcast.

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