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.