Teach kids the non-linear way…

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Let’s imagine the following two conversations that happen between a customer and a sales person:

 

Option1

Customer: I am interested in buying a LCD TV. Can you help me with various options available?

Sales Person: Yes Sir. Please come with me. Here are all the LED TVs we have. This one…

Customer: Excuse me. I have asked you to show me LCD TVs. Why are you showing me LED TVs?

Sales Person: I will show you that also sir but before that let me show you all the LED TVs we have.

 

Option2

Customer: I am interested in buying a LCD TV. Can you help me with various options available?

Sales Person: Yes Sir. Please come with me. Here are all the LCD TVs we have.

(…and then the sales person shows the customer various LCD TVs available)

Sales Person: Sir now that you have seen all the LCD TVs, I would suggest that you also have a look at the LED TVs we have…LED TVs are better than LCDs in many ways…please have a look at them also and then decide whatever suits your requirements best…

 

Which conversation do you think has a better chance of leading to sale getting concluded?

I assume most of you will select Option 2.

The question is – Why is it that Option2 stands a better chance of closing a deal?

There can be many reasons because of which Option1 has a lesser chance of not leading to sales. Instead of speculating on the correct reason (as that may vary from customer to customer), let’s try to understand the way consumers make buying choices.

To understand that let me take help of an article published in McKinsey Quarterly by David Court – “The Customer Decision Journey” (June 2009). Let me quote from this article:

“Every day, people form impressions of brands from touch points such as advertisements, news reports, conversations with family and friends, and product experiences. Unless consumers are actively shopping, much of that exposure appears wasted. But what happens when something triggers the impulse to buy? Those accumulated impressions then become crucial because they shape the initial-consideration set: the small number of brands consumers regard at the outset as potential purchasing options……… brands in the initial-consideration set can be up to three times more likely to be purchased eventually than brands that aren’t in it.”

 

What it means is that consumer’s initial consideration set is made of those brands that have remained in their memory for some reasons (what the author calls as ‘accumulated impressions’). In other words if some brand has caught consumer’s fancy and has made it to initial consideration list then there is much larger chance for a sales person to execute a sales for such a brand. Though I am stretching the finding of the above article a bit but the point I think remains valid even w.r.t to a consumer’s product choices also. That’s the problem with Option1 – the sales person is not realizing the fact that for some reason LCD TV is in the customer’s initial consideration list – and if he focuses on that there is a larger chance of closing the sales.

If I stretch this buying model further to other walks of life and ask a question – Is this not the way we approach a lot of things in life?

Recall the time when you were a kid and were interested in buying a computer game – were you enthused because your mother bought you a cycle instead? May be somewhat but not completely because your initial consideration set included a computer game only. I am sure lot of us can identify with such situations in life. Let me make you recall another incident. You and your friends decided to go and watch that latest blockbuster movie but unfortunately when you reached the movie hall the tickets were over – what did you do? Maybe you watched another movie or went and did some other thing – were you as happy as you would have been had you got a chance to watch that blockbuster which was in your initial consideration set? The answer I am sure is No. So you see the above buying model if somewhat generalized applies to even normal life also. We are most interested and excited about things, which for some reason make it to our initial consideration set. Anyone who is trying to sell us something or provide us with something has to always understand the contents of this initial consideration set to stand a better chance of making us very happy.

Now let’s apply this same theory to the formal education system. Students (like any consumer) are also excited with various things they see around themselves. Some of these things will catch their fancy and they would like to explore them better. Like consumers, different things catch fancy of different students. So some kid may be excited by butterflies while other may be excited by cars and yet another may be excited by stars. There is no way to predict what will catch a kid’s fancy but when something does catch a kid’s fancy then like a consumer she is also much more open to understand about that thing and will acquire that knowledge happily.

Given this background does our schooling system impart education in the most effective way? Let try to explore this question by visualizing a typical classroom scenario in schools today.

 

Teacher: Good morning children

Kids: Good morning teacher

Teacher: Today we will learn about the states of matter

Kid1 (obviously more courageous than others and hence interrupts the teacher): Teacher I want to know about stars?

Teacher: Good question but we will answer that in another class. Today we will understand the states of matter… (and the lecture goes on)

 

I am sure all of us can recollect a lot of such interaction with our teachers (and lot of similar ones with other elders). Can you see similarity between such teaching pedagogy and the Option1 of sales conversation shared above?

If Option1 is more likely to fail why do we think such conventional teaching environments will make kids have any interest in education. That is one of the basic issues with our education system. We teach kids in a “Linear” fashion from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20 (or whatever number) without keeping in minds what is the query residing in the kid’s mind or the wonder of the world capturing her imagination. The kid thus has no interest in what the teacher is saying because she is like a consumer who wants to buy a LCD TV but the teacher is behaving like a sales person who wants to sell a LED TV. The sad part here is that a consumer can at least leave the shop but the kid has to listen to the teacher’s ramblings without having any interest for that. It is this “Linear” pattern of imparting education that has to be changed and replaced by a “Non-Linear” pattern of imparting education where knowledge is imparted by following the interest areas of a kid and not by the factory like standardized pattern followed in conventional schools. In other words teachers cannot go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 to Chapter 3 and so on. They have to probe into the minds of the kids, engage them and then accordingly start from that chapter that answers the query best. This is what “Non-Linear” mode of imparting education all about. It’s only when we start from the point that has excited the imagination of a kid we stand any chance of teaching them what we intend to. Since we don’t do that at all in our schools we have scores of kids getting educated but have no idea what they learnt.

 

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

– Albert Einstein

 

Our education system is constructed on the foundation made by bricks created by killing the curiosity of our kids. After we thoroughly kill the curiosity of our kids in their growing up years we complain, sitting in our AC rooms, that Indian companies are not innovative, that they don’t create products, that we just copy from the West etc. etc. What else can be expected?

 

I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.

– Agatha Christie

 

If Non-Linear mode of education is required then the obvious next question is as to why it’s not tried? Some of the reasons for the same are as follows:

  • Linear mode of education fits the current education system perfectly where 40/50/60 or more students are fitted in to a classroom and a teacher is given probably just an hour to teach a subject. Forget non-linear mode, the poor teacher can’t even listen to all the kids even if they have just one query. But then in India education is no one’s prerogative. Govt. is busy meddling with higher education and parents are busy with ensuring that their kids get highest marks. A critical requirement of non-linear education is small batch sizes so that a kid is given a patient hearing and then a logical explanation.
  • Non-linear mode requires teachers to be passionate about teaching. Reflect back on your own days – how many teachers are there who you respect or remember – I guess fingers of a single hand are also too much for this exercise for most of us. In any society the smartest of the people pick the profession which is paid more and/or respected more. Somehow in India both this things miss horribly when teachers are concerned. Have you ever seen a teacher driving a Mercedes or being made a Chief Guest at any function? The sum and substance is that teaching is not a preferred career and thus for a large number of teachers it’s another job like it’s for a lot of us in the private/govt. companies.
  • Slow and steady has to be the motto if non-linear education has to be imparted. The society (teachers and parents included) have to believe that finishing hundreds of topics is not essential. How much a kid knows is not important – what is important is how well the kid knows what she knows. In an atmosphere with such a mindset only non-linear methodology of education can be followed.

Given the above it’s highly unlikely that in India’s conventional schooling system non-linear education has any scope in the immediate future. That’s why though we have alternative schools opening up in India the takers are still far too few. Though I must say it’s a heartening sign that at least, albeit slowly, but the mindset is changing. Someday all of us will approach education keeping the following in mind:

 

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

– Albert Einstein

 

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