The Golden Moment

The Golden Moment Is ignorance really bliss? An article in New Scientist back in the Summer (30 July) suggests that too much knowledge can be a bad thing.

Almost anytime you are explaining an idea to a less informed person, a dash of ignorance will help you judge their knowledge and abilities more accurately.

Why is this? Apparently a teacher is much more effective if they don’t know their subject too deeply. This reflects my own experience at school – my physics teacher had a PhD and was incapable of seeing things in the same way as his class of struggling A level students. But my chemistry teacher was fresh out of teacher training and was brilliant at making chemistry accessible. In addition to different levels of knowledge they both took a different approach to the science of teaching but my physics teacher’s depth of knowledge actually made it really hard for him to help us understand some of the basic concepts.

When I meet with a new e-learning client one of the things I often get asked is ‘Do I know the subject matter?’. My stock answer is: ‘You are hiring me for my ability to design effective online learning not for my subject matter expertise.’ Now clearly it helps if we know a little about the subject already but the last thing we really need to be is an expert.

In practice most e-learning is aimed at foundation level knowledge so the amount we need to know isn’t too onerous. Nevertheless, approaching a new subject with a fresh and open mind really helps when designing an initial learning experience. If we are working with a subject that is totally new to us then we do have to catch on pretty quickly if we are to design some useful learning within what is usually a pretty tight timescale. And that brings me to the key point of this article.

When researching and learning about a new topic there comes that ‘Golden Moment’ where we know just enough to create an effective learning experience but not so much that we miss the tricky parts that learners might encounter. You’ll intuitively know that Golden Moment when it arrives – savour it because at some point down the line you’ll wonder why everyone is finding it all so hard!

I think this playful definition sums up the situation nicely:

What’s the definition of an ignoramus? Someone who doesn’t know something you learnt yesterday.

 

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