How To Prevent Dropouts In Courses (With Monkeys And Dinosaurs)

by Sean D'Souza

How To Prevent Dropouts In Courses (With Monkeys And Dinosaurs)

When I was in school, I wanted to learn the guitar. But Mr.Henderson wasn’t having any of that. He wanted me to learn to read music. He wanted me to pass the Trinity School of music exam. And I didn’t learn the guitar.

Then I moved on to university, and I ran into this guitar teacher. Again, it was the same problem. He wanted me to learn scales. And so I did, but then I soon gave up.

Do you see the problem?

Most of us have this idea of what we want to teach, and we have a system. The system may be weak or strong, but it’s our system. And then we impose this system on most people. Which is perfectly fine.

But this is also the exact point where things should be going right—and they can often go wrong.

Let’s take the cartooning course, for instance

The key element of cartooning isn’t drawing—it’s scribbling. Scribbling like you did when you were a child. Sure it’s a lot more controlled, but you still have to scribble. But guess what?

Participants on the course want to draw, and scribble. And so you build the course with work and play.

They get to do fun stuff, as long as they also do the assignment. And so just like they can scribble in the cartooning course, they can also write headlines about monkeys and dinosaurs in the headline course. And they can write without outlines (yes, horror) in the Article Writing Course. And they can try to sell some weird, funny object in the copywriting course.

You get the picture, right?

Because I didn’t.

Even when a student veered off into fun land, I would pull them back like Mr.Henderson. I’d want them to stay focused and on target. And even if I did initiate some fun activity, I’d promptly drop it after a week or two, because we had to “get down to business”.

And I didn’t realise how silly I was being until someone protested and protested a bit vociferously. The good part about this story is that I do listen.

But listening is like reading…

You can read something but unless it’s implemented, you haven’t done much at all. And so it’s important to go back and tweak all the new courses.

But what about the courses that are already in progress? Well, you tweak those too. Add that element of fun in the weeks to come. Yes, it’s a bit of work, but hey it takes work to create a bit of play.

And it’s important for the brain as well as for morale

When a participant is scribbling, they’re not just having fun, but they’re learning as well. A ridiculous headline is also as good a teacher as a perfectly serious one. An article without any structure is still like having a cafe conversation.

It’s not amazing in its sequence, but it works. Yes, the brain loves it and so does the group. When you’re looking through a sea of work, work, work, it’s so much fun to spot the funny headlines, the crazy scribbles etc. So the group loves it too.

But we all are a bit like Mr. Henderson

We love our scales. And we know it’s work. And important. But it’s time to have fun as well. We learn as much through play as work. And so go check out your courses. What can you tweak?

Do you see monkeys and dinosaurs in your course, yet?

You should, you know.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dave Tong May 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Great post Sean… You summed it up really well and it applies to my case, both as a teacher/coach and a student.

9/10x the ‘academic’ approach just doesn’t work for me. The “you couldn’t and shouldn’t move to the next item before you do XYZ” is a hard obstacle to overcome and counter-productive to reach a goal (whether to teach an idea or learn a new one).

Your example about the guitar is exactly what I experienced since college. I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, but time after time, whether it’s an in-person lesson or a video series, it’s always about learning scales and stuff, which bored me and even when I got some of them, it wouldn’t stick.

Great wake-up call post, thanks

David Lee Tong

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