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Christine Looser

If you’re interested pedagogy, or cognitive neuroscience then this episode is for you. Professor Christine Looser goes deep into The Minerva Project’s frameworks for education and the intellectual jungle gym she’s built for her students.

Bonus: Building educational frameworks
Bonus: Building educational frameworks

Bonus: Building educational frameworks

Ep
109
Nov
27
With
Christine Looser
Or Listen On:

Changing the way we learn.

This is a companion episode to our previous chat with The Minerva Project managing director, Ayo Seligman.

We had a great follow up conversation with professor Christine Looser, but it felt too long and too complex for a regular episode. So we’re releasing it as a bonus. If you haven’t listened to Ayo's episode, then go listen to that one first.

But if you’re interested pedagogy, or cognitive neuroscience then strap in. Christine goes deep into Minerva's frameworks for education and the intellectual jungle gym she’s built for her students.

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Episode Transcript

Greg:
Hey, it's Greg, with a quick note for you. This is a companion episode for our previous chat with Minerva Project managing director, Ayo Seligman. Minerva, if you remember, is that radical new university [inaudible 00:00:37]. Anyway, we had this great follow-up conversation with a professor from Minerva, but it felt too long and a bit too complex for a regular episode. So we're really seeing it as a bonus. Now, if you haven't listened to Ayo's episode yet, the one right before this, then go listen to that one first, because this'll make a lot more sense after you do. However, if you're interested in pedagogy or cognitive neuroscience, then strap in my friend. Our guest goes deep into Minerva's frameworks for education and the intellectual jungle gym she's built for her students. It's really fascinating stuff and way over my head if I'm being honest. Nonetheless, please enjoy our conversation with Professor Christine Looser.

Chris:
Okay. For people who don't know who you are, Christine, can you introduce yourself please?

Christine:
My name's Christine Looser. I am a professor and head of the Business College at Minerva Schools.

Chris:
Okay, beautiful. The reason why I'm talking to you today is because I'm deeply fascinated by teaching and pedagogy and different teaching styles. Now full disclosure, I went to a public high school, not a great student myself, and then I went to an art school. So my educational experience is a little spotty. So I'm fascinated by what other kinds of alternative and versions of education are. And when I was talking to Ayo, he was telling me about how you guys teach in the program. And it's so different and you guys are doing brave, beautiful things. And so it got me really excited. And so he was like, "Let me connect you to somebody." And that's why we're talking today.
So my only point of reference is my son goes to a private school and it's very different. He's doing the Harkness method. He's going to Exeter. And so when I got the tour, I'm like, "Wow, this is a little different." And I understand when I was talking to Ayo that you guys do very similar things where the curriculum has to be designed very carefully. It's a very discussion-based. And he said, even the software limits how long the teacher can talk for. Right?

Christine:
Yep.

Chris:
So maybe you can just fill in all the gaps because maybe that's as deep as I got with it.

Christine:
So what we're trying to do is design an innovative curriculum. We're not innovating, creating something that no one's ever had the idea to create before. The thing that we're trying to do is to, for ourselves, as well as other partners that we work with, is get people to go back to what we know from pedagogy research about the best ways that people learn. And so none of the things that we do are earth shattering. They just get lost in a traditional classroom. We know that having kids think critically and engage with the material is really good for them, but there's this sort of pressure in a classroom that there's a front of the stage, and that's where a professor stands, and they lecture at people because that's just what you do when you're in front of a classroom.
And there's plenty of people who are good teachers who do their class and it's one-off and everyone has a great experience, but there aren't that many educational institutions, especially in higher ed, that are trying to do that systematically. And so that's what Minerva is trying to do, is to go back to best practices, basically the basics of pedagogy, and really try to help students learn critical thinking by getting them to engage with the material.

Chris:
Okay. So I'm putting my hat on a naive audience member. Like, "What? Pedagogy? Educational model?" So can you draw some distinctions? Because I know you're a super smart person. You have a PhD in cognitive neuroscience and very impressive resume. So let's just take it down to like fifth grade level. Just tell us what is the dominant style of teaching that we know of, generally speaking in America, and then draw some stark contrast between how you guys do it.

Christine:
Yep. So if you think about a traditional classroom, oftentimes, there's an expert and they might be a Sage on a stage and they're giving you information that is facts and figures that you are supposed to memorize. If you want to up-level that a little bit, maybe there are some breakout groups or there's some discussion that happens. And we know from lots of research that if you get students to really work with the material, that's how they remember it better. It's not memorizing. It's really trying something out, running into a problem, and then working through that problem. That's what gets them to care about the material as well as remember it better.
So what we do at Minerva is every class is active learning. We're in an online platform. Everybody can see everybody else at the schools. Our classes are capped at 20, and all of the classes are designed to almost be an intellectual jungle gym. Our students do a lot of work outside of class to get the knowledge transfer and then they show up and we work with them to apply it. So I'll cold call people to ask them what they thought about the readings, we'll have them debate each other, they'll do problem solving and breakout groups. Every class starts and ends with, we don't call it a quiz, but a poll. Just, let's make sure that you are where we want you to be at the beginning and let's see what you got out of this at the end.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Is that a way to anchor, to make sure that we have an understanding there's a baseline when you enter, and then we have a point of reference as when you're done with that module or course or whatever, or that class that day that the learning objective has been achieved?

Christine:
Exactly. And I think lots of people who care about education talk about learning outcomes, they put them on the syllabus, but then they sort of forget them and they teach whatever it is that they were going to teach. And so I actually thought that it was super over micromanaged at the beginning. I was like, "Oh my gosh, there's this lesson plan. And we have to constantly do all of these things in a systematic way. And how am I going to get to be a creative teacher?" But it's so much better for the students. And it's so much better for me, because I can constantly guide the discussion back to where I know I want them to get.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So let's take this to maybe some practical example. Maybe not such a heady class, maybe just one so we can understand a little bit better. So what would be the pre-work that the students need to do, an example of that? How might you prompt them or some poll questions and then how do you lead the discussion or have them participate in a way that they're engaging with the content?

Christine:
So today, I taught a class on branding and what we have-

Chris:
Ooh. All right.

Christine:
Yep. That's what I do these days. My PhD is in cognitive neuroscience, but somehow I stumbled into a business college. And the class is all about how do you understand your audience and test out different things with the scientific method to help build a community and grow your brand? So what we did today was all of the students had read a case study before class. They had some questions that they had to answer. And I showed up and I just said, "What should this company do?" And so they had to write that out in a poll, we debated the pros and cons of the different alternatives. There was a calculation that was pretty important to help them short that decision. And there's a right answer to the calculation that they had to put into a poll answer that I can give them feedback on whether they did the calculation right or wrong.
But then they went into breakout groups and talked about the consequences of that calculation. And this is one thing as educators that I think we're seeing online a lot that people are struggling with. And I feel this, I feel like I have to be there when learning happens, but that's not true. Students get so much if you give them clear instructions and clear objectives for what they should be doing when they're working together. So everyone can be having these small conversations, and then we can come back and debate which group reached which conclusion. And so that's what we did during this class today.

Chris:
Okay. So this is fantastic because by coincidence, by design, this is what I talk a lot about, about branding. And understanding that your customer, your user, your audience, and their needs. And I like to talk about business. So if you don't mind, I'm going to really get into the weeds with you on this. Is that okay?

Christine:
Oh, I'd love it. Yeah.

Chris:
All right, beautiful. So we can test each other and I can learn from you as well. So, okay. First part is, here's a case study. So the case study is, okay, here's the case study, read it. How do I know as a student, what am I looking out for? How do I prepare for this? And what kind of tools have you given me prior to this point in time? Because we've all done reading before. So how do I first prepare to read this in a way that's different, that's going to allow me to be successful in the discussion?

Christine:
So I did something that was slightly counter-intuitive, which is I didn't give them that scaffolding in advance. I know where they are in our curriculum. So everyone has taken the same core classes. I know they've experienced case studies before, but they've never done them with me. So I kind of just assigned it and gave them some guiding questions. And then the first thing we talked about was, how should you be reading a case study? And the advice that we give is skim it for the gist and then go back. And once you know what the overall problem is, that's when you do the focus reading. Because as you know, if you have ever read a case study, they're full of red herrings. And that's part of the pedagogical value of them, is that they're supposed to stimulate making a decision in real life when you're not sure what information is the most important. And we try to give students enough of these case study examples that they learn that skill independent of any one learning objective from any particular example.

Chris:
Okay. So what's the difference between a person who's reading like skimming, they're just reading a couple of words each paragraph. I mean, how do we define skimming, and then what does focused reading look like?

Christine:
I think it depends... It doesn't depend. I think the answer is that you're reading for the overall takeaways because case studies are written as a narrative. You're just trying to get the story. What does this decision look like? What's the company up to? What's the problem that they're facing? And there's a lot of numbers in cases like, "Oh, there's this many people and there's this turn rate. And the value that they're providing to the company is X, Y, Z." And if you start doing that too early, you still don't know what you're facing towards the end of the case. And so by skimming or reading quickly without paying attention to those specific details, you're not skipping every other word, you're reading it. You're just not stopping and being like, "Okay, well, this number is important. And that number is important." Because you won't know what's important until you understand the story.

Chris:
Okay. So if I can summarize there in any given case study or any article that you read or book, there's going to be too much information, and you're not sure what information is worth paying attention to just yet. So if I'm reading it, I understand 20%, $4,000 to 2% conversion. I don't really need to focus on that until I find the problem or what I think is my hypothesis. Like, "Oh, I think here's where the answer is perhaps from a problem. And then now I can read and then study how maybe the data backs it up or doesn't back it up." Because I know that just by skimming your bio, you're big into like cognitive bias, right?

Christine:
Yeah.

Chris:
So then I now have a theory about what the problem is, how do I fight that bias and only search for the data that I think supports that? So I'm making my own case for me.

Christine:
Yeah. I think when we're considering bias, we don't want to send ourselves down a confirmation bias rabbit hole. But we don't necessarily have to do that if what we're searching for is what the question is. So if what I'm finding in the case study is what question I should be answering, not the answer that I should be looking for, then when you're doing the search for information, after the fact, you're trying to pay attention to different directions. So I don't want people that confirmation bias themselves into only paying attention to the right answer, but cases don't have an answer at the end and best case studies don't have a right answer at all. It's just giving you the structure to look at where I want to probe next exactly, like you said.

Chris:
Okay. I have many follow-up questions, but I want to stay in the pocket here and let's see what happens. So, okay. I've read the material. You prompt the question. And then tell me how does it work then? How does students organize themselves and how does one participate in this online discussion?

Christine:
So one of the things that I'm super passionate about is trying to make virtual interactions feel socially connected. I think this is something everyone's struggling with right now. They have this sense that, "Oh, it's online. It's so impersonal, social distance is really important. We can't be close to each other." And your brain isn't acting as though you are not in the same space because we never evolved to deal with video calls. So on some level, I feel like you and I are sitting here talking to each other. And as long as we both behave well, I don't pick up my phone and start walking around, there isn't crazy background noise. Your brain gets tricked into thinking that you're in the same physical space. And so you can socially connect even when you're physically distant.
But some of the rules change if it scales up in terms of numbers. So we have a discussion leader type model. I call it hub-and-spoke. I'm asking a question, someone's answering it. Then I'm interpreting and I'm phrasing the next question to someone else. It doesn't always have to be me, but it has to be someone. I had a moment in class where my internet seemed a little spotty this morning, and I just wrote in chat very quickly. I'm like, "Alexandra, just lead the discussion for the next 10 minutes. I will figure this out and pop back in when I can." And I came in three minutes later, and they were having a discussion, Alexandra was doing a really good job of calling on other people. And I waited because she can facilitate the discussion as well as I can, because they have so much experience doing that.

Chris:
Okay. So in this branding case study one, you said that we want to see what they think the problem is. And then we test their theories and they debate. And how do you set them up for that? What does the debate sound like?

Christine:
So a lot of it is knowing what points I want them to get to. So we have a lesson plan that has these laid out in advance, but it's also a lot of active listening. So I'll pose a question, I'll get maybe everybody to vote on it. Do you think they should do X or Y? Then I have insight into everyone in the classroom, like which side they're on. And I can choose someone to explain why. And if they say something that is really deep and meaningful, I can pull out something and hand that to somebody on the other side and say, "Well, that sounded like a really good point to me. Do you agree or disagree? And how does that go with the fact that you voted the opposite direction?"
And then you hand it off to somebody else. They do the same thing. And you do that a couple of different times all while looking for those questions you want to surface. The thing that's interesting about active learning to me is I could probably lecture and get them there in a quarter of the time, but that's not going to be as beneficial for them as me pulling it out of their own mouths. Getting them to think through the process and hear it from their peers and hear it from their own mouth is going to help them encode it much better.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So now it's starting to make sense to me now. When you talk about, you want your students to think critically and to engage with the materials, you kind of know what the most popular theories are. So you're like, "Are you a team A, team B, or team C kind of person?" And then you're able to see in the class, you already obviously know the answer, right?

Christine:
Well, that's one of the interesting things, especially about case studies and especially about active learning, is I know the logic for every answer because I've read it. I've thought about it. I've taught this class several times. But they bring new ideas every single time it gets taught. Whereas if it's the fifth time I've taught this class and I'm the only one who's talking that becomes very dull. Not for the person who's experiencing it for the first time, but for the person who's giving that lecture over and over and over again. Students constantly surprise me with the creative ideas they come up with the analogies that they make to current events. That's a really fun part of my job.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So then you say, "Okay." Let's say it's split down the middle. Let's say there are only two options, A and B, and maybe both are valid and equal and split right down the middle. So you will say, "Okay, A, somebody on A team, why do you believe this?" And then they make a case for it. And then you say, "Okay, well somebody on B team. Do you debate that? Or do you assume that point of view and then try to convince your teammates?" Or how does that work?

Christine:
So you can set this up in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite activities, we didn't use it in this, is I will have everybody in a poll where it's not visible to anyone else, tell me what their opinion is. Then I'll randomly assign them into groups to argue for one side versus the other, prepare their arguments within a team, then I come back and I pair them with somebody from the opposite side. But when they go into breakout groups to debate with the other person, there's a quote in there that says, "No one's entitled to hold an opinion until they can argue for the other side as effectively." And then they have to switch on the fly.
And so that's sort of one thing that you try once. And then students always remember that that could happen to them so they prepare both sides better. So especially in cases where things are controversial or there's evidence that could support one side and the other, that's where you want to really get them thinking about not just what you believe or what you think is true. It's like, "Why would other people hold the opposite view?" And how could you hold that opposite view either to learn something from it or argue effectively against it.

Chris:
And then do you find that eventually, everybody coalesces and they start to come to one dominant, maybe there's a couple of outliers, but the majority starts to say like, "Yeah, having looked at all sides of this argument, it feels like this is the best course of action."

Christine:
I think that can happen. I don't ever need it to happen. What I need to have happen is for them to acknowledge all of the steps that got them to whatever opinion they want to hold at the end. Especially in a business, which is just a giant complex system, it's so hard to predict what will work and what won't. That using case studies can almost be misleading because it's an N of one. I don't need you to know what HubSpot did in this particular situation and decide that that was the right thing to do.
I need you to be able to understand why you would do X and why you would do Y and what the trade-offs between those two things are. And that's what I want people to take away from it. I don't care if we coalesce on a shared opinion. And I often say, "I don't actually think we've come to a conclusion." And sometimes, I'll have people answer another poll that says, "Has your opinion changed?" And we can compare why or why not? I just want them to go through the process of figuring out what the right problem is. And then structuring arguments and evidence to defend a position.

Chris:
You mentioned before applying the scientific method. Is this something that they're learning by doing? Or was there a class before this that talked to them? Like, "This is how we apply a scientific method to understanding business problems."

Christine:
Both. So our students take the same four classes, no matter what you're going to major in, no matter what your interests are. You are taking the same classes as everyone else in their freshman year. And you take multimodal communications, which helps you learn how to read, write, and communicate well. And you take complex systems, which is a class that teaches you complexity science. It's kind of got a social science vent to it. And then there's formal analysis, which teaches you logic and coding. And there is empirical analysis, which teaches you the scientific method.
What's nice about those classes is you leave them with a common vocabulary. We're basically calling out about 80 concepts that we think are going to be really important for you to be a critical thinker, no matter what you major in, and no matter what job you have in the future. Those are things like context. Everyone knows when they're trying to analyze a problem, they should look for cultural context or historical context. It might be a regression. Everyone leaves knowing that X can predict Y in a mathematical fashion. So those concepts get embedded in our upper level curriculum. So I know my students have some experience knowing what a T test is or knowing what sampling bias is, but it was probably taught to them in the context of the biology experiment. Now in my marketing class, I'm saying, "How can we use those concepts to solve business problems?"

Chris:
Okay. That's fascinating. Okay. We got every question. My head's going to explode in a little bit here, because I'm trying to keep all of it together.

Christine:
I'm sorry. I hope I'm being clear.

Chris:
No, this is good. No, you're very clear. It's just, I'm a nerd this way. I'm a late blooming nerd. So let me just figure this out here. These sound like amazing subjects to study. I mean, even the titles are so fancy. It sounds nothing like... Communication design one is the class I would have taken or lettering or something. So multimodal communication. That's just like, "What?" What is the multimodal? I understand multi and communication. What is modal?

Christine:
Modal is just whether you're writing, whether you're speaking, whether you're trying to read body language. That's what we're getting at there, that humans communicate in a variety of fashions and you have to change depending on the mode, but the principles of communication stay pretty consistent. You want to be parsimonious. You want to be clear. You want to take the audience's perspective.

Chris:
Okay. So all first year, all majors first year, you have to take these four classes so that all the students can have a common vocabulary and they have the fundamental tools and then to go deeper in their specific fields of study. Right?

Christine:
Exactly.

Chris:
Do all the instructors then also have to take the same four classes?

Christine:
That is an excellent question. We do a lot of training. We don't go through and take the classes ourselves, but when we hire new faculty, they do a month long training for all of August to get familiar with these habits in mind and foundational concepts. Those are these 80 things we teach in the freshman year. So even if you're not teaching a freshman level course, you have been exposed to them. And the thing that I love about Minerva from a faculty perspective is that we're very collaborative. If I don't know how a student is using this, or if they're using it appropriately, it's so normal to just ping someone and explain what the assignment is. Here's what they said. Does this seem reasonable or not? And oftentimes, my experience in higher ed has been when you're teaching at schools that are more traditional, like your class and you're teaching it by yourself and you're just kind of off in your own world with it, which can kind of be lonely. And Minerva, because of our system and our integrated curriculum, is much more collaborative.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. All right. So I mean, these sound like amazing classes to take, regardless if you're going there or not, but it does feel like, "Okay, you have to go to the school to learn, learn these concepts." I wish it were something that started earlier, like maybe high school.

Christine:
That would be great. And we are partnering with high schools. I am not working on this project, so I will not speak to it in too much depth, but we have this new program called the MBac, which is like the international baccalaureate where schools can adopt some of our curriculum. And it is a four year program, school started in our freshman year. And that just launched this fall.

Chris:
Okay. From what I was able to read online, you're a professor and that you teach market dynamics and product analytics, one of the core courses. What else are you doing? Or what's your participation with the Minerva Project?

Christine:
So I am 75% time with Minerva Schools and 25% time with Minerva Project. And that has looked a lot of different ways and a lot of different things. So I teach the strategic brand leadership course for our undergrads and I help hire and train new faculty, manage the business college. And with Minerva Project, I'm stretching my wings in new ways that I would've never thought I would have been interested in. I have done a couple calls with partners trying to explain what we do and see if people are interested in adopting it or answering any questions they might have.
I have taught an executive education class for LG, which was really, really great. We have a program called the Leadership Accelerator that is doing corporate learning. Sometimes we teach, sometimes we teach people inside of an organization how to use the pedagogical methods that we use and they adopt it to their own curriculum. So I've done a bit of curriculum design with that. It's been a whirlwind because that part of our business model is so much more of a startup than schools, but it's been so fun to share what we've been doing for the last, I guess, seven years, I've been there for five, with the outside world.

Chris:
And while we're here, and I want to go back to the branding class. I want to talk about that some more, but while we're here. So what drew you to start teaching here?

Christine:
Ooh, that's an excellent question. I had done a postdoc at a business school and I thought business was not for me. I thought that my research didn't really resonate. I thought that what people were teaching was a lot of theory and I felt very much like a scientist. So I went back to the psych department and taught there for a year. It was at Harvard Psych, and Stephen Kosslyn, who was one of the people who started Minerva, he was our founding academic Dean. He came back to kind of tell his colleagues what he had been up to because he been in the Harvard Psych Department for a long time. And I put it on my calendar and then I forgot to go. But I had a friend in the lab who went and I asked how it was. "It was really weird. They're doing something crazy."
And I was like, "Oh, that sounds interesting enough to actually look up." So I did and they saw that they were hiring. And I could have stayed at Harvard for another year, but I got kind of excited about this model, this idea of trying to build something really new and innovative. And I just applied almost blindly and was like, "Well, what's the worst? I go there for a year and it all explodes and that's fine." But Stephen Kosslyn is big in my field. And my mentors knew him. This project is legit if he's on it. Went through the interview process, and he made me a job offer. And I was like, "This sounds absolutely crazy. I think I'll try it."

Chris:
Okay. There's some things that are quite unique with the Minerva School, but the parts that aren't, I would love for you to speak about how that differs from your personal education. Because you went Dartmouth, you have a PhD. You're you're like a very learned person. So, okay. Let's talk about a couple of differences. One, I'm talking to you right now, presumably the way that you're talking to your students, it's all distance based. Right?

Christine:
Yep.

Chris:
And online. So where are you residing right now? What part of the world are you in?

Christine:
Oh, that's an excellent question. Currently, I am...

Chris:
What part of the world are you in?

Christine:
Oh, that's an excellent question. Currently, I am in Saratoga, New York at my sister's house. I have spent the last eight years in Boston. Minerva has this crazy flexible model that I never took advantage of. And now I'm moving to Croatia on Saturday. So there is this nice benefit of the flexibility of it. As long as you are somewhere with a good internet connection and your time zone works out, you can be anywhere you want.

Chris:
Okay. Well, that was a novelty prior to this year. And now it's a necessity that the rest of the world is waking up to. Like, "Oh my gosh, how do we adapt?" And they're scrambling. And so I think you guys have a seven year headstart on the rest of the universities, because I think the little parts that I've been able to see, I think they consider online education as a little pet project to experiment with. So it's like 0.01% of what they spend their resources on. Right?

Christine:
Yeah.

Chris:
And then it's 100% of what you guys do. So one of the cool things about the school is that students... Or actually, it's part of the program to live abroad and to have a broader educational college experience. So you're teaching online, so you basically teach anywhere, as long as you have a microphone and internet, you're good to go. And then you get to live in these different cities and some really cool cities and experience culture. But in terms of the way that the content is taught, whether it's in person or online, how did that differ or does it differ from your undergrad and your graduate studies?

Christine:
I have been educationally very fortunate. So I went to Holy Cross as an undergrad and classes were very small. A lot of them were seminar-based. Some were more interesting than others, but it did feel like a community where faculty really were there to teach. They cared about making sure that students learn things. I think that varies based on where you go to college and what faculty you end up having. And then at Dartmouth, again, that's an institution that really cares about undergraduate learning. And I was there as a grad student and the community was really small. I had a great PhD advisor. It was very collaborative.
The thing that I love about Minerva is it's not mind blowing to say "You should be collaborative and involve your students in their learning." It is kind of innovative to say, like, "This is a requirement. This is what all faculty are going to do, and we're going to do it in a systematic way." So I feel like I got very lucky with the faculty that I ended up having, the mentors I ended up working with. And now I just feel like students at Minerva aren't lucky anymore. They've made an intentional choice to go to a place that has engineered that kind of lucky experience that I have had.

Chris:
Are you teaching in a way that is close to the way that you've learned, or is this a different way of teaching?

Christine:
That's a great question. The thing that I will often tell Minerva students about what we're trying to get them to do is it feels a little bit more like graduate studies. We're trusting them to acquire knowledge on their own, and then pushing them to apply that in new directions, in a group. And that's something that PhD students have to do. You kind of struggle. I learned something about neuroscience in grad school, but mostly I got a very optimistic sense that I could just figure something out. And that's kind of what we do with students in class. We're like, "Okay, well, you can know these facts, but what are you going to do with them? How could you apply them to this problem? How could you take the facts and then put it in a different context? And what are the tools that remain consistent across different applications?" And that's what we do with them moving around as well. That's part of this idea of transfer, is how do you see the same systems play out in different ways, depending on your location?

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Professor Christine Looser.

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Greg:
Welcome back to our conversation with Professor Christine Looser.

Chris:
I mentioned earlier that I went to a private art school for college and then for all my life, I was just public high school. And each one of these things are very different. So if you just will indulge me, I'll just tell you a little bit, because I'd love to get your input and maybe we can just geek out as teachers. Okay. So the way that we learn how to design is the teacher gives you an assignment. No real instructions. There are parameters about format, maybe a theme or something. And then you're just thrown to the wolves. And it is stressful because it's not like we had multimodal communication studies or formal analysis and understanding logic. It was just go and make this thing. Solve this problem.
And then you come back, and it's through the teacher's critiquing of the work and pointing out this is working really well from this other student and this one's not so good. And then you have to actually connect the dots yourself. There isn't a pre-class poll, a post-class poll. There's none of that. It's like, you either feel really horrible at the end of that day, or you feel like, "Hey, I accidentally bumped into something. I hope I can get there next time." But it's very experiential, it's hands-on, it's kinesthetic. And it makes sense if you've ever worked with artists. We don't learn because somebody told us this is the right thing to do. We learn because we screw up a hundred times, and then when we figure it out, it's a win.
So there's no Socratic process here. And it's changing. It's evolving. And then when I started teaching, I was teaching something I was not taught. The things that I was taught, I could just emulate the model that worked and tweak the parts that didn't work for me. So I was inventing stuff, but towards the end of my teaching tenure at the Art Center, which was like 15 years, I started to try to take this Socratic approach. And I got some guidance from a faculty development person. And so the whole process is very different. And I want to tie it back to what you said.
You could probably tell them what the key learning outcomes are in a quarter of the time, but how they internalize that is radically different, because then now it just becomes "The memorization of what the professors told me," versus "I came to this conclusion myself and I know how I got there." And so it's developing different kinds of skills. And so it takes a really long time, especially when you're talking about design. If I try not to give them my opinion and just ask them very directed questions so that they can uncover for themselves, it's really rich. It's exhausting for everybody. Because at some points, the students look at me and like, "Just tell us the answer. We know the answer you know the answer." I'm like, "No." It'll be like five hours. And we're like, "No, we're still going to work through this. And we'll come back to it next time." So I would just love to just kind of have that conversation with you as a fellow educator.

Christine:
Yeah. I think this is touching on something that is so important that just came out in a PNS paper for a couple years ago. A bunch of people at Harvard did a very nice controlled study on students' perceptions of active learning. And if you look at how much you actually learned during active learning, people will use this as data point all the time, "Active learning is so much better for student outcome." They actually remember stuff and they can apply it more broadly. This study actually asked students what they thought of active learning. And so they compared when they were doing lecture-based classes, when they were doing these group problem solving classes, and they swapped them. So it was nice and controlled the people who did lectures first did problem solving second. Another group did problem solving first and lecture second.
And what you find is that students like lectures more. They think they learn more from lectures and they report overall core satisfaction. They think the instructor is better when they're really nicely delivered lectures. If you look at student learning, they learn much more during active learning, but they don't think that they did because it's difficult and it's uncomfortable. And I think that that's so important because we often tout active learning as this solution to all the problems, you just get students engaged, and then they'll learn more. But you have to bring them on that learning journey and point out that "This is difficult because you are learning." It's not that "This lecture is wonderful and you learned." It was actually quite hard to work through that process. And that's what learning feels like.

Chris:
Yeah. I think that's how my anecdotal evidence would support that. Yes. And I do this a lot in my workshops. I phrase a few questions. I let them debate and argue. And then eventually, we come to a certain point and then they're like, "So will you just sum that up for us again?" And I mean, maybe you've been in this position where you, as a student, there was a brilliant professor who spoke in ways and told stories and you just knew this was a subject matter expert. And I was this way, you become enamored with them. This is so good. This is why I paid this amount of money. But as you struggle through it yourself, like, "Wait, what am I paying you for? And I'm dying over here." So it's a very different way of looking at the problem. So this feels better, but this, you actually learn more.

Christine:
I mean, I think that's true of a lot of things. That's why we try to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. If you're uncomfortable, you're probably learning something about yourself or the world. And bringing that into the classroom, it shouldn't be that novel, but it is to do that systematically. And I think that that's a really important thing that we'll see education go towards, is just this idea that we can do things that are easy, or we can do things that are more difficult that have better outcomes. It's harder for faculty to teach in this way. It's harder for students to learn in this way, but it's worth it.

Chris:
Okay. That's one question I wanted to ask you about then. You said it's harder for teachers to teach this way. I'm curious, because when I asked Ayo this question, he gave me an answer. I want to get your point of view on this, which is, it seems to me like for your system to work, it has to be designed from the beginning, all parts of this, because it's all intertwined and repeating concepts until you achieve mastery. And so a lot of time has to be spent on, what are the case studies? What are the learning outcomes? Do these case studies support these learning outcomes? What kind of questions we're asking before, during, and after?
And so I asked Ayo this. Then you do need subject matter experts anymore? Because sounds to me like you need a facilitator to use the different teaching methods. So like, "Okay, now we'll debate and now you'll take an opposite opinion. And then you'll write three ideas that you came up with and then we'll test it." So it seems like it would take the pressure off the instructor to come in prepared with that lecture and just deliver that beautiful note every single time. So it would seem like it would be easier, but you tell me.

Christine:
Yes and no. There is a lot of pressure to deliver that one note if you're giving a lecture, but you can practice for that over and over and over again. What you can't practice for is a student says something totally out of left field, and you know how to take something out of that and bring it back to where it needs to go. Or you recognize that "That's actually skipping all of these other steps. And now I can go back to what the main point of this lesson was in a totally different fashion." So I think this is one concern that a lot of faculty had coming to Minerva is like, "Are we just facilitators? And the subject matter experts who were hired before will just come and teach the things that they have told us." And that's not what any of us wanted out of this.
And thankfully, it's not what we've got, because I think the institution really recognizes that to be a good facilitator, you do need to have that content knowledge. Otherwise, you can't direct the discussion in an active way. We have lesson plans that outline questions we can ask and learning goals we have to achieve, but you literally can not do active learning from a script. That's the opposite of active learning. And so you need to be able to think on your feet. And when I interview new faculty, I don't know how to operationalize it better than this one word, but I look for wit. I'm like, "Can you think on your feet really quickly, do you have banter? Can you go back and forth with students?" Because that's what you really need to facilitate these sessions well.

Chris:
Right. It's like, instead of it being a play where all the words have been memorized, that's one style. And then it's improv. Two very different strengths. Can you think on your feet? And it's a very difficult thing to do and it scares a lot of people. But you mentioned you get a question from left field. So if we can take it back to the branding class and somebody throws you a left field question, what is the example of a left-field common question or point of view? And then how did you respond to it? Sorry to put you on the spot. I could see multimodal communication right there.

Christine:
No, I'm trying to think of a good example. That was well done. Sometimes questions just don't go in the direction you want them to because you're trying to get to a goal. And sometimes, faculty will do things like "Thank you. And so-and-so, what do you think?" And they'll just deviate from it. But what I try to do and what we try to get our faculty to do is to hear what was in there and then rephrase it in a way that makes it clear what was right and wrong about what they said, but it brings it back to the conversation. I don't think anybody... Actually, that's not true. I had a fantastic student this morning who did this crazy calculation. It was supposed to be very straightforward. We were looking at customer lifetime value. I wanted to know how much it costs for every month, how long they existed in terms of months, and then you subtract the acquisition costs.
She was like, "Well, I was thinking about the net present value and there's a subscription model. So they're locked in for six months. So I modeled the spreadsheet." And I was like, "This is really impressive. I think what you're saying is that we have to take into consideration that the business model is going to affect the way we're going to do this calculation and make it less straightforward." And then what I said was, "I want you to stay after class so we can talk about that. But I want to get us back to the simple thing so we can make sure we're all on the same page about it."
And so she went off in this way where I was just like, "I don't actually understand what you did, but you're talking about it very intelligently. And you're saying words that I know are relevant, but it would take me 10 minutes to think through this with you to make sure you're doing the right things." And that's not going to be great for the other 19 people in class who are still trying to figure out like, "Oh, well what is the acquisition costs in the case study?" And that's something where it felt like it took a little bit of experience with these tangents to figure out the right way to bring it back.

Chris:
I see. So that's one where you acknowledged this student's question. You rephrased to see if this is a different way that we can understand your question. And then you said "Let's circle back after class so that I can truly understand what the heck you did and are saying so that we don't derail the entire conversation." Is that about right?

Christine:
Yes. And I think what's important about that, sort of a take home message for facilitators, is you want students to feel heard. That's what active learning is about. And you want them to know that you're thinking about what they're saying, and that doesn't mean chasing down every rabbit hole or indulging every thought that may or may not be useful for the conversation at hand. But it does mean if there's 10 hands up and I have to move on, I'm like, "I see your hand. If your point doesn't come up later, write it in chat and I'll respond to it."
Because I don't want anybody to feel like they're being ignored in a conversation that is not a great way to motivate people to care about subject matter. You really want it to feel like a community where I am here because I love teaching. And I love teaching because I get a lot out of seeing you guys apply this. And if I just ignore people or just say, "Well, that's not right. Let's move on." I don't think that that creates a feedback loop that you really want to get students involved in the class.

Chris:
Hmm. Interesting. Okay. I'm going to impress you with my educational resume. I went to City College, just to let you know. I took one philosophy class. That's the entirety of my logic and reasoning and then just life experience. But so when somebody says something to me, I'm like, "That's a strange point of view. Whoa. I don't understand that." So all I do is usually I ask them more questions. And I find that if I asked enough questions, they'll have their own answer. And they're like, "Oh, nevermind. Why did I make that big assumption?" One thing that I'll ask them is, "Have you ever seen this to be true anywhere else?"

Christine:
That's a great question.

Chris:
Or "What does the opposite of this idea look like? And let's talk about that." And then by the time they're like, "Oh. Oh yeah, I made a big assumption here." I'm like, "Oh, did you?"

Christine:
And it's great. It's what we were talking about before, where you probably saw that assumption while you were going into this conversation and you just needed to get them there. That's the best way to persuade people, telling them they're wrong is not especially effective. Getting them to explain their logic and maybe see where they might've gone wrong or get you to see where they might've gone right is a much better way to interact with people.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So one of the other beautiful things about the way that you're talking about teaching, and there's this idea that if you go to traditional regular school, not these graduate programs, because it's very different. But you could hide. You could totally hide. So I was sitting in, what is it? Psychology 101. And I was sitting in an auditorium way back in the bleachers, if you will. Just one of maybe 300 students. And the teacher knew, did not know me from jack and I didn't know anything and you just disappear. So you can actually just take a nap and sign in the sheet and you're good to go.

Christine:
Why would you even show up?

Chris:
That's a very good question.

Christine:
You can take a nap in bed.

Chris:
That is very true. So there's several things I want to talk about here. Okay. First of all, it never felt like the teacher was talking to me. They're like that big, from where I was sitting. Second of all, it was a dark and air conditioned room and the teacher hardly asked us any questions. He was just lecturing the whole time. And so I wanted to stay away. I was like, "Oh, somebody slap me, someone tell me a joke or something." Just pre cell phone and texting. I'm like "Somebody do something." And I got to bite my tongue or my lip or something to wake up and I want to learn, but my brain is shutting down. But in a discussion-based learning environment, any second, it's going to be your turn to talk. And so you already have the sweaty pits and "I'm going to have to say something. And then how do I contribute to this?" And it's a little bit stressful, but there's no place to hide.

Christine:
Yes. This is a conversation I have had very frequently because I've done some workshops with people at more traditional schools who are trying to adapt to this online environment. And how do we make it engaging? And people have very strong feelings about cold calling. They're worried about provoking-

Chris:
Is that what you call it? Cold calling? Like "Mary you're up."

Christine:
Yeah. So that's basically something that they use in the case study. The first cold call of the day is like, "Okay, what would you do in this situation?" And even the phrase sounds terrible. Cold calling sounds like something that's mean and awful. And if you do it aggressively it can feel very anxiety provoking. "And this is an oral exam. And I can't possibly even come up with something to say, because I'm too nervous to think because I had been cold called." I try to get other faculty to see it as inviting students into the conversation. That's what I'm trying to do. And it's more a reflection on how I'm teaching because, I'm trying to probe whether or not I'm being clear, whether or not you're following along, rather than testing if you have the knowledge or not. And if you do that and you explain to students why you're doing that and you do it again and again and again so it's not a one-shot opportunity, then it becomes a culture of involvement rather than this anxiety provoking moment.

Chris:
I get flashbacks from John Steinbeck Middle School, Mr. Janiece. I think it was algebra one. He taught this way and it felt very much like cold calling. I was a scared little kid. He's like, "Chris, what is the answer?" I'm like, "Ah." "What's your theory on this?" I'm like, "Ah, oh my gosh." He was only a teacher that taught that way. But I am very appreciative today because it's the only math class I remember.

Christine:
See, that's so important. That little bit of anxiety that puts you on the spot is what kicks your brain into remembering stuff. We don't want students to be paralyzed. That's a bad level of anxiety, but we don't want them wanting someone to slap them in the face to stay awake.

Chris:
No, that's not good. Okay. So this class, what was the learning outcome of this case study? What was, what was their takeaway supposed to be or what was the plan?

Christine:
We were supposed to analyze the pros and cons of inbound marketing, which is a concept that we're trying to get students. This is only the fourth class of the semester, of course. But we're introducing the idea of push and pull in terms of marketing, which is, do you want to put information out there and sort of blast it at people or would you rather have a presence that people can stumble upon when they need that information and have them come to you for the service you're providing once you've proved your value?

Chris:
And what is the takeaway supposed to be? Is inbound is superior to outbound?

Christine:
HubSpot thinks that it is, this is the company that we've covered for the case study. And the case is actually early on, and they are trying to figure out if they can eat their own dog food. Can they still grow while just doing inbound marketing instead of doing more traditional advertising and outreach? The answer probably is that it depends on the stage of your business cycle. So if you have a really good presence and you can provide a lot of value to people, you don't need to do outreach, but if you have no audience, truly you need to do something so people know you exist. So #context is my terrible cop out answer for that.

Chris:
No, that's very good. And before, when you were talking, I wrote down this little note here. Or I just want to know, to talk about how to make decisions, because it seems like a lot of what you're teaching in these conversations is how do you come up with an idea? How do you test your ideas? And then how do you decide what you should do? So we read this case study and we're going to have a knee jerk reaction probably if we're not trained to. "Oh, it must be this bias. It must be this because it turns out this is what I know how to do." If I'm an inbound marketing specialist, I don't care what problem you bring to me, it's going to be inbound marketing. That's your answer, right?

Christine:
You have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Chris:
Yeah. Absolutely. So it reminded me of this thing. And you're going to laugh, is I was reading this book, and I've only read like five pages of it. The Visual MBA. Have you seen this? Do you know about this?

Christine:
I've heard of this book. I know about it. I haven't read it.

Chris:
Yeah. It's for people like me. It's mostly drawings and key words. So one of the things they said, "To make decisions," decision making is one of these business leadership skills in the book, it said, "Pro act. You don't want be reactive. You want to be proactive." Everybody says that. So pro stands for problem. Try to understand what the real problem is. And the act part is what are the alternatives? What are the consequences? And what are the trade-offs? And by analyzing it this way, you can logically figure out what it is that you want to do. And it sounded like some of the things that you're talking about mirror that, at least in that one page I read.

Christine:
Yes. Business people, business academics, love frameworks. The answer is always, "How do we put something in an acronym?" And it almost doesn't matter what acronym it is. It's like, "What's the structured decision making approach?" I had a great conversation with a colleague about this concept of the five whys. Why would we do this? Why would we do that? Okay, well, if that's the answer to your why, what's the next why? And it was like, "Well, there doesn't have to be five. I just need you to think about thinking." And that's really a lot of what these frameworks are trying to get people to do is define a problem, understand why that problem is important, and then figure out solutions for it.

Chris:
So I'm a little unclear. Okay. So the case study they read was about HubSpot, and you said we have to test if they could eat their own dog food, because they very much believe in inbound marketing. And so you had said that then inbound, if you have an audience. Outbound, if you need a jumpstart, right?

Christine:
Yes.

Chris:
And was that the key learning outcome?

Christine:
No, probably not. I think I was trying to say if inbound is the right thing to do or not. The key learning outcome for that case, not to get too much into the weeds, is that HubSpot has two particular segments that they could be thinking about. They call them marketer Marys and Owner Ollies. And the idea is, what's the customer persona for each of these segments? And what value can HubSpot provide to them? How much does it cost to find all of these people? And how much does it cost to keep all of these customers?

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Look, if I'm a teacher I'm listening to some really inspired by all these ideas, and I'm not used to teaching this way, I would love for you to give some very high level tips for how somebody can adopt this style, active learning, discussion-based teaching and facilitating the conversation. So what if I want to do something like what you're talking about? What should I do?

Christine:
I think it depends on what your starting point is. If you already do things that are really engaging, lean into that even more. And if you're starting from a point of lecturing, think about small steps you can take to get it more interactive. Instead of asking a question and answering it yourself, ask the question and actually leave the floor space for somebody else. What that's going to mean is you're going to cover less ground. So the overarching thing you have to do is try to distill ruthlessly.

Christine:
The overarching thing you have to do is try to distill ruthlessly. Go back and try to figure out what take-home message you want people to have from the whole course, from any given session, and focus on that. Students will cover less, but the things you will cover, they will remember better.

Chris:
So one of the things that I get trapped in is as a teacher, I try and teach too much. And so it sounds to me like you're saying, "Don't do that. Focus on a couple of things. Figure out how to scaffold those ideas over the course of time." Because that's always my thing, it's like, "Wait a minute. I've only covered half the material and we're already five hours into this and there's no way I'm going to be able to do this." So how do I slay some of the babies there and just say like, "No, this is really the essential part?"

Christine:
Killing your darlings is so hard. I think one thing that I'll often tell students... The value of college used to be that I had to go to a place where the knowledge lived. It was inside books that were inside a library, that was behind a gate, or it was in the heads of really smart people. And that's not true anymore. We have the democratization of access to information. The internet lets us do knowledge transfer. I think the real value of education, specifically college, is content curation on the part of the faculty member and then interaction with smart peers. And so if you think that that's your goal, it's content creation, you shouldn't be worried about teaching them everything. You should be worried about what you want them to remember after the fact. Because if you try to teach them everything, they will remember nothing.
I often say this about presentations. You have to distill ruthlessly, and get people to focus on one thing at a time as you walk them down a garden path, otherwise your brain has to say, "Okay, I can pay attention to A, I can pay attention to B, or I can pay attention to C. I can read the thing that's on the slides, I can look at this person, or I can listen to what they're saying." And if your brain has to make that decision, it will often just decide to opt out. It'll be like, "Well, that's a choice. That's hard, so I'll just not do any of the three." And you lose people.
So if you're saying something that's really important, make sure your slide is blank. If you want everybody to read what's on the slide, pause. Don't actually say anything. Just be like, "I want to give you a second to read that." It's really about directing attention, and so as you're deciding what to cut, you're really going back to that curation phase. You probably can't make a wrong answer. If you're a subject matter expert, all of it will feel so important, so anything you pick is probably good enough.

Chris:
I've been really bad at this. When you mentioned when you do a talk or a presentation, and that's when it triggered a memory in my mind, I was in Geneva. My friend, also speaking, his name is Joel Pilger. He went on stage and he spoke. And I think the time slot was 45 minutes. It's a long... That's a good amount of time.

Christine:
A lot of time.

Chris:
And I felt like he was talking about one thing for 45 minutes. And if you've been in business, I have, it's like I was thinking, "Joel, I already kind of know this and the way that you're talking about this is killing me." But I'm looking around the room, and everybody's like, "Oh," they're eating this thing up. I don't have that skill yet. I still can't figure out why. I'm still fighting like, "Here's everything I've ever learned in my entire life, and here it is in 45 minutes." So my presentations, no joke, sometimes 367 slides. And it's like I even tell them, "Okay," buckle up. We're going to go. But then it's like... So I do warn them ahead of time, okay. But the way that Joel was able to pull this idea back and forth, tell a story, say it again, say it differently, talk very slowly, take long pregnant pauses. You're saying that's the way we need to learn? And that's the way we need to present?

Christine:
I think we have to take the perspective of the audience rather than our own perspective whenever we try to communicate. And that's particularly important if you want somebody to understand what it is you're saying, which is the point of teaching. We want to take people on this journey, and we want to make it very clear where we're going. What fights against us, and I know we're going off on a little tangent there, is when you get invited to give that talk, you get invited because you are an expert. You get invited because you are so excited. You get invited because you've been working on this problem for so long. And all of that makes you blind to what it feels like to experience those ideas for the first time.
And one of my mentors, his name's Dan Gilbert, he's a phenomenal speaker. I don't know that he's ever actually said this, but people will say this is a thing that he says, "Tell people what you're going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them." That is any talk. And it's so hard to do that, because you're so excited about your topic. You've been working on it for so long, you know so much. And like, "Let me tell you about this tiny little mechanism that did this, this, and this. Instead of being like, "Well, here's the big picture. And here's what I know I can do with the time that we have."
And I think what that does is it sets students up to see the forest, and then get excited about the trees. And you used the term scaffolding before, that's so important. It's like, "I want to introduce you to this story arc, and then we'll dive into these little bits and pieces." Not, "I have to blow through all the bits and pieces before I even tell you how the parts work together." That's the thing that I think is important about distillation.

Chris:
Yeah. So my bias, and this is totally true, I'm thinking everybody's just like me. And when I go to these talks... Like, "I got it. Just tell me the high-level stuff, I'm ready, I'll take it all up. Just keep going here. I don't want to sit here, because you don't have to explain it to me over and over again." And I notice a lot of books are written this way, where they'll tell you the main idea, and then they'll tell you 45 ways of saying the exact same thing. It's a 300 page book and then they'll do a conclusion. And somewhere in there, I'm like fighting the board. I'm like, "I got it. I totally get it." But maybe I'm designing it for me, and reading for me and not for the audience. And I feel like, "Gosh. I want to give a lot of value right now."

Christine:
I just watched the Social Dilemma, and my sister summed it up perfectly.

Chris:
Oh, people are talking about this.

Christine:
Everybody's talking about it. I had three people in 24 hours be like, "You have to watch this," so now it's assigned reading in my marketing class. But [inaudible 01:02:24] it was really interesting. But the guy who talked last, he said the whole point in 30 seconds. I didn't know why they didn't just do 30 seconds. I was like, "That doesn't make a great documentary." But I think that there's an assumption you have to make about how boring you are going to be and how deep your idea is.
And that's why I actually like active learning a bit better rather than giving these talks. Because if you are telling the same story over and over and over again in a lecture, you have no idea if students are really enjoying it and following along and getting a lot out of that, or if they're just like, "Oh my God, could you please just move on?" If it's interactive, if I can pull the audience, if I can ask somebody to explain what I just explained to them back to the class, that's where I can pace myself differently. And so these sort of online tools that let you do polling, that let you do feedback, that let you give emojis that say like, "Speed up. Slow down. I really understand. I want to do something else," that's what I think is sort of the tool that lets you respond to the audience so you can balance that a little bit better.

Chris:
Okay. I thought about something here too. So when you were talking about these distillation core concepts building upon each other... You teach a handful of classes, right? And your classes that you teach have to begin and end somewhere. There's a middle, a beginning, and an end. So I feel like the theory behind a school, where everything's integrated and you don't just learn at one time, you learn it from the beginning to the end of your education in terms of when you graduate, some mastermind has to map all this stuff out. Like how's this thread connected to that? And before you know it, you've made a quilt, and there it is. So how does that work? And what kind of level of complexity are we talking about here?

Christine:
Super hard. I got hired as the curriculum developer for the Business College to be the person who sees what happens in all of the different spaces. And if you had told me even like five and a half years ago I'd be editing a finance course, I would've laughed in your face. But I have a sense of what goes on in the finance class, I have a sense of what goes on in the ops classes, and the brand classes. I don't teach the finance and ops ones, but I do know what's there, and I work really collaboratively with other people to see where we can integrate across the curriculum. It's something we designed intentionally, but it's also something we collect data on, and go back to, and revisit over time.
So I have this phenomenal senior who's an intern, and we designed a card-sorting task for students that take the learning outcomes from all of the different classes, and they just put them into piles. And then once you know what piles I have put them into based on their similarity across all of the students, you can do multidimensional scaling and actually see which learning outcomes cluster together. And I was just looking at this data, and what was cool was it was color-coded by whether it was finance, operations, or marketing. And you could imagine that the learning outcomes that are in finance would cluster, so all the blue dots would be over on the right, and then the marketing ones would be really far away from it over on the left, and ops is maybe off on its own little island somewhere.
And what we saw was they were actually pretty integrated with each other, which gave us a sense that students see the connections between these classes. And was really delightful to see in a data-driven way that students seem to think that this idea from the branding class, it's actually much more connected to this idea from the finance class because they're both talking about measuring customer value rather than, "Oh, that's a brand idea and that's a brand idea, so those stayed by themselves siloed."

Chris:
So when you describe that, are those... And I don't know how you phrase that, but the finance, operations, or marketing, are those the three key disciplines within the business curriculum?

Christine:
Yes. So all of the Minerva Colleges have tracks that you can concentrate in. Ours are actually set up like a matrix, so you can concentrate in brand, finance, or operations, or you can concentrate down a row. So you can concentrate in startup and you would get a little bit of sort of product development, a little bit of venture capital, startup finance, and startup ops, which is kind of like an entrepreneurship class. You can go down a growth path or you can go down an enterprise class. And you're talking about the same core concepts, but how they will look different in different business units, or how they will look different all in brand, depending on how big the organization is.

Chris:
That sounded so complex.

Christine:
Can I make it simpler?

Chris:
Please. I was like, "Oh my God." I was writing, I'm like, "Okay. I gave up on the writing part." It was a complex web.

Christine:
Yep. I can make this much more clear.

Chris:
Okay.

Christine:
You decide you want to be a business major. We make you take four interdisciplinary courses your probably second year, before you can opt into our concentration classes. And the four interdisciplinary courses are trying to give you that big picture of you, of how business works as a complex system, before you take a particular marketing, financing, strategy, ops, HR class, anything like that. This is just how do all the parts fit together. It's very interdisciplinary.

Chris:
Is that designed so that once they're done with school, they can go out and start a startup and get angel investment, or seed capital, or something like that, or if they want to run the brand department at a firm somewhere? Is that the idea, or no?

Christine:
It is, a lot of our students are super entrepreneurial. We try to nudge them towards getting some experience working on other people's ideas, because we know that successful entrepreneurs tend to be a little bit older and much more experienced. But the idea is to let students focus on what they're most interested in, while still giving them some structure for how that could help them figure out what sorts of companies they want to work for.

Chris:
Okay. And I see that finance, operations, and brand also align a lot with CFO, CEO, and CMO, maybe?

Christine:
Yep. COO, CMO.

Chris:
Yeah, okay. Okay. I totally get it. And now you also mentioned something about complex systems, and IO talked about this. Complex systems... And then it's kind of an idea that I have been playing around with, I describe it using different language, but anytime you look at something that seems very difficult to understand, if you have somebody who understands what that is, they just need to break it into smaller pieces. And then you break those into smaller pieces, and you chunk them down until it's like, "Oh," a discreet concept you can understand. And then when put back all together, it's like the broken vase that you can put back together. You didn't realize it, but that's what you were building. Is that kind of the idea here of how you guys design your curriculum?

Christine:
Sort of. So we do make a distinction when we teach complexity science about the difference between a complicated system and a complex system. So a complicated system is like a watch. You're not going to get anything that's surprising at the end of the watch. This gear is going to turn that gear, and there's lots of pieces and they're very difficult to build, but the outcomes pretty predictable. In a complex system, sometimes you get things that are very counterintuitive, because you cannot predict from the actions of any individual agent what the system will look like as a whole.
So a good example is flocking of birds. Every individual bird is following simple rules on its own, but what that looks like when you see all of them moving at the same time is like a large body that looks very organized, even though every individual agent is following very simple rules. And so anytime you think about human behavior, you have to think about it in terms of the complexity of the system, because humans are all individual agents.

Chris:
I think the one part that may have been lost, and it's just pure gut instinct here, is just to go back a little bit to the learning outcomes a little bit. Because I'm not sure if we captured it or not.

Christine:
Do you want to talk about learning outcomes and how they're important for pedagogy broadly? Do you want me to talk about how learning outcomes are important for Minerva? There's this HC system with the tools? What do you think is most important to include?

Chris:
I'm not smart enough to answer that question. So I'm going to ask you what you think is the best thing to talk about.

Christine:
Who's the audience for the podcast?

Chris:
Shoot. Are you going to ask me about user personas now?

Christine:
No, I actually think that they're kind of silly. But that's okay.

Chris:
Okay. I would say that broadly speaking, mostly creatives. A small percentage in management positions and creative educators.

Christine:
Yeah, so I can talk a little bit about Minerva's approach to learning outcomes and why I think that that is something other people can get something from.

Chris:
Okay.

Christine:
I always worry when we talk about Minerva that it's so specific to our context, and you mentioned this before, like we built all of this from the ground up and it's such a complex system, and how do you retrofit? So sometimes it feels harder to give advice, because we're in such an entitled position. We really did build this intentionally from the ground up. But there are some things that I think are super important about our HC system, which is this idea that you're learning concepts in your first year that will then be used again and again, all the way up until your senior year where you do your capstone project. And we believe that so deeply, that everyone's grades for their first year are provisional, because we're just introducing you to all of these ideas. And the grade that you get for first year is all of the scores you get on these concepts throughout the next three years, particularly as they're used in your final senior project.
What this does, I think, for a community is gives you a common vocabulary. And we see this in lots of other places, too. So businesses love to talk about lean, and that gives them a common vocabulary. There's a tag with a shortcut that stands in for a concept that we all want to use. And that's what I think is really powerful about scaffolded learning outcomes, is that we're not talking past each other, because we all have a shared understanding of these concepts. And I can say, 'Oh, you should have learned about this in your first year. I know I can jumpstart up here," or, "I know that this was not introduced, so some of you may know it and some of you may not, but I'll have the student explain that to everybody else," because they're introducing the concept that is not shared vocabulary.
What I think other schools can do with these is probably not as complicated, but still just as important, is what is the common vocabulary for your semester or your class or your year? What's the key thing that you want people to be able to talk about? Because that's the thing that they'll remember. So if you give them a way to integrate that into the class, that's what you're trying to distill around ruthlessly. You're trying to say, "We're going to have lots of conversations. I'm going to give you lots of information, and we're going to work on lots of different problems, but they should all center around these three, seven, 12 ideas that we're going to come back to again, and again, and again."

Chris:
Now you mentioned this before, hopefully we have this on tape, that when you have a discussion-based teaching style, that you have to kind of be ready for everything. You can't be scripted, because that goes against the whole concept. And I sort of think about this then, does the class and what you teach... Is that more or less has been defined already regardless of who teaches it, and then the teacher then facilitates it in their own style, and of course all students are different? Or is it like each teacher takes whatever core learning outcomes are and they do it differently? So if I take market dynamics with you or I take market dynamics with a different instructor, is it going to be a similar or a wholly different experience?

Christine:
It will be a wholly different experience because of the way we facilitate will be very different, but it will be very, very, very similar in terms of what the learning outcomes are. This is the thing that I think is so important about having students go through a structured curriculum, is it shouldn't matter which professor you get. You should still remember the same concepts, and that's something we believe really deeply. So we talked a little bit about this before, this idea of like teaching can sometimes be lonely, you're off in your own thing, doing your whatever topic is that you think is most important with this group of students. And at Minerva, it's much more integrated, so we care about how classes relate to each other. We also care about not just one person teaching their own particular area of expertise. We try to have multiple faculty teach different sections of the same class.
So there is... This is what I got hired to do, is write these lesson plans that are structured approaches to the concepts that we want anyone who has taken this course to get. And then how faculty answer questions, and lead the discussion, and go off tangents, but bring them back to the learning outcomes... That's going to change, not just across faculty, but within a faculty. So the class that I taught today was very, very different than the class with exactly the same lesson plan that I taught last semester, just based on what students are bringing to the table.

Chris:
But in that same class, same instructor, was it the same reading material, the same poll, the same... and exit in the way that it's... The structured part, is it the same?

Christine:
It is the same. We update it a little bit every year, but we do think that the consistency is important. So we put a lot of startup energy into designing these, and we're getting some scale usage out of them, but we always change it up based on a new case study that came out that teaches this idea a little bit differently, or a little bit better, or a current event we can bring into the lesson plan without changing the baseline too much.

Chris:
I see. That's what I want to get at, because I think... And I could be totally wrong here because what do I know... At least the school that I went to, I think somebody, the Department Chair, had mapped out all the classes that built upon each other, but then they leave it to the instructor to figure out what the heck you're going to teach based on that title. And I think that's probably more the case than it is the way that you're doing it. The level of planning and work that you must've had to do, just for the business track, I'm trying to get my head in there. Like if you're working on all the lesson plans for all these, this complex matrix, what kind of effort is involved here?

Christine:
Five years of my life.

Chris:
Are you serious?

Christine:
No, because we develop and teach at the same time, but I have... What have I done? We wrote nine core classes for concentration... No, other way around. Nine concentration, four cores, 13 courses, each has 26 sessions in them, and each one of those has like a 15-page lesson plan that goes with it. I had a colleague who, our first year, when we were working on all of this together, printed out just one class and it was like two big binders. Like you're killing a lot of trees, not great, but it was so funny to see the tangible instantiation of it. I was like, "We did do a lot of work on this."
So it's been a really great experience to get that breadth of knowledge around what our curriculum looks like. And it's actually much more like the student experience than a traditional faculty who's only seeing one course. At a normal school, I only knew what I taught, not what anybody else was teaching, not the knowledge that students were coming in with. The idea of doing something that's so integrated is a lot of work, but I think there's a lot of value.

Chris:
Tremendous value. Just it doesn't seem practical for like one instructor to sit back and say, "Well, let's plan this out next week," because this is like some serious time commitment. And I think the students, that if the faculty, the administration, they all have to be on the same page.

Christine:
There's a lot of buy-in that's required. And this is... I don't remember if I said this before or not, but I feel very fortunate and lucky and find it hard to sometimes give advice, because of how spoiled I am with being embedded in a system that is so intentional. So trying to be like, "Oh, you should scaffold your learning outcomes like Minerva's courses," faculty and friends of mine at other schools are like, "Are you joking?" And I'm like, "No, like you should, but maybe you could do this instead."
And that's why I think you have to figure out what you can do on a system-wide level if you have any pull in that space, you're on a committee, how do you move the organization probably more slowly towards something like this? But then think about the domain that you are in charge of and how can you take some of that? Like I don't have to scaffold across 15 different classes. I can still scaffold within my semester, and that'll give students a better learning experience than if you haven't thought about it at all.

Chris:
Yeah. Okay. And look, I was teaching a four-hour workshop for Instagram. I know, serious subjects. Very serious.

Christine:
No, that's so cool. Can I come next time?

Chris:
Yeah, for sure. And then I was reading a book and it told me, "You know what? Don't don't do any of this prerecorded. Do it all live so that you can see how people react, build in exercises, so the more they do the better." And so I was kind of tempering that Chris says like, "Let me just lecture to you for five hours straight and make your brain melt and your eyes bleed."

Christine:
Oh, I'm so proud.

Chris:
Right. So I'm doing that, and it's like that's a lot of work just to like... this is not integrated. There's no core class before this. And theoretically, there might be another class after this, but it was like just to do that... And I've been, at this point, I've been teaching over 15 years, been teaching on YouTube for seven or whatever. It's a lot of work.

Christine:
It is. I think it's harder for the students, and it's harder for the instructors. You're putting in a lot of time to do something intentional. But the magic that comes out of minds working together is so much more than just information transfer. If you're going to show up and have people in front of you for five hours, or an hour, or even 10 minutes, I think we only do that because we hope that people are getting something out of that. And if it's not going to be interactive and collaborative, I should just record that and post it.

Chris:
Right. That's a good filtering or a test, right? Like if it's not interactive, then just record it. And if you have too much recording, then what the heck is this all about then?

Christine:
Yeah, I think we talk a lot about synchronous and asynchronous. And the dimension that I've tried to get people to wrap their brains around is also broadcast or interactive, and those create a matrix of interesting things. So we can be together, or we can be on separate timescales, synchronous or asynchronous, but I can be broadcasting synchronously, and that seems kind of like a waste of time. And that's the cell that I want everyone to try and kill. Don't do information transfer when you are in front of people. Trust that your audience will put in the work, communicate to them why they have to, and say, "We'll all have a better experience if we can be on this intellectual junglegym together when we have that time that we're both setting aside in our schedule."
Signing onto a webinar where you just get talked at, it's like, "Well, I'll watch it later," and then you never do. And the ones that I find myself really engaged in are where people are asking questions, and they're asking me questions, and asking participants to build off of other participants. That's what your brain was designed to do, large scale information transfer. I don't think that there's a lot of evidence that we would ever have had an opportunity to do that. Social learning, that was what made humans humans.

Chris:
So how many, percentage wise, of the things that you teach are broadcast versus interactive? What's the breakdown on that?

Christine:
It depends on who I'm teaching when and where. And Minerva faculty are actually not supposed to talk for more than five minutes at any given point in time. Like it's chunked. And we have faculty who part of their job is to help review other faculty and do peer reviews, which is another really fun aspect. Nobody has ever seen me teach at another institution, and Minerva people can pop in and watch my video whenever they want. Which sounds a little creepy, but is actually really great, mostly because the people we selected to put in those positions are excellent. They give really good feedback. They are complimentary when you're doing things well, and they're like, "Oh, well I do this differently sometimes." And they learn a lot from seeing so many different people teach.

Christine:
It's differently sometimes, and they learn a lot from seeing so many different people teach. It doesn't work with all audiences because you really have to trust that they can get core concepts before they show up, but for Minerva students, it works pretty well, that what we're doing in class is really doing structured problem solving together rather than I'm telling you some facts that I want you to remember later.

Chris:
Okay. What you're describing, you've already said this a couple of times, is some kind of educational utopia. So people are going to listen to this, like, ah, rolling their eyes. Okay. Yeah. Whatever. You get to do all this stuff. Cool. Good for you. So let me take you to the dark side just so that they're like, okay. So what are some of the challenges, and I think this is one of the questions that may have gotten clipped. So what are some of the challenges given this global pandemic that we're in, where COVID is just hitting every single business, every sector, unless you are Amazon and a couple other businesses where it's business could not be better. It's having an impact on any business that has semi large gatherings indoors, and so what are some of the challenges that the school is facing right now?

Christine:
I think what's interesting for us is people hear the classes are online and they assume that the experience is entirely online and it's not. Students actually travel to different cities as a cohort and they live in residence halls together. So freshmen spend their first year in San Francisco and then the whole group of them picks up and they move to a different city every semester. So our city rotation has been disrupted. There's a couple of cities that are open that students are allowed to go to, but a lot more of our students are studying remote. The nice thing is we just have a headstart on running classes and this virtual format, so that hasn't been interrupted.
The class experience feels very much the same, even though some people are taking it in the morning and some people are taking it much later at night. I feel really lucky to have students who know how to do this and colleagues who already know how to do this. That's been the thing that's been really delightful, but we're facing the same challenges in terms of how do you build community more remotely, and we're trying to problem solve around that. We just have been doing it a little bit longer so transferring from your classes are online and you have a community there to, okay, we're going to do student experience online. How can we build community there? People are just more comfortable in that space.

Chris:
Are you doing virtual study halls or a non-alcoholic happy hour or something like that so that they're getting a little bit of that interaction outside of the structured class?

Christine:
Yeah. So one of the things that we take really seriously is the experience students have in the cities, and so many students are off rotation. So there's some things that we would do in person. Students have these things called 10:01's that happened at 10:01 on any given night and they share something about their culture and they cook something, or here's a problem I'm particularly passionate about, or here's a startup I'm working on and those, because they have the experience of what it's like to interact in a class, have actually translated quite well into a virtual environment, and at least the students I've talked to about it. They're like, actually it feels really connected, and I think it's just having the experience and knowing how to be a thoughtful participant, which is exactly the same in person as it is online. You just have to do a little bit more intentionality online.
You have to make sure you're in a quiet space. You have to make sure that you're focused on the person. You have to make sure you have notifications turned off. Those are all the things that let the virtual connection feel seamless. We talked about this a little bit before. Your brain doesn't know what a Skype call is. Skype happened so much further after our cognitive hardware was kind of baked. So when it sees faces and when it hears voices, it's putting it together the best way it knows how and assuming that we're kind of in the same space, at least on some level, and if you mess that up, that will break it, but it's kind of like a magic spell that works as long as everybody plays along.

Chris:
I'm curious. Okay. So when I asked you like, Hey, let's talk about some of the downsides and some of the challenges, the answer was, and I don't think you're spinning it positively, but you're just so far ahead that the challenges that you're facing was like, my biggest negative trait is I'm so beautiful. It's like, what? You know what I mean? It's like, I'm just too smart. I worked too hard. You know those interview questions?

Christine:
What's your biggest challenge? I think you just put in 110% all the time and it's exhausting to be so great.

Chris:
Right? It's like, everybody loves me and it's like, I don't know how to deal with that. Okay. Okay. So there is or there was a space that students cohabitate in and so they get to experience the city and each other, and that's one of the best things I think of college. So I think just by design, it's pretty genius. You get the best parts of the college experience and the best parts of the 21st century way of learning and distance based and all that kind of stuff and the flexibility, and now you are losing some of that because health issues, health concerns, and travel restrictions around that. So those are some things that you're overcoming, but I also learned from you that the spaces were leased on a per semester basis so it's not like you're sunk with all this space that you can't use, which is what everybody is going through right now.

Christine:
It's a big challenge in higher ed. I think so much has been invested in physical infrastructure, but if that's not something that's getting utilized, that's a huge sunk cost.

Chris:
Yes. So here's an idea. Let's just, you could use it. Maybe you're already doing it. I wonder if the school can send each of the students maybe a world box, which is you gather a couple of meaningful things, not expensive things, from different parts and places and you send it to all your students and then at a designated time, your 10:01's, everybody put on your funny Moroccan hat or whatever, beads, and it's like, see, we could still sort of touch, taste, smell. There's something there so it's not just visuals or pixels on a screen.

Christine:
That's so beautiful. I'm totally going to steal it. One thing that I know we've done in the residence halls where students are there and quarantining is we always have a feast. It's Minerva things often sound a little bit dramatic, but students will get together and they will cook a meal, and the staff or the city will do that. Here, they did take out, but everybody got the same thing. So every room got a loaf of bread and they all shared it because they're in their little quarantine pods, but doing that for a more diverse variety of experiences is such a great idea.
I have a geology professor friend who sends students rock kits. So they'd naturally do the physical stuff even though they're in class on video. They bring them to Argentina and somebody is carrying them in a suitcase and they get stopped at TSA and they're like, why do you have all these rocks and you have to explain it, but I do think that there are ways that we can be creative about creating social connection virtually that don't just go pixel to pixel.

Chris:
Right. I think that's kind of important as we're trying to figure out the long-term plan as there are no easy answers or quick answers to COVID right now. Adapt, right? Adapt.

Christine:
I think experiment. We don't know what to do until we try a bunch of stuff and some of it will feel awkward and weird. I made a friend on Zoom and it was like, let's just ask each other five questions and you would never do that necessarily if you were meeting somebody randomly, maybe for a cup of coffee, but it felt great because there was a purpose and there was a plan. There was some intentionality there. Actually, I totally should be doing this if I was meeting someone for a cup of coffee. It just feels more acceptable to try things out because we're in a new environment.
One of the things we know about habit formation is the best time to create a new habit is when your environment shifts, and this is why I think that online education can become something really special in this moment because no one knows how it should have been in the past. When I showed the physical classroom, I imagine all the lectures I've ever given. I imagine students who have sat there and heard lectures over and over and over again. When we show up on Zoom, people are like, Oh my God, what do we do, and I think that once you take that out, you can go back to best practices. It feels like there's a little bit more freedom when the environment is so foreign.

Chris:
Right. Okay. Is there something that I should be asking you that we can talk about that you're passionate about? Hey, this is really important.

Christine:
The thing that I'm super passionate about is getting people to be more intentional about their interactions, which is so necessary for these weird virtual situations. How do you structure out the time? How are you clear about your learning goals? Whether that's a social cobble or whether it is an actual class, and that's what's going to make these things feel more natural when students... It's not students. It's when faculty, when faculty are worried that students aren't paying attention, I don't feel connected. There's no engagement. They're not paying attention. They're doing something else that they're engaged in. It's probably also on their computers and that's digital as well.
It's just in a classroom, you have this magical cloak around you where you assume that we were all there together and you saw less of people engaging in something else. So when I turned to text messaging, that social connection, that's engagement. It's just more important than what I'm doing here. So if you create a space where we all know what our goals are and we have a community that we can buy into, I think we can feel very socially connected in these virtual worlds. It just takes a little more planning and thought. I have no idea if that was actually articulate. I've written about it a lot.

Chris:
It sounded really good. It sounded good.

Christine:
Okay, perfect.

Chris:
And when you were talking about advice to teachers who may want to adopt this thing, you kept saying this phrase, distill ruthlessly. That I am guilty of this, and you're absolutely right and it's something that when my wife looks at my presentation deck, she's like, Oh, here he goes again, 300 slides, and I feel like my God, I have to give them so much value and am I making some kind of mistake here by just cramming too much because I want to share a personal story later, but what's going on here? Why am I doing this?

Christine:
I think when we get invited to give a presentation or we're put in charge of a class to teach, we get given that opportunity because we understand something so well. We're so excited about it and we've been working on it for so long. Those are the three reasons why you get put in charge of other people understanding or getting exposed to, or having the opportunity to listen to you speak. What you really want to do is get other people excited about your idea, help them understand your idea, and give them a small snippet of experience, but they'll only have that 15 minutes, that hour long talk, that semester long time to get the knowledge that you've acquired over years and years and years.
So we forget to take the audience's perspective because we're so good at what we do. So we have this curse of knowledge is what psychologists will call it, where we just forget to communicate clearly and meet the audience where they're at. So what I think is really important is to not repeat the same thing over and over and over, but really focus on what you think people can get in the time that you have, and then even dial that back because you will be overly optimistic about it.

Chris:
That's the real term, curse of knowledge, because I've been using that term and I didn't even go to school?

Christine:
I'll send you some papers about it. School doesn't mean you're smart. School doesn't mean you listen to a lot of people for a long time.

Chris:
I've used this expression with my wife. I'm like, honey, I'm so sorry. I'm cursed. She said, what do you mean? I'm cursed with this knowledge. She just walks away shaking her head like you idiot, shut up. Now it's real. It's real, honey. It's real. Okay. I have one embarrassing story to tell you. Another thing that I learned in an observation about a friend of mine who is a public speaker as well. So I'm teaching at art center and the students are struggling with their storyboard sequence. They're supposed to tell a story by drawing something together, and I just look at it after a while. I'm like, Oh, and then in three minutes, I'm sketch something out. Is this what you mean to say instead, and they're like, Oh my God, what, and they're like, Oh, I feel so stupid. I'm like, nah, well, I don't know.
I don't know why you couldn't see it. It was sitting right in front of you. I just looked at it. I'm like, Oh, there it is. Just put those two things together, and she goes, how do you do this? Are you some kind of genius? I said, no, no, no. I'm of average intelligence and I think if a dummy like me could do it, I'm sure you could do it, and I thought that was reassuring for them, but it actually made them even more upset, and then my wife would sometimes sit in my class and she's like, why do you say that? Not everybody can do what you do. This is the curse of knowledge part. It just seems so obvious.
Look, I got to rejected at every school I applied to. I just, luckily I bumped into this art thing and I'm doing that, but she's like, when you say you're average intelligence and they can't figure it out, how do you think that makes them feel? So I stopped. I started removing that as just part of my vocabulary because then you're right. We forget we spent 15, 10, 20 years of study or practice and then it seems so obvious. I'm like, Oh, I don't know why you couldn't see it. I wasn't doing it to abuse them, but that's the embarrassing story. It's like, Oh, I got to stop doing that. When you mentioned that, guilty as charged

Christine:
It's what our brain is designed to do. We adopt the knowledge that we have and we forget that other people don't have the same perspective we do. This is one thing people are like, what do you actually research? I'm like, I study the ways humans are dumb, and they're like, you think all humans are dumb? I'm like, I don't think any individual is dumb. I think human beings as a species have brains that make them very biased and very blind, and so that actually makes you much less judgmental if you're like, Oh, it's just a quirk of the way cognition works, and I think that's one thing we can bring to teaching is how do we remind students that we're fallible to these things too. So I love your story because you did something adaptive, you fixed it, but you can also use that when you explain to people why you don't say things like that anymore.

Chris:
Sadly to all the students who've had to deal with me, it took me a long time to crack this behavior. It took my wife to say you dummy, what are you doing? People feel bad when you say that. I'm like, Oh shoot, that was not my intention. Okay. So the observation of this, my friend, his name is Joel Pilger. We're speaking in Amsterdam. No, I'm sorry. We're speaking in Geneva, and I noticed when he went to give his talk and it's 45 minutes long, he just talked about one thing over and over and over again, and as a person who understands business like Joel, I was sitting in the audience like, dude, you're killing me here because I got it.
Do you have another idea here? Is this is it, but then I'm looking around the room and it's like, people are eating this stuff up. Somebody behind me is like, Oh, this guy is so good. I'm like, shoot, is this what I'm supposed to be doing? I felt envious of him. It's like, dang. Here I am trying to tell him 45 things I've learned in 316 slides. How do I stop myself? I mean, you have any practical tips here because obviously, I'm still struggling with this?

Christine:
I think part of it is being very clear about what you want people to take away from it. We've talked about this a while bunch of times. Figure out what... It's literally called a take-home message. What are you giving people to take home and build your story around that. You never want to feel repetitive, but you feeling repetitive will not sound repetitive to novice audiences. They don't have all of the expertise that you're bringing to this history, and then test it out on different people. This is a big thing that I think people forget to do is you can practice presentations. This is how I got comfortable giving them is I practiced a lot and I saw a lot of people practice and I heard really good feedback from really smart people.
I have a mentor, Dan Gilbert. He's a phenomenal presenter, and the heuristic we try to use is like, what's that takeaway message, and once you know what that is, how you want people to remember and feel after your talk, then you design your hop to tell people what you're going to tell them. You tell them and then you tell them what you told them, and that sounds really boring to me because I already know all the nuances and I want to be able to explain them, but to somebody who doesn't have that storyline and doesn't have years of experience, they're going to remember something which is way better than overwhelming them with information and having them not remember anything

Chris:
That is the danger, too many things, and I always thought like, I'm going to just give you this great bento box, and it's like, there's the ginger, wasabi, and then you have your main and your side, but it's just too much. My friend Joel just gave them a piece of meat and that was it, or impossible meat for the vegans. So he just gave him that one thing and they could just eat that up because this is new to them and maybe more than that, it was just going to be too much.

Christine:
The thing that I always try to remind myself is I'm not trying to get everybody to the place where me and my colleagues are after we ran the experiment for three years and then wrote it for publication for another year and then finally, have this nuanced discussion and then build a new study after it. I'm trying to give them that takeaway message that will make them interested enough to ask me more questions or have them explore it on their own, and if you overwhelm with details before they can even get the gist, they don't know what they're interested in or what to explore, or they just go, oh, well that was a lot, and they can't get to that next step of curiosity, which is what I think we want as educators is we want to spark that curiosity in students so they can dig in more deeply.

Chris:
Okay. What you just said there reminds me of almost every talk I've ever attended where they give you enough that you're like, okay, so what's the next step, they're like, that's all I have time for. I'm like you son of a... So that's how I feel. Have you ever felt that way? Dude, I got what you were saying five minutes in. Am I just a freakazoid? I'm like, give me the rest, dude. I don't have time to see you 17 more times and I need to apply this and I'm ready to go right now, and you're saying just spark curiosity in them to want to ask a question. That to me as a person who is on stage, and this is a weird issue I have where I used to feel this way. Thank God I don't do it as much anymore, where I think it costs $600 to be part of this conference. I know there are 70 speakers here. I'm going to take the burden on myself to give you more than $600 worth of value just in my talk alone.

Christine:
I literally make students do this when I teach them how to give presentations. I'm like, what is the cost of everyone's time right now? What could they be doing instead of listening to you, and I want you to calculate, sometimes I'll do it with tuition. It works better at some schools than other schools, and I'm like, okay, well you are going to present for half an hour and there are 40 people in this classroom and they're taking four classes this semester and they're paying 50 grand a semester. So you damn well better put in the effort to deliver that, but value is not volume of information and that's what I think people have to come back to is how do I make sure I'm providing value, not just volume?

Chris:
Okay. I'm writing that down. I'm going to try to remember this. Value is not volume of information. So is it then depth or is it just something different?

Christine:
I think it's intangible. I think we do this with customers too. It is hard to decide what that is, which is why companies don't do value based pricing. They're like, well, it costs this much so we'll add a margin on top of it. This is where you have to talk to people who are like your audience is what would be an interesting thing for this group to remember in this context? What's the purpose of the conference? What's the purpose of the class? What do I want people to walk away with, and when you know that take-home message, then you have a goal and you can spin your story around that goal rather than just saying, okay, well, I got invited here because I've been studying this for 15 years so I'll tell you about 15 years of my life.

Chris:
Okay. So value is contextual and it's specific to the audience. I get that. I think you just introduced a problem I'm very aware of, not for myself, but for others for some reason. I can see it pretty clearly is commitment phobia. Okay. So I'm going to do a talk or I'm going to teach a class. I got all these things and you have to say distill it down to one or two things. I'm not ready to do that, Christine. This is what creatives suffer through all their lives. Yeah, I like to work on healthcare, at startups, technology companies, FinTech. It's like, whew, that's a lot. Commit to something. So I have a talk. I didn't realize I was interviewing you about my talk right now, but I have a talk I'm doing on Monday and I'm going to fall into that same trap again. How do I know that's the purpose of this talk?

Christine:
I think that when you were such an expert at something, you know that there are so many high points you could expose people to, that the trap we fall into is I want everyone to get all of these, and maybe one person will get this one and one person will get that one, and then everybody will get something.

Chris:
Yes, yes. You sound like my brain.

Christine:
Yeah. So the problem with that is that one person in the audience doesn't know what they're supposed to be getting and even if they get one little dopamine hit from finding one interesting idea, they're still sitting there for, I think you said 317 other slides, right? So you will probably get more of your audience along with you if you just pick one of those things and explain that so clearly that everyone will think that that is interesting. Probably will miss one person here or there who would have thought that this other idea was more interesting, but you can spend time on the one highlight and really polish that rather than what I might probably too unkindly call throwing spaghetti at the wall.

Chris:
Yeah, I get it. That was answer-

Christine:
Just pick one.

Chris:
The short answer. So that was answered and spoken as if you designed curriculums for a living or something because you're... I mean, because if the classes, if the majority of the people who take a class don't walk away with what you want, the whole system starts to break down. You can't afford for somebody to have like, well, I got this, I got that because how does that plug into the next class, and the more it splinters, the less likely it's going to dovetail into the next learning outcome. So by virtue of the way that you've designed the school and the program, it's you have to just walk away with one or two key ideas, right?

Christine:
Yeah. We usually have the seven to 10 for every class, course, but we really do try to give them something that they can return to again and again within a course. So we started and we're like, okay, well, we'll do these learning outcomes in module one, and then we'll do these learning outcomes in module two, and then we'll do these in module three and one, we had too many so we only touched on them a couple of times, and we found that it was much more valuable and we've revised our curriculum to do this is to give the broader concept.
And then you talk about it in context for module one, but you also talk about it in different contexts for module two, and then we do that across our classes as well, across our courses. So I think that's something that everybody can do. They can say what's the broad concept that will come up in the beginning of the course as well as at the end, not just, okay, well we learned these five things and now we learned a new five things. It's like, how do we find A in the beginning and A at the end?

Chris:
Okay. I'm going to remember your voice and your voice is going to tell me, just pick one.

Christine:
Just pick one. You can have one and a half.

Chris:
One and a half? Careful, you opened that door and it's going to be 35.

Christine:
All right, just one. Just pick one.

Chris:
I'll pick one. I will let you know. I'll report back in a couple of weeks and let you know. Okay. It was only four this time instead of 44.

Christine:
That's a huge win.

Chris:
Thanks for helping me through it. Okay, Christine, thank you very much for geeking out with me and for doing... This is the longest podcast I've ever recorded so thank you very much.

Christine:
I had such a nice time. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.

Chris:
Thank you.

Christine:
I'm Christine Looser and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Baro for editing and mixing this episode and thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heyChris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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