Teaching Concepts: Combining Science and Creativity

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

  • accomplish internal custom projects
  • train and educate their internal staff in Instructional Systems Development.

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DSA Tips Newsletter Archive

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We have lots of great ideas just waiting for you to use!

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In our last tips newsletter we discussed how to analyze concepts.

Concepts are facts, objects, ideas or events that have common features and are assigned a single name. There are concrete concepts and abstract concepts. We do a concept analysis to come up with the raw material to teach a concept. We need the critical and variable attributes, clear examples, close-in non-examples, and divergent examples that come from a concept analysis. In this DSA Tips Newsletter we will see how to teach a concept.

So what is the scientific way to teach a concept and how can we combine that knowledge with creative instructional strategies that not only get the concept across but also make it memorable and interesting to the learner?

Scientific Procedure

How to scientifically teach a concept so it can be learned is well researched and documented. Here it is in a nut shell:

  1. Provide a definition of the concept.
  2. Present the learner with simple examples of the concept. In each example, point out the critical and variable attributes of the concept.
  3. When the learner is able to identify clear examples of the concept, present the close-in non-examples. Point out the attributes that are missing in the close-in non-examples.
  4. After the learner is able to distinguish between examples and close-in non-examples of the concept, present divergent examples. Again, in each divergent example, point out the critical and variable attributes of the concept.
  5. To evaluate the learner's mastery of the learning objective, present clear and divergent examples and non-examples of the concept. Ask the learner to identify ones that are examples of the concept.

OK, that should do it, right? Well yes and no. Yes, your learners can learn the concept in this expository way. But what about gaining the learners attention, and making it memorable and interesting so they will want to use the concept in all appropriate situations. In short, how can we get a little creative?

Making It Interesting

Could you start off with an experiential activity to gain their attention and capture their emotional energy? Could you draw some of the content from the learners themselves?

Example 1

One of our outstanding instructional design associates, Peter C. Honebein, Ph.D, demonstrated how you might gain attention when teaching a concept like trust in a recent workshop he and I presented to trainers at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base, Missouri. Peter did a blindfold activity to gain attention and have the learners experience the feelings associated with the concept trust. Half the audience was blindfolded and the other half led them around the area out side the classroom returning them eventually to the classroom. After the activity he debriefed the activity by asking the leaders and the followers (those that were blindfolded) to give one word that described their experience. He then continues with the approach by asking the audience for examples and non-examples of trust pointing out the characteristics (attributes) of trust.

Example 2

In the last tips newsletter I gave an example of how we did a concept analysis of the concept physical aggression in educational environment (school). Click here to see the analysis. If you would like to see how that lesson turned out using a Socratic Instructional Strategy (teaching by guided questioning), send me an email and I will send you the full lesson design.

If you have designed or experienced a creative instructional strategy used to teach a concept and can share it please send it to me.

I am looking forward to your creative ideas for teaching concepts.

See you next time,