teaching and learning

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teacher in class

A couple of years ago I worked with an education company. Travelling elementary, middle and high schools in the northeast, interviewing teachers, administrators and observing kids, I was amazed by how K12 education is changing. And, in many cases, not. The tools and pedagogy are there, we just have to use them.

What became most clear to me after my time in education was a simple observation about teaching and learning. The latter is the result of the former. But only if done well. You see, there is bad teaching but there is no bad learning. Understanding the linkage is important.

This observation powered an insight that changed my approach to branding and marketing. Most marketing is about teaching. While the best marketing is about learning. The old days of reach and frequency –smother consumers with repetition– akin to learning ABCs or months of the year, is not how we need to market in the 21st century. Not with the constant bombardment of media and messages. And messy messages at that.

With a rich “organizing principle for your product, experience and messaging” (a brand strategy), brought to life through learning moments and learning demonstrations, you can connect with and motivate consumers. Stand at the front of the class and recite benefits (teach) and you will fail. Peace.


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When the economy is bad often the first things businesses cut are advertising and training; line item entries that are not headcount. Sadly, lack of training is hard to compensate for when recovery comes. Training is teaching. And teaching done well is also learning.  Learning what’s what among the young. It’s bidirectional.

When developing a brand plan for a K12 educational technology company I noticed the young teachers were adept at teaching the not-so (how to use technology).  The natives teaching the immigrants, as it were.  

Corporate and business trainers also benefit from the teaching and learning bidirectional approach.  But they have to listen a bit. Everyone is looking for skills and in a changing world skills are not just top down. While working at a social networking start-up I learned how in Japan, kids and seniors are more agreeable to the mentor/mentee thing. There was bidirectional value for both.  In Bedford Stuyvesant, Bailey’s Café has a similarly focus and it is brining the community together.  

The best teachers understand leaning because they have their own learning switch on. Planners are learners first. Socializers second. Strategists third. Always be learning! Peace.

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Learning is at the center of everything good.  Teaching doesn’t always get the same rap.  Where would we be without teachers?  Not in a good place. There must be teachers.

I worked for a company that enlightened me about learning. My job was to organize the selling of leaning tools, be they technological or pedagogical, and it really warmed me to the difference between teaching and learning – how they are perfectly and imperfectly intertwined

Brand planners are attuned to learning. They take to it like ants to peanut butter and jelly samiches. Interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts), company captains and consumers in true learning mode really lights up the exchange.  Note taking and quiet keyboard clicking makes for a short, dull interview. Smiles, thoughtful questions, stories, and engagement make the time fly. Even when you ask a goofy or counterintuitive question — if done as an eager learner, it can enhance the experience. And try not to teach the teacher. Be Socratic in your method. You can challenge observations or highlight contradictions, but do so with that dog-like “Where’s the ball?” gaze.

Brand planners who are devout learners, who don’t enter a room with answers, are the ones who turn on the lights. The ones who create illumination. It may be steady, sporadic or rocky, but it is illumination. Puh-eace!   


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I was thinking about what’s wrong with education and it dawned on me that a teacher could go for decades without changing his/her  lesson plan.  Okay, that might be an oversimplification but bear with me.  So let’s says that happens for an American history teacher…how does that teacher refresh? Well, one might say they focus on the pedagogy – the teaching itself. With all students being different, the lesson may stay the same but the means of getting though, packaging, and connecting the lesson to “this years” student may change. (Let’s hope.) In other words the material doesn’t change the delivery does.

So what does that mean for branding and marketing? Do we use a syllabus to create our marketing approach? I suspect we do. I, for instance, have been using a couple of planning tools over the years that have not changed much: 24 Questions and a battery of Fact Finding questions.  Sounds kind of formulaic, no?  Am I lazy? These rigors act as fishing nets for me and what I catch will vary. What I do with that catch creates the differentiation. Hmm.

But suppose I approached each assignment more like composing a song. Or creating some other form of art?  It would dash the formula don’t you think? This would be a case of getting rid of the syllabus. And going commando. Let’s think about that in 2013 and see if we can blow some doors off our approaches to strategic development. Peace!


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There is an interesting technology and pedagogy push today that dabbles  in the reinvention of teaching and learning.  With some of our most revered entrepreneurs noted for dropping out of school, a number of students are wondering if they can DIY (do it yourself) their education, starting their careers earlier and minimizing higher ed. debt.  Online courses, video to supplement courseware, and spending time in digital subject matter communities are free options and often a lot more hands on than facing a blackboard, a text book and number 10 pencil.  It’s a thing. Trust me.

Similarly, the web has spawned a number of people who consider themselves DIY marketers. The old axiom that marketing requires Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA) – all of which use to require separate marketing tools – today, can all be accomplished on a single website.  One website properly organized can fulfill the entire continuum of a sale. Ergo, many people in small businesses and start-ups are trying to do their own thing. Those will stellar products are making do.  Those without, not so much.

Marketing and learning cannot be automated. Or hacked. That’s not to say hands-on educators and marketers are always efficient and effective; they are not. Learning and marketing are done best when full-duplex. Bi-directional. Doc Watson never would have been the picker he was as a DIYer. Peace to Doc’s family. 

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