You’ve probably seen the Learning Pyramid before. Since learning about the pyramid a few years ago, it has been a tremendous tool in my preparation and presentation when preaching a sermon, teaching a class or equipping ministry leaders in a training event. Sadly, for the first several years I focused too much on how I was teaching and not enough on how people learn. Even more, I noticed how often I focused almost entirely on just talking at people. No wonder people couldn’t remember or put into practice what I was teaching!
Of course, as the National Training Laboratories has found in their research, the more we push down into the pyramid, the more people retain what they’ve learned. In my teaching preparation I often pull out the pyramid and think, “How far down the pyramid can I push this teaching?” I don’t get down to the bottom every single time, but I absolutely make sure I don’t remain only in the 5%/Lecture category. (Sometimes, in my more courageous and creative moments, I’ve wondered if we turned the pyramid completely upside down how people’s learning process and retention would be impacted).
As you think about your preaching and teaching, consider the following questions in each level of the pyramid:
Lecture: what are one or two ways I could increase the effectiveness and engagement of what I am communicating to people?
Reading: how am I encouraging people to read in the midst of the teaching (the biblical text, a quote on the screen, a handout, etc)? What are ways I could include reading materials, either during my teaching or as a take home resource?
Audio Visual: are there natural and creative ways I can use videos or songs to illustrate this point?
Demonstration: instead of simply teaching on this abstract concept, can I demonstrate it right on the spot? Can I call a volunteer up and simulate a role-playing exercise? Or can I give a specific and concrete example of someone who has recently lived out this concept in our community?
Discussion group: rather than listening to me communicate, can we carve our time and space for people to interact with each other? If so, what will they discuss? What questions or texts can I give them as prompts to their discussion? And what will they do with that information?
Practice by doing: Are there ways in which people can live out and practice what they just learned from me in the next 5 minutes? In the next 30 minutes? By the end of the day? What challenge(s) can I give them to attempt this?
Teaching others: Is there opportunity for someone courageous enough to come up and teach (or summarize) what they’ve learned in the process? If they’ve not done it effectively, how can we celebrate their willingness, while also offering suggestion or correction? If people have done it effectively, how can we affirm and celebrate both their willingness and ability to do something difficult in the moment?