so what, exactly, do you want them to learn

Earlier this week, I challenged us to think about teaching someone something this week. This post takes you down that road by helping you think about what, exactly, you are wanting to teach.


Teachers and speakers know all about outcomes.

But even we forget.

When we remember, however, we start our preparation for every training session, every lesson, every speech, by completing a simple sentence: “When I have finished speaking (teaching, whatever), my audience will be able to ___.”

Outcomes are about behaviors

a ruler on a study guide. measuring outcomesAn outcome is what you want an audience (whether a class or a small group or your friend Dave who can’t tell PEZ dispensers apart) to be able to do as a result of your interaction with them. It doesn’t apply to every interaction. Sometimes speaking is for entertainment or so everyone can say that they were together. In that case, the sentence reads, “when I have finished speaking I will have spoken.”

But if you want to help learning happen, whether in a formal session or in an informal “how do I do this” conversation, write an outcome.

  • It puts the emphasis on what your audience will be able to do.
  • It allows the audience behavior to be measured as a way to find out whether you did what you wanted to do.
  • It creates accountability.

Measuring abstract lessons

Good outcomes are stated in terms of measurable behavior. But what if what you are teaching isn’t measurable? If you are teaching someone how to change a lightbulb, you can easily test whether they know it by handing them a lightbulb and a fixture. If you are encouraging someone to be more faithful (to friends, to spouses, to God), how can you measure that?

Perhaps you could teach one way to know if you are sliding toward breaking faith and you could teach them that way. Perhaps you know that faithfulness is enhanced by focused time and you could explain ways to clear your schedule.

But wait, you say, the topic is “be more faithful.” If I talk about clearing my schedule, that’s too specific. I mean, they will walk out with some ideas about finding cheap dates or scheduling or finding a quiet place to pray or something, but that’s not my topic.

(I’ll let you read that again and decide whether you really want to raise that argument. Teaching that brings about change in lives or the world always involves behavior. Work til you find the behavior. Then teach it. It will foster faithfulness)

What if all I know is PEZ?

Some of you are teachers. You know this. But some people who read this post are not teachers. You don’t lead classes or small groups. You don’t give presentations to thousands of people on the internet.

I know. But you, sitting in your darkened room reading this post, interacting only with a couple people a day, you teach. Or you could.

What if you decided that the next time someone asks how to tell the difference between old and new Pez dispensers, you were going to teach them three ways to tell: patent numbers, mold codes, and place of manufacture.

When we have finished talking, my friend will be able to identify Pez dispensers by age markers.

You have five samples on hand. You show them three. You then give them the fourth as a text. They guess wrong. You review. You show them the fifth. They get it right. You give it to them.

They learned something. They know it. You know it.

As you teach something to someone this week, establish a simple measurable outcome.

(thanks to Rob Hatch for a bit of inspiration)


2 responses to “so what, exactly, do you want them to learn

  1. Bernard Molek

    This seems to be the second post on your suggestion to teach someone something this week that I’ve caught. While struggling to try and think what I might share with anyone or more persons I decided to table it for another day or so.

    Postponing things are what I do best.

    Talk about a sense of humor that God must certainly have….I read this post the morning after what is only a 4th bible study night I’ve led in our home.

    A bible study at the request of one man who feels he was blessed enough by our friendship and faith sharing that he asked me (even though I’m no teacher) if I would share it regularly for one hour each week in my home.

    I’m reading your post and sitting there contemplating what in the world I could share with anybody…when I’m already in the midst of doing it.

    My goodness our steps can be so much easier if, as the song says: “Stop, look around, here we come”.

    Self-evaluation is a good penicillin to help us avoid running off in a hundred directions without any substance. Another thing I do best.

    If that’s not enough, you’ve started pedaling again (little pun there) to help us Non-teachers do this (sharing thing) a little better.

    Does the name “Trust-Agents” mean anything to you Jon? Just kidding.

    Keep Pedaling, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it,

  2. Bernard. I’m writing for you. You know that, right? For the people who know way more than they think they do and haven’t, for whatever reason, agreed. There are so many poeple who know way more than I do about teaching and about teaching teachers. However, I do know a bit more than people who have never taught, and so I’ll keep trying to help.

    And I’m really glad you listened to the friend and said “yes”.