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Is it ever OK to spoon feed readers?

I wrote this and posted it February 2011 (my Open University) it was an open post.

At what point in e-learning design do you feel that by spoon-feeding learners that you are doing them a disservice?

That learning is better achieved as a result of effort, even through making mistakes.

How, with all these increasingly versatile and ‘easy’ tools therefore, do we ensure that effort is applied, that learners remain engaged?

We show, we test; they read, they write; they work alone, then as a group; they make mistakes and try again. They do something new, they see something in a different way.

The other day I was about to print off a recipe for a chocolate cake that my 12 year old son and a friend were willing to make.

Enlightened by a piece on the use of dreadful fonts in learning and how effective it can be to make information stick I printed out not in Arial or Callibri or Times Roman in 16 point, but in some swirly imitation of Edwardian handwriting in 10 point … beige.

They said nothing. The cake was a success.

Did it the lesson stick?

Perhaps I’ll try again today. Can they make the cake without referring to the recipe?

One aspect of this is slightly disingenuous, my son and I did make this cake together a couple of months ago in a more nurturing, assisting manner in which I played the role of ‘the talking recipe’ with demonstrations on how to melt the chocolate, split eggs, whisk egg-whites and fold the ingredients together.

It helped that my son could teach his friend.

How does this apply to the safe storage of Uranium Trioxide underground or dealing with an asthma patient? Or handling a customer who is complaining of the smell of sewage along their street? Or making a subject choice decision at A’ Level? And how about in the creative industries, as an art director or copywriter, even in Fine Art?

There are environments, clearly, where making mistakes is part of the learning process … but if you learning to fly commercial aircraft or reprocess spent rods in nuclear power, best to make the mistakes in a simulation.

To which I receive the following charming reply.

While learning a new language, some learners prefer to be spoon fed, and some would hide somewhere quietly and never surface to attend any tutorial, despite my persuasion, encouragement, nagging……but I haven’t resorted to threat so far.

I would love to know the chocolate recipe…………

In the cooking lesson in secondary school where I helped out, for example, making muffins, the teacher would demonstrate in the first lesson, and then in the same lesson, the students do some written work, eg, comparing muffin and cup cake, their ingredients, calories, and why A is healthier than B. They also wrote about the purposes of sugar, flour, butter……Students also need to design a box, with labels on, to sell their muffins.

The Students only get to cook it in the following lesson – if they remember to bring the ingredients at all.

I’m trying to say students do not get to cook in every single cooking lesson. There is an awful lot of writing, drawing, designing labels on computer, health and safety and planning involved.

Font – At first, I was wondering if the font was the school’s favourite — Comic Sans? And if so, why do so many men hate it?


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