Committing it to memory

I played a lot of basketball growing up, and this one thing would always happen. The coach would explain a complicated drill, then ask “do you all understand?”

“Yes, coach.”

“Then you won’t mess up when we get into the drill?”

“Yes, coach.”

Except during that second part, I always felt nervous. I knew I didn’t totally grasp what we were doing yet. I was paying attention during the whole explanation, I just knew that I wouldn’t have it down until I tried it.

We started the drill. Sometimes I did well, other times I stumbled at the beginning. But either way, once I went through the motions, I had it committed to memory.

This makes sense in a sporting context, but I think it’s true in any situation when you’re learning something new. When we just lecture for a full period, students never get the chance to practice and commit the learning to memory.

It’s obviously foolish for a tennis coach to lecture a player for 50 minutes, then expect that player to go practice on their own time. But it’s not so obviously foolish to talk about how to do user-centered design for 50 minutes and expect the audience to go home and use the information.

There’s a huge opportunity to put the content and the activity right next to each other. They deserve to be in the same room. Our students, our players, our audiences need the chance to practice the content right away.

Once it’s there, it’s hard to forget. But without the space to practice, it may never get there in the first place.