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May 30, 2012

Love Acceptance and Forgiveness

Book Review-Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness

In my Sunday school class at church, we’re watching an old series by James MacDonald titled “Lord, Change My Attitude.” During one of his sessions he mentions a book that he refers to as being out of print – Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. At the time he made the comment it was true, but in the intervening years the book was revived and republished so when I went searching for it, I found it.

The book carries the subtitle “Being Christian in a Non-Christian World” but that’s not why I read it – nor do I believe it does justice to the key truths that are contained in the book. (In short, I’m encouraging my non-Christian friends to read on – and read the book.)

Above all, the book shares a striking clarity of what love is. It goes beyond the magnetic draw that pulls two teenagers together. You can call that lust, or chemical reactions, biology, evolution, or what you will. The book calls love a decision. Few of us think about love as a decision – as a choice we make. We believe that things like marriage are a choice – but love? Don’t I just love the people I love? There’s no rhyme or reason to it – or is there?

There’s some research to explain that some of our desire is triggered by scent – that makes sense because our olfactory senses are tied to our basal brains. However, there’s also research to show that the more time with people the more we tend to like them. There are, of course, notable exceptions of the people that we develop a dislike for. So there are rules to whom we like and dislike – but love is different.

Popular music, tv, and the rest of culture talk about the emotional kind of love – that’s triggered by biology – but we don’t hear about the decision that people make to love. The problem with the emotional love is that it will fade. You simply cannot sustain the same sort of feelings for your spouse as when you first met, we’re not wired that way. Biological love – for lack of a better term – triggers the release dopamine – one of the same chemicals that is released with the use of illegal drugs. And just like addictive illegal drugs, high levels of dopamine cannot be sustained indefinitely.

So you have to replace biological love with a choice. It is a conscious decision to put someone else in your life first. I don’t mean this in a platitude sort of way – agreeing to put them first but not agreeing to get up and take the trash out because they’re not feeling well. I should also caution that I don’t mean this in a way that means that someone can never stand their ground with their spouse, instead, I mean that you must do all things in love to your spouse but know when to protect your rights and needs. (I probably wandered a bit off the book’s central point here but it’s a realization that I find helpful.)

Acceptance is an interesting bit because it seems like we’re hard wired to not do it well. We don’t trust those who do things differently than us. We don’t like people who don’t dress like us, talk like us, or think like us. Eastern philosophies speak of detachment and being OK with any observation as long as that observation is true. We as humans are notoriously good at dismissing any information that doesn’t match our preconceived ideas. We’ll ignore opposing positions and dismiss people who share them because their views don’t match ours.

Acceptance – for me – is realizing that truth is relative to everyone’s experience. I cannot change others. I can only influence them. I can influence them best when I try to understand them better. So if I want to reach someone I need to understand them, which means accepting that at this moment they are who they are. I realize this is a long chain. In my experience, accepting people as they are – not how I want them to be – has reduced a great source of stress.

The last headline topic is forgiveness. This is hard because I’ve seen grudges carried in my family for decades. There are family members who simply don’t (and didn’t) talk to each other because of a misunderstanding decades ago. (No, this isn’t a hyperbole.) In those cases I’ve applied significant pressure to try to reunite the factions and have seen more than a bit of success. Through helping with the understanding of acceptance it became possible to forgive them.

The book describes forgiveness as an environment, a lifestyle. I believe that – even though I won’t say that I live it every day. I know that research has demonstrated that maintaining negative emotions has a negative impact on your health. I know that research shows that people who “harbor grudges” are less happy than those who don’t. However, I’ll share that the line between forgiveness and placing yourself in a place of vulnerability again is frighteningly narrow.

Everyone has the right and need to protect themselves from harmful, toxic people. Forgiveness doesn’t mean continuing in a bad situation just because you forgive the other person – however, it means letting go of deep-felt feelings of anger or hurt towards another person. You can simultaneously forgive someone and create barriers between you and them to protect yourself.

Efficiency in Learning

Book Review-Efficiency in Learning

I recently wrote an article for titled “Everything You Think You Know about Learning Retention Rates is Wrong” which is perhaps a bit of a hyperbole but it’s based on the discovery that the traditional thinking about how people learn is wrong. It’s based on Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience which didn’t have research to support retention rates and was never intended to be used as it has been. In the article I made the assertion that there’s not been a great deal of research on learning rates differing between different modes of instruction – which I still believe. However, in the research for that article I stumbled across the book Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load – and I’m impressed. Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen, and John Sweller did a great job of converting the research studies that are available into a set of guidelines for developing content that are both easy to understand and are on a solid research foundation.

I’ve read more than a few books on instructional design and they have had two problems. First, they didn’t provide clear direction on what the rules were for making design decisions and second they didn’t address situations where the guidelines were in conflict – Efficiency in Learning describes the rules (or guidelines) and what to do when they guidelines are in conflict. In short, the book takes the relatively fuzzy world of how we learn and breaks it down into chunks that can be understood and applied.

The foundation for the book is the theory of cognitive load – that is humans have a relatively small and fixed capacity to process information. We overcome this by building schemas to make complex topics operate as a single unit in our thoughts. We can thereby function in complex situations because we’ve simplified large groups into single things in our thinking. Learning is, in a sense, creating these schemas so that we can process more complex – and interesting – scenarios. Those who have studied Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives might see learning as a continuum from recognition through recall and up to the higher levels – however, most learning scenarios today aren’t focused on remembering simple facts, they’re based on being able to use the information – those things on higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy. (I first talked about this on my blog in 2006 in a post on Recognition vs. Recall.) The way that we learn simple wrote facts is different than the way we learn how to think about our world differently.

Within in the context of the book cognitive load is broken into three distinct types:

  • Intrinsic – the mental work imposed by the instructional goals.
  • Germane – the mental work imposed by the instructional activities that benefit the goals
  • Extraneous – the mental work not related to the instructional goals or activities (in other words, noise)

The book shares a total of 29 guidelines designed to minimize extraneous cognitive load and creating some germane cognitive load to further the goals. I’ve reproduced the goals below to give you a sense of what you can expect. Each of the guidelines is supported by research. The ones that I find the most interesting is those which go against “folk wisdom” about how you should design a learning course. For instance, generally we believe that repetition is a good thing and therefore if we deliver the content multiple different times and ways will lead to better results – except the research seems to show that this isn’t true. (Thus why I mentioned Bloom’s above – we know that simple repetition helps with simple facts, however, it doesn’t appear to work for procedural content.)

I also found interesting the awareness that some of the strategies that help novice learners actually depress learning in experts. In other words, the way that experts need to learn is different than the way that novices need to learn. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) often deliver content in a way that assumes users know basic concepts and because of this the user can collapse those concepts so that they don’t need to be actively considered – however, often novice users can’t collapse these concepts and as a result end up overwhelmed because they are unable to process all of the variables –in the way that they’re delivered.

If you’re serious about creating good instructional materials, I recommend you give Efficiency in Learning a read.

The 29 Guidelines:

  • Use Diagrams to Optimize Performance on Tasks Requiring Spatial Manipulations
  • Use Diagrams to Promote Learning of Rules Involving Spatial Relationships
  • Use Diagrams to Help Learners Build Deeper Understanding
  • Explain Diagrams with Words Presented by Audio Narration
  • Use Cues and Signals to Focus Attention to Important Visual and Textual Content.
  • Integrate Explanatory Text Close to Related Visuals on Pages and Screens.
  • Integrate words and visuals used to teach computer applications into one delivery medium
  • Pare Content Down to Essentials
  • Eliminate Extraneous Visuals, Text, and Audio
  • Eliminate Redundancy in Content Delivery Modes
  • Provide Performance Aids as External Memory Supplements
  • Design Performance Aids by Applying Cognitive Load Management Techniques
  • Teach System Components Before Teaching the Full Process
  • Teach Supporting Knowledge Separate from Teaching Procedure Steps
  • Consider the Risks of Cognitive Overload Before Designing Whole Task Learning Environments
  • Give Learners Control Over Pacing and Manage Cognitive Load When Pacing Must Be Instructionally Controlled
  • Replace Some Practice Problems with Worked Examples
  • Use Completion Examples to Promote Learning Processing
  • Transition from Worked Examples to Problem Assignments with Backwards Fading
  • Display Worked Examples and Completion Problems in Ways That Minimize Extraneous Cognitive Load
  • Use Diverse Worked Examples to Foster Transfer of Learning
  • Help Learners Exploit Examples Through Self-Explanations
  • Help Learners Automate New Knowledge and Skills
  • Promote Mental Rehearsal of Complex Content After Mental Models Are Formed
  • Write High Coherent Texts for Low Knowledge Readers
  • Avoid Interrupting Reading of Low Skilled Readers
  • Eliminate Redundant Content for More Experienced Learners
  • Transition from Worked Examples to Problem Assignments as Learners Gain Expertise
  • Use Directive Rather Than Guided Discovery Learning Designs for Novice Learners

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