Explanation please – and keep it simple!

Lee Lefever at Commoncraft writes really interesting posts about the work he and his wife are doing in trying to make new ideas easy to understand. A recent post entitled, Discovering the RSS Explanation Problem is a great read and something I think we can all relate to. Lee talks about going to a conference where a participant asked ‘What is RSS?”The CEO’s answer was, “RSS is an XML-based content syndication format.” He describes having an ‘Aha’ moment which no doubt was the seeding ground for the highly useful ‘plain english’ videos he and Sachi create.

How many of us have had the experience of people in command of knowledge being unable (or unwilling, and that’s another story altogether!) to provide an easy to understand explanation. I think this is a major problem when it comes to technology adoption. Often those in the know are so familiar with how something works they don’t realise that many people have ‘blocks’ when it comes to learning about a new way of doing things and need simple explanations that they can apply to their own situations.  This post has made me think about my teaching and they way I explain concepts to students. I’ve come a long way from my early chalk and talk teaching days, and I’ve noticed in recent years how effective graphic organisers are for students and how my teaching has changed. Our students are such visual learners – I see it in my own kids – and our teaching needs to address this. At the moment I seem to be surrounded by talk of ‘essential questions’. Maybe we also need to address the concept of ‘essential explanations’ to help our students navigate this educational landscape.

Here’s Lee and Sachi’s RSS in Plain English, and you’ll see how they make ‘RSS is an XML-based content syndication format’ easy to understand. If anyone from my school happens to read this, I’m happy to walk you through the setup of a Google Reader, and I promise I’ll make it relevant to your needs and simple to understand!


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