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Discussion groups are more likely to grow and least likely to decline

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The data on lecturing classes is among the most puzzling data I have looked at. Here are the facts:

  • Groups that use all lecture are the second most likely to be growing.

  • Groups that use all lecture are the most likely to be declining.

Overall, the chart looks like this:

Such self-contradicting information begs an explanation. How could the same group be (almost) the most likely to succeed and the absolute most likely to fail? And that by a wide margin. All lecture groups are nearly three times more likely to be declining when compare with the rest of the group.

Still more puzzling news. I actually divided the growing group into two sub-groups: growing and growing rapidly. Guess which group was the most likely to be growing rapidly? It is the all lecture group--again, by a large margin.

Anyone puzzled? Here is my explanation. Lecture is a hard instrument to play. It is like the violin. When it is good, it is really good. When it is bad it is really bad.

Big difference between a violin and a guitar. A guitar has frets. This makes it impossible to play a note that is between the notes. You can play an E or you can play an F but, assuming the guitar is in tune--which is easy with the electronics we have today--you can't play a note that is somewhere in between.

With a violin, everything is different. You can play a hundred gradations between and E and an F. If you don't get pretty darn close to the note you meant to play, it sounds bad, really bad.

On the other hand, nothing sweeter than a well-played violin--with the possible exception of a well-played group of violins--the string section.

Great lectures are that way. They are great. We record them and podcast them and pass them around on the internet. I have never seen a discussion group podcast. I have heard lots of lectures (otherwise known as sermons) podcast.

How do you know if you are any good?

You are not really worried about it, are you?  I mean, you don't really think there is a chance that you lecture and you are boring, do you? Research indicates most folks don't. Check out what John Ortberg says about this:

Now this is where people start to check out. There is actually an area of research in Social Science—one of the most documented findings in any of the social sciences—that talks about our difficulty with Jesus’ statement. It is something that social psychologists call The Self-Serving Bias.

This refers to the universal human tendency to underestimate “my shortcomings,” to compare myself to other people and think I’m doing better than I actually am, to take more credit for stuff than I really deserve, to exaggerate my abilities and my successes, and it is one of the most widely documented findings in all of social science.

There was a survey of 829,000 high school students a while ago, and they were asked this question: How do you rate yourself, compared to other students, in your ability to get along with other people? Would you say that you are above average or below average?

What percentage of these high school students actually thought they were above average in their ability to get along with other people? Take a guess.

By definition, 50 percent should be above, and 50 percent should be below average. The actual answer: 100 percent! One hundred percent of high school students said: I’m above average in my ability to get along with other people.

Not only that, but 25 percent of high school students estimated that they were in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with other people.

It’s not just high school students who have a problem with this. Take an academic setting. Ninety-five percent of all faculty members rated themselves as “Above Average” in their performance as teachers and scholars. These are real smart people. At a place like Stanford University, you might wonder: Why is there the kind of conflict that there is when it comes to issues of tenure and promotion?

People in the hospital as the result of an accident that they caused by driving badly rate themselves as “Above Average” drivers. More than 90 percent of preachers who have to talk about texts like Romans 12 where it says: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but consider yourself with sober judgment, consider themselves to be “Above Average” preachers.

A last example: When this concept of a “Self-serving Bias” is explained to people so that they understand it, the vast majority of people say that they are above average in their ability to handle the “Self-serving Bias.” http://mppc.org/sites/default/files/transcripts/040725_jortberg_tr.pdf

So, how do you know if you are any good at lecturing?  More importantly, how do you know if you are bad? (If someone forwarded this to you, that might be a hint!) Here is one rule of thumb: if you class is growing you are in good shape. If it is growing rapidly, you are in great shape. If you class is not growing, we have an easy solution: jump to the discussion method. It is the single most likely group to be growing AND the single least likely group to be declining. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by going to the discussion method.

Using the lecture method is analogous to how a lot of teenagers play tennis. The fun for them is to smack the tar of the ball--whack it as hard as they can. When it goes it, it is a sure winner. But, they hit a lot of unforced errors as well. The ball is as likely to go over the fence as it is to be a winner. At my age I find myself saying to myself, "just get it into the court; let them make the mistakes."

Using the discussion method is the safest way to teach. It is the most likely method to grow a group and it is the least likely method to see a group decline.

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