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The old saying “You can lead a goat to water, but you can’t make it drink”, came to mind yesterday as I was ruminating.

Whether it is through formal teaching or simply in our daily lives we are constantly trying to influence or persuade others. It could be that we have an idea that we think would be useful to them, or that we’d like them to change their behaviour. At the same time, we are all perpetual students, in that we are constantly having to learn new things and take on board new ideas in the ebb and flow of our lives and routines.

I have spent a lot of my professional life helping people learn things that might be useful to them, and consequently I’ve put a lot of time and effort into thinking about how to make the process more effective. Whether it is in the classroom, lecture theatre, therapy session or as a parent, the idea is to help people take on new ideas that could be useful to them, or abandon old ones that are limiting them in some way.

One thing I have learned in my attempts to help others learn and change, is just what a hit-and-miss affair it is. Classroom convention is laborious and wasteful of time and resources, and ‘teaching’ does not automatically result in ‘learning’. The brilliance our ideas and the  attractiveness the packaging have little to do with learning new things and changing behaviour. People take on new ideas best when the time is right for them, and then they can do it a lot more quickly than tradition dictates.

Whatever the motives of the teacher people learn when it suits them. And goats, hoses and most other creatures tend to drink only when thirsty.

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