Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.
Take a moment to read over the following set of instructions:
The first thing you want to do is decide how many items you want to incorporate. Take t hem out of t he container — it doesn’t matter which ones, as long as there aren’t any obvious signs of damage. Place them somewhere secure, as they tend to move without warning and this can be disastrous. Take the first one you want to deal with, and grasp it lightly along the short axis, then make contact between this and a fi rm but not sharp object. Be sure you also have an adequate container for the material inside. You can repeat this pro cess up to two times, but after three, you should probably start over. With practice, you will end up with a clean separation, but even experts find that it’s diffi cult to keep the various components totally under control. Remember, this is a skill that gets better with practice, and physical strength is less important than dexterity and fi nesse.45
If you read this paragraph in an online course, do you think you could accurately remember many of the key points? Or would it simply go past you in a swirl of confusing, disjointed details? But what if I told you that this “mystery process” was a description of cracking an egg? Look back at the paragraph— it probably seems far more memorable with that key piece of context. Framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Thinking back to the “function-alist agenda,” this makes a lot of sense— why should we invest scarce cognitive resources on information that doesn’t complement what we already know about the world?
45 This “myster y pro cess” description is adapted from the experimental materials in J. D. Bransford and M. K. Johnson (1972), Contextual prerequi-sites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11(6): 717– 726.
Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press. p. 94.
Limitations on working memory. You may have read somewhere that we can only hold about seven items at a time in working memory. That’s a reassuring enough figure, and might imply that students will do best when we present only seven points at a time— say, seven topics on a web page, or seven bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. But this long- repeated number is now under question as researchers devise ways to measure capacity that factor out rehearsal strategies, imagery, and other mnemonic tricks. Using these updated methods, researchers have found that working memory span is closer to just four items.8 And even within this set of four things, there may be just one or two that are active enough for us to actually use.9 Pinning down the precise number is an important goal for mem-ory theorists, but isn’t really germane to real- world teaching.
8 N. Cowan (2010), The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, and why? Current Directions in Psychological Science 19(1): 51– 57, doi:10.1177/0963721409359277.
9 N. Cowan, E. M. Elliott, J. Saults, C. C. Morey, S. Mattox, A. Hismjatullina, and A. A. Conway (2005), On the capacity of attention: Its esti-mation and its role in working memory and cognitive aptitudes, Cognitive Psy-chology 51(1): 42– 100, doi:10.1016/j.cog psych.2004.12.001
Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.
Researchers have flushed out these vestiges in a number of intriguing experiments, including several that show marked memory superiority for items that people process in terms of “survival relevance.” This “survival processing” paradigm asks participants to think of whether a given item— a hammer, say, or a chair— would help them survive living out on a grassland as a hunter- gatherer. Asked later to recall which words they saw in the experiment, participants performed better for objects they thought of in the survival context, compared to a control condition where they had thought of whether the items would be useful moving from one apartment to another, or other more modern survival- relevant activities. Researchers are still hashing out whether these fi ndings can truly be traced to ancestral survival challenges, but for now, evi-dence suggests that they aren’t merely an artifact of some confound-ing factors such as how emotionally arousing or attention- grabbing the different scenarios are.21
21 J. S. Nairne and J. S. Pandeirada (2010), Adaptive memory: Ancestral priorities and the mnemonic value of survival pro cessing, Cognitive Psychology61(1): 1– 22, doi:10.1016/j.cog psych.2010.01.005
Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.
Like spacing, interleaving has to do with how we organize our study sessions over time. We interleave material whenever we alternate between different topics, categories, skills, and the like, rather than just working with one at a time. To illustrate, participants in one line of research were assigned to learn to identify visual examples, such as different kinds of birds or paintings by different artists. Researchers found that mixing up the exposure to different examples across sessions— different artists, different classes of birds— improved learning.35 So from a memory standpoint it’s best to alternate topics, circling back to previously exposed material rather than working straight through each topic one at a time.
35 M. S. Birnbaum, N. Kornell, E. Bjork, and R. A. Bjork (2013), Why in-terleaving enhances inductive learning: The roles of discrimination and re-trieval, Memory & Cognition 41(3): 392– 402, doi:10.3758/s13421- 012- 0272- 7; N. Kornell and R. A. Bjork (2008), Learning concepts and categories: Is spac-ing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science (Wiley- Blackwell) 19(6): 585– 592, doi:10.1111/j.1467- 9280.2008.02127.x. 36. D. Rohrer (2012), Interleaving helps stud
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: TED Talks are a great resource to learn communication skills, especially if you were a speaker or a preacher. Here are three videos that are exceptional examples curated by Winnie Wang of The Daily Californian.
Top 3 TED Talks to watch when you need a pick-me-up.
by Winnie Wang, The Daily Californian, 4/21/22.
Inside the mind of a master procrastinator
…Tim Urban hits all the checkmarks in his speech: funny, informative, relatable. If you’re looking to laugh and learn a valuable lesson at the same time, this is the perfect video.
… How to speak so people want to listen
… Julian Treasure’s insight on how to get anyone to listen to you while listening to others taught me how to empathize with people in a way I had never tried before… To top it all off, it comes with a handy acronym that makes these tips easy to remember.
Why people believe they can’t draw
… Graham Shaw walks the audience through a couple of simple techniques to draw cartoons. In doing so, he demonstrates how within a few minutes anyone can learn how to draw, thereby dispelling the belief that you can’t draw. This process offers valuable insight into how to view new skills and challenges in the world.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Communication researchers have long known that watchers will retain more of what a speaker is saying, if he or she writes writes something down in front of viewers. Audience retention increases when something is written done on a whiteboard or large tablet, rather than just projecting the words on a slide on a screen via PowerPoint, Keynote or ProPresenter. While interactive whiteboards even allow your written points to be preserved online, writing on a temporal tablet (non-electronic whiteboard, blackboard, etc.) will force the audience to watch more closely, to interact with you and to write down the points as you write them. This communication enhancement is equally effective onsite as well as online.
Do an online search and you find a myriad of products that can help almost any size church improve the retention of what is being preached/taught (see a few examples below).
A. Clear boards
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: one of the results of previous pandemics throughout history was an increased interest in our eternal destiny (heaven, hell and judgement). I pointed out in my book it’s important for churches to address these questions now. Focus more of your preaching and teaching on these topics to meet the needs of the post-pandemic population.
Here’s a reminder from some recent research that the topic of the afterlife is increasingly important to people in a post pandemic period.
As COVID-19 Death Tolls Rise, More Americans Want Religious Funerals
The trend toward secular memorials reverses for the first time in a decade.
by DANIEL SILLIMAN|CHRISTIANITY TODAY, DECEMBER 13, 2021.
Death abounded in America in 2020 and 2021. According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 570,000 more people died in 2020 than in 2019, with about 350,000 of those attributable to COVID-19. Another 350,000 people died from the coronavirus by the fall of 2021, bringing the death total to 700,000—and counting.
When roughly that number died over the four years of the Civil War, it had a widespread impact on American culture. Historians such as Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, say changesincluded increased attention to cemeteries, the rise in the importance of family photographs, and rapid growth in the popularity of practices of spiritualism, a new religious movement that claimed to help people communicate with the dead.
What impact today’s pandemic deaths will have on American culture remains to be seen. But one shift is notable now: The percentage of people age 40 and older who say that religion is “very important” in the funeral of a loved one has gone up for the first time in a decade.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I regularly visit and coach churches that are growing and/or have multiple venues. I’ve noticed that the same sermon content, same visuals and even the same promotional artwork is used by various church preachers. I can’t help but believe that churchgoers also notice this similarity. This will cause suspicion of plagiarism.
But these are helpful and powerful sermon series. And they are available from gifted communicators such as Craig Groeschel. I interviewed Craig Groeschel for my book “Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation” (Abingdon Press).
These series make sermon preparation easier. Craig Groeschel offers “thousands of free video-based sermon series along with corresponding artwork, notes, transcripts, mailers, social media assets, and promo trailers.” This means a smaller church or a busy leader can give a sermon series attractive promotion and more importantly life-changing content; but the potential the listener will misperceive the author will increase.
I believe such sermon series have great insights that other preachers can learn and teach.
But as a communicator, you must ensure that you don’t take credit, saying things such as, “When I wrote this…” or “Here is my sermon for today.” Taking, even informally, credit for content can undermine your authority when listeners Google the topic.
Consider the Paul’s words in Romans 13:7 (NASB).
Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.
“The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons” by Pew Research, 12/16/19.
… This process produced a database containing the transcribed texts of 49,719 sermons shared online by 6,431 churches and delivered between April 7 and June 1, 2019, a period that included Easter.2 These churches are notrepresentative of all houses of worship or even of all Christian churches in the U.S.; they make up just a small percentage of the estimated350,000-plus religious congregations nationwide. Compared with U.S. congregations as a whole, the churches with sermons includein the dataset are more likely to be in urban areas and tend to have larger-than-average congregations (see the Methodologyfor full details).
The median sermon scraped from congregational websites is 37 minutes long. But there are striking differences in the typical length of a sermon in each of the four major Christian traditions analyzed in this report: Catholic, evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant and historically black Protestant.3
Catholic sermons are the shortest, at a median of just 14 minutes, compared with 25 minutes for sermons in mainline Protestant congregations and 39 minutes in evangelical Protestant congregations. Historically black Protestant churches have the longest sermons by far: a median of 54 minutes, more than triple the length of the median Catholic homily posted online during the Easter study period.
Researchers also conducted a basic exploration of sermons’ vocabulary. Several words frequently appear in sermons at many different types of churches – for instance, words such as “know,” “God” and “Jesus” were used in sermons at 98% or more of churches in all four major Christian traditions included in this analysis.4
This computational text analysis also found many words and phrases that are used more frequently in the sermons of some Christian groups than others.
For instance, the distinctive words (or sequences of words) that often appear in sermons delivered at historically black Protestant congregations include “powerful hand” and “hallelujah … come.” The latter phrase (which appears online in actual sentences such as “Hallelujah! Come on … let your praises loose!”) appeared in some form in the sermons of 22% of all historically black Protestant churches across the study period. And these congregations were eight times more likely than others to hear that phrase or a close variant. Although the word “hallelujah” is by no means unique to historically black Protestant services, this analysis indicates that it is a hallmark of black Protestant churches.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 7/12/20. Pictured below is the pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation preaching to the entire congregation. This reminds the church of its diversity, plus gives it a opportunity to experience the anointing of diverse leaders within the church.
Yet too often leaders of smaller sub-congregations and venues are afforded the opportunity to preach only on special occasions or during low attendance periods (such as the middle of the summer).
Relegating them to preach sparingly and at low attendance times sends a subtle message of inferiority. This works against reconciliation.
To create reconciliation in a church begins with affording all cultures equal status and affirming their ministry beyond equal opportunity.
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore.
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!
All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”
2 Corinthians 5:16-20 MSG
Therefore a Sunday Church Hack can be to let the leaders of various venues and sub-congregations preach on a more regular and desirable basis. If not, cultural chasms develop, not bridges.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I love the passion, wisdom and commitment of our worship leaders. But, in analyzing worship services as well as polling congregants, I have found that speaking between worship songs can have three unintended consequences.
- It can interrupt the flow between the songs.
- These mini-sermons often head in a different direction that the eventual sermon.
- The mini-sermons can make listeners weary of listening to a speaker before the sermon begins.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I am a big fan of using stories to communicate the truth, not only because research shows that it helps you retain what you’re learning almost 3 times better (1), but also because that’s primary how Jesus taught.
Here’s more ideas (in addition to metaphors) for communicating effectively.
Footnote (1) Scott Wilcher, MetaSpeak: Secrets of Regenerative Leadership to Transform your Workplace, Ph.D. dissertation (Nashville: Turnaround 2020 Conference, 2013).
The 6 Best Techniques for Communicating Clearly and Persuasively, According to a Speechwriter for Top CEOs by Scott Mautz, Inc. Magazine, 9/17/19.
…truly persuasive, impactful communication is a skill that’s learned and earned. Simon Lancaster, one of the foremost speechwriters for politicians and CEOs in the world, has learned and helps others to do the same.
His TEDx talk on clear and compelling communication (especially in speeches) is provocative, with smart advice for upping your verbal voracity. I’ll share the talk below and then I’ll summarize the six keys to persuasive communication within–as well as add my perspective as someone who gets paid to speak from stage.
In a 1989 interview with Leadership Journal, Lloyd John Ogilvie said:
I preach to a procession: church members who need a fresh touch of the power of God, people who don’t know God and aren’t part of any church, Christians who’ve just come to visit, and others who are facing perplexing problems. … My big challenge is to present the gospel in a way that will be an initial invitation to those who don’t know Christ and an encouragement to those who do and who need to get on with the responsibilities of discipleship.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I am conducting a communication consultation for preachers in Ohio and it’s exciting to see the improvement every couple weeks. This TED talk research shows that using humor that leads to engagement is a key to great communication. I’ve studied today’s Christian communicators and I have found this to be true. Peruse this short article for more insights.
By Bill Murphy Jr., Inc. Magazine, 5/16/19.
by Paloma Cantero-Gomez, Forbes Magazine, 5/9/19.
“…there are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” (Mark Twain).
However, there are also thousands of different tips that can help you to rock it and even enjoy it.
1. Start with a shocking fact
2. Introduce your project/product by comparing to other more successful projects/products
3. Make it interactive
4. Make the slide visual. Avoid text
5. Ask for questions. Praise people’s questions. Answer questions
6. Take notes of people’s inputs
7. Ask the audience for takeaways
Every excellent presentation ends with a neat list of key takeaways. Engaging speakers do not provide them for free but work together with the audience, so actually, it is the audience who came up with the main findings…
by Carmine Gallo, Forbes Magazine, 2/28/19.
Cognitive scientists have a reasonably good idea of when audiences will stop listening to a presentation. It occurs at the 10-minute mark...Neuroscientists have found that the best way to re-engage a person’s attention when it begins to wane is to change up the format of the content.
1. Introduce Characters
There aren’t too many commercially successful one-person plays. Few people can pull it off…. include members of the team. Hand off a portion of the presentation…
2. Show Videos
If you can’t bring someone else along, do the next big thing and show a video… Apple does this with nearly every keynote when they show a video of chief designer, Jony Ive, describing the features of a particular product…
3. Use Props
Steve Jobs was a master at using props. In 1984, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first Macintosh out of a black bag like a magician. But he did. In 2001, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first iPod out of the pocket of his jeans. But he did. In 2008, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first MacBook Air from a manila envelope. But he did. Props are unexpected. They get attention.
4. Give Demos
Former Apple evangelist and venture capitalist, Guy Kawasaki, says demonstrations should start with “shock and awe.” In other words, don’t build up to a crescendo. Show off the coolest thing about your product in the first sixty seconds…
5. Invite Questions
A presentation shouldn’t be about you. It’s about your audience and how your product or service will improve their lives… Change it up by pausing and inviting questions before you move on to the next section.
by Sarah Watts, Forbes Magazine, 2/22/19.
A new study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion has some interesting findings about gender and God.
…Kent and co-author Christopher M. Pieper, PhD analyzed data from nearly 1400 respondents who participated in the Baylor Religion Survey. In addition to being asked about frequency of church attendance and frequency of prayer, respondents were also asked questions about attachment, such as whether they felt like God is loving and caring, or whether they felt He was distant and uninterested in their day-to-day life. Respondents were also asked questions about Biblical literalism, including whether they believed the Bible contained any human error, and whether it should be taken word-for-word on all subjects as a historical text.
…more so than gender, researchers found that Biblical literalism is tied to a person’s attachment to God. In other words, the more personally attached to God a respondent was, male or female, the more likely he or she was to interpret the Bible literally.
People who take the Bible literally tend to percieve of God more as a person who can be interacted with,” says Kent. “You can talk to God, he hears you, he talks back. Our argument is essentially that in order to sustain a personal relationship with God as a person, one has to take the Bible literally because this is how the Bible presents God. He’s a being that talks to prophets and prophets talk back.”
Biblical literalism is also not exclusively tied to any religious group, Kent says.
“People who look at religion tend to associate literalism with evangelicals,” says Kent. “What we found is that if we break out each of these religious groups – Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics – we found that you have literalists in each of these categories. There’s more of a relationship between literalism and close personal attachment to God than there is to denomination.”
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In almost 30 years of consulting hundreds of churches, the one weakness that recurs most often is that the sermon is slightly too long (I’ve estimated by about 20%). Subsequently, in my own life I’ve kept my sermons shorter than people anticipate (and usually people seem to appreciate this – but this of course could be because of the speaker 😉
Therefore I found it interesting that a Harvard study found that most people spend too long in a conversation. Here is some key takeaways from the article.
“Want to be a master conversationalist? Harvard Research says you have to fix this first”
by Wanda Thibodeaux, Harvard Business Review 12/5/18.