Don't Quote Me On That...

I’ve blogged before that I read a lot. A lot. At any given time I seem to have 3-4 books going via audio book, physical book, or eBook, not to mention reviews and summaries of books to see if I should add them to the list.


One of my favorite things is when I come across a quotation in one of those works that I think is worth sharing. (In fact, I typically log them for use in a keynote or a blog, such as this!) During my visit to Kansas University so as to perform their Convocation last week, someone asked me if I had a list of “great quotes” I could send them. As I don’t really store them in that fashion (but maybe should?), this will have to suffice. Here are some of my favorite quotes in and around the ideas of learning, motivation, systems thinking, communication, and everything else I work through on a daily basis. Enjoy:

My favorite quote of 2018 came from George Siemens at the SEEDS conference. He captured in a few sentences a huge swath of my life’s work:

“I wonder when it will become illegal to teach by lecture. No longer worthy of the placebo effect in experiments, the mounting evidence is so clear that active learning strategies are better in every measurable way, I wonder when Do-No-Harm will be invoked in the classroom?”

I’ve ended 9 out of 10 keynotes with the following quote from John Medina, the neuroscientist who wrote the book, “Brain Rules.” It really is a fantastic “cherry” on top of the sundae that should be learning reform.

“As I was writing Brain Rules, it hit me [that] if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing, you would design something like a classroom.“

As someone who has had ‘innovation’ in two titles and someone who is often asked to speak about innovation, I think of the following piece of advice as one of the most crucial for the success of almost any organization or institution when it comes to the practice of innovation. This comes from Dyers (et al) who wrote, “The Innovator’s DNA.”

“…top executives do not feel personally responsible for coming up with strategic innovations. Rather, they feel responsible for facilitating the innovation process. In stark contrast, senior executives of the most innovative companies—a mere 15% in our study—don’t delegate creative work. They do it themselves.“

When illustrating the point that lecture is so painfully bad, yet still used by professor after professor, I go back to this oldie, but goodie. Dan Pink’s work on motivation is powerful, but this quote speaks to a litany of things, including how people learn.

“There is a significant gap between what scientists know about how our brains work and what organizational behaviorists will tell you our institutions do.“

This one is painful. It’s a description, by (essentially) the man who architected public education in our nation, describing the inputs and outputs. The point is that the output was never really intended to be critically thinking learners, but direction followers. We now expect something else entirely, yet don’t seem to do much to change the inputs. From Ellwood Cubberley,

“All focus must remain at the front for the teacher, the chalkboard, and the information, with students in rows, quietly reading books, and absorbing information, only speaking when spoken to and only taking breaks when bells ring, promoting isolation and fear will create the working class America needs.“

If you read my stuff very often or have seen me speak in the last few years, you know my affinity for the book, “Make it Stick.” This work illustrates beautifully why our old ways of promoting learning are often very flawed, despite the notion that we still promote them!

“Concentrated study sessions of re-reading, reviewing and highlighting text passages are not effective nor should anyone spend time doing so.“

Speaking of old ways of doing, Carl Wieman got in on the lecture bandwagon. He promoted the following question in a “challenge” to all science instructors, later discovering that almost nobody paid any attention (or at least changed much of anything)…

“How can you justify the use of lectures in light of solid research showing that this isn’t a very effective way to even get students to retain information, let alone understand concepts?“

Cathy N Davidson wrote an excellent primer on the idea that learning should change as living has also changed, but goes even further, explaining what learning essentially is. The notion dovetails nicely with other thoughts from neuroscience and learning science alike, but it’s a favorite quote of mine.

"Learning is the constant disruption of an old pattern, a breakthrough that substitutes something new for something old. And then the process starts again.“

Finally, tying together all of my old talks with my new ones, the notion of a networked public, connection, and non-cognitive thinking, tied to learning are deftly described in this Michael Stallard quote from Connection Culture.

“A lack or a deficiency of connection makes people feel unsupported, left out or lonely. When we feel disconnected, our bodies move into a state called “stress response,” which triggers a “fight or flight” readiness. That’s good if we are facing a short-term threat, such as being mugged or needing to help someone who is hurt. But it becomes a problem when people are stuck in a constant state of stress response because they will always feel disconnected. Research has shown that feeling disconnected over time sabotages our productivity and happiness, and shaves years off of our life expectancy. . . . . However, many colleges are under enormous financial pressures to do more with fewer resources to support more students. This reality contributes to a drift toward indifference on campuses because people are so busy they don’t take time to develop supportive relationships. But the higher education community is beginning to see that campus culture matters..."

I hope you find these as helpful as I have! I use them a lot in my talks, my writing, and beyond. They form a nice “underpinning” for what I care a lot about. I hope you find that they help you in your work too.

Good luck and good learning.

Jeff Borden