Prep tools: Explain it back to someone
A few weeks back, my daughter had a day off from school, and was sitting with me at the coffee shop while I was writing up a blog post about Frame Relay. For fun, I let her help me by typing while I dictated the post. Unknowingly, she piped in doing some active listening – essentially repeating back and questioning what I said by way of confirming and refining what I had said. By the end of the post, she had the basics of Frame Relay down, at least as much of it as a 10-year-old might care to know.
Silly, meaningless anecdote? No. I think it’s another tool that you can use to help yourself study. Today’s post in the next installment in an occasional series about study tips, specifically that you can learn a lot by preparing and giving a short presentation on the topics about which you study.
The idea is a little like Toastmasters, but with the focus on content rather than delivery. Toastmasters is a club you can join to work on your presentation skills, where you get the opportunity to practice both prepared and impromptu speeches. So, what should we call the type of exercise I suggest today? Well, help me come up with a good name! I’m thinking it’s something like toastmasters for CCNA study, but that’s obviously an unwieldy name.
Here’s the idea. Pick a topic you are studying, any topic. Then pick someone you know who’s willing to listen for say… 2 minutes. Or 1 minute, or 3, but a small amount of time. Your spouse, significant other, kid, parent friend, co-worker, online contact, whatever. Anyway who’s willing to listen.
You job? Explain the topic, with two overriding goals:
1) they understand, and
2) you are accurate.
Let’s break down those two requirements in more detail. You must make this person, someone who may not understand anything about networking, to understand the concept. That’s a challenge. During your 2 minutes, you will want to go back and explain prerequisites. But when preparing, make yourself find a way to concisely get the basics across. That process exercises your brain in ways that typical read/absorb/recite/drill activities do not. (Learning theorists sometimes call this a “connect” activity.)
Goal 2: Be accurate. Duh, right? No. You can’t simplify to the point that your explanation is no longer true. The big learning point is that when preparing, if you’re unclear about some point, it’s tempting to gloass over it and describe it generally. Don’t. You know when you get a catch in your gut that tells you that you’re unsure whether something is true. And sometimes you don’t realize it until you’re three words into a sentence, and you don’t 100% believe it yourself. Part of the point of this exercise is to recognize when you’re unsure, and dig deeper.
There are no formal rules, but here’s the basic idea:
- Pick a topic that can be explained, with no interruptions, in 2 minutes.
- Prepare to explain it any way you like. Outline, scribbles, draw, prepare examples, create analogies, whatever. You don’t have to spend a ton of time, but do prepare, because that’s part of the learning.
- Practice it a time or two
- Write down the specific terms that you plan to use, PLUS the specific technical terms hidden behind the simpler terms or descriptions you will use
- Get your learner to sit and listen (and time you), and go for it!
What do you think? Good idea, or bad? Have you tried something like this?
Do you want to try it? I’m swamped at work right now, but if you want to try, and say write down your outline here, I’ll pop in and comment. And you can tell me what discoveries you made through the exercise. Here’s a sample topic, 2 minutes, and the audience is your spouse/sig other/friend who can use a computer, but isn’t an IT person.
You have three PCs (A, B, and C), each connected to switch SW1. Pick one position, and explain why it’s true: “collisions can/cannot occur in this small network”.