I see Scrum Alliance certification classes advertised this way all of the time. Declaring minimal to no, to 100% no PowerPoints in the classes. And it’s not only the Scrum Alliance classes, but many other organizations and trainers proudly declare it.

One of the trends that have influenced this is the work of Sharon Bowman and her Training from the Back of the Room approach to adult learning. I attended the training a few years ago and it definitely changed the way I approach constructing classes, the learning, and the medium/mechanisms I used to foster the learning.

That being said, I don’t have a class today that is 100% PowerPoint-free. I just don’t feel that PowerPoint is inherently bad in its use for training. I view it as simply a tool, one of many, that I leverage. But clearly, I’m a Dinosaur in my thinking, as not many others view things the same way.

Death by PowerPoint

I think one of the reactions driving these statements is the scar tissue that poorly constructed and delivered PowerPoint classes has done to people. You can see it in their eyes of countless students who have been forced to sit through such training.

The other part of the problem is we all learn in different ways. Some of us prefer PowerPoints done well and learn quite effectively that way. Others of us want a more experiential and collaborated approach, where the learning emerges instead of us being told it. Information density is also a challenge. Especially when we’re trying to convey complex information or problems.

My Key Point

Instead of focusing on the tools, PowerPoint vs. TFTBOTR vs. any other technique, I’d rather we focus on the INSTRUCTOR or TEACHER!

For example, the Scrum Alliance has created a program called the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) I and II level, classes. It’s focused towards helping traditional leaders move their skills, tactics, and mindset towards agile approaches.

There are about 50 CAL instructors worldwide. But when you look under the covers, only about 30% of them have actually held significant leadership positions for greater than 5 years. That is, they have what I would honestly call leadership experience.

The even more telling aspect of this is that 2/3 of the overall instructors are teaching something that they themselves have never practiced. And my experience implies that this happens a lot. Or if the instructor does have the experience, they aren’t a good teacher. Or they present Death by PowerPoint and simply read the slides.

Learning format to me is a much lesser consideration than the experience and skill of the person teaching you. By orders of magnitude.

To that point, I wish the class descriptions would spend more time sharing on the detailed qualifications of and the demonstrated skills of the instructor. Showing us WHY we should be listening to them not only in their academic experience but, importantly, in their real-world experience.

And in the case of the CAL, I’m NOT talking about consulting to leaders as counting towards leadership experience. That doesn’t count. I’m talking about direct experience in the roles and activities you are trying to teach.

Wrapping Up

Instead of:

  • 100% PowerPoint free or
  • 100% games and experiential learning or
  • 100% anecdotal evidence or
  • 100% Lego’s
  • 100% I’ve never practiced what I’m teaching…

I’d rather instructors start focusing their class marketing (and their teaching) from an honest assessment of priority on their own experience. I.e., they have 100% relevant experience.

Meaning

  1. Don’t teach something if you haven’t done that something in a significant way in the real world.
  2. When you teach, teach by sharing stories from your direct experience. Stories of success, stories of failure, and stories of your learnings.
  3. Teach using a variety of effective techniques, for example – PowerPoint, games & simulations, TFTBOTR techniques, etc. Don’t get stuck in any one way of creating a learning ecosystem.
  4. Consider your audience and teach to their context. This sort of situational teaching is only possible from a position of deep experience.

So, the next time you’re investigating taking a course from an agile trainer, ANY agile trainer, ask them about or research their background. Demand to be taught by someone who has been there, done that and understands all sides of the topic. You are paying for and deserve nothing less!

BTW: I have nearly 20 years of senior technical leadership experience, skills, and learning in my background. Now the years aren’t the most important thing. But the experience makes a significant difference in my Certified Agile Leadership class experience. I welcome you to sign-up for one of my classes to experience the difference experience makes! And yes, I will be using some PowerPoints…

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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