The UX of Teaching UX

Tell me, and I will forget.
Show me, and I may remember.
Involve me, and I will understand.
– Confucius, BC 450

Sounds good, right?  Confucius had a way with words.  However, reality is more murky and messy.  How exactly do you involve someone to achieve the best results? The goals are pretty straight-forward: (I think)

  1. Learn quickly
  2. Learn with solid fundamentals
  3. Don’t create bad habits
  4. Maintain energy and interest of student
  5. Progress towards more depth/complexity

There is a designer that I am teaching.  He prefers that I let him design something and then I give him feedback.  I am not sure this is a good way to learn, despite it being his preference.  He is wasting an enormous amount of time doing things the wrong way.  He is not realizing it is the wrong way, until I point out the flaws.  He is making bad designs and  learning slowly.

On the flip side, if I just show him what to design, he was complaining that he wasn’t using his own brain enough.  He was making good designs (and I believe learning), but disliking the process.

There must be some middle ground here.

I think one of the problems is that he is smart and energetic and young.  These kinds of people think they can do anything if they put their minds to it. (and often they can!)  Life is there for the taking. Carpe Diem!  I was like this myself when I was younger.

When I was learning UX, there was no one to teach me.  I was forced to design experiences and architect products for customers.  I had to fake it.  I learned by doing, not from choice, but because I did not have a design master for whom I could apprentice.  I learned from everything I saw, read and heard.  However, it took me years and years to get good.

In the olden days, blacksmiths (and other craftsman) took apprentices.  The master didn’t let students learn by their own methods and give feedback.  Masters told apprentices what to do and they did it without question.  Then eventually, they would go out on their own and start their own shop.  I’m not advocating indentured servitude.  I am only pointing out how the cultural expectations of learning a craft have changed in recent history.

I have taught many people aspects of UX.  I have incorporated different techniques at different times.  Still, I am trying to learn how best to teach.  One thing has been scratching my mind.

Some people learn much faster than others.

This isn’t ground breaking.  Nature vs. Nurture, right?  I am really wondering how much my teaching makes a difference at all.  Are some people just going to be better students?  Is it the latent talent inside?

I have no answers here, only questions.  I don’t trust any of the answers I see online.  Their sample sizes are too small and there are too few designers out there who even create worthwhile products.  The world needs more great designers, but I am unconvinced it is a matter of teaching.  It may just be a matter of economics:  Like if we paid more for teachers we might get better teachers.

Definitely something to ponder more.

2 replies on “The UX of Teaching UX”

The young, eager to learn mind, has a different approach based on the very concept of being the young and less experienced mind. If that mind is truly eager to learn, then each of the numerous mistakes is an example and a learning experience in itself. It appears less efficient to the more experienced mind because of the inefficiency of achieving the desired result. What is easily dismissed is that something different may be learned from each of the failures that may not be applicable now, but may be applicable to other situations later. Additionally, the mistakes made that lead to the final success place a greater weight of achievement for the success that exceeds simply being told the ‘right answer.’ The difficulty is in measuring (or even being aware of) the peripheral learning that is or isn’t happening during the failed approaches.

The younger mind has two significant psychological differences from the older mind. One is the immortality factor that places goal before schedule. The “I will complete this if it take forever.” attitude. The other is the ego based need to prove to one’s self that they are capable of solving a problem without help.

The older mind is often more concerned with the goal than with the process. The older one gets (generally) the more time-sensitive tasks become. Often, the older mind remembers the process, but often forgets the time that was required to build that internal experience. Additionally, the experienced mind often relents to time when it comes to patience to learn. The experienced mind will often, falsely, assume that most experience transfers freely from one skill to another. This will create frustration when trying to learn a new skill for which no foundational skills already exist. The mere fact of experience MUST make learning the new skill easier. Sadly, the abundance of experience in other areas may not transfer easily if at all to the new skill and therefore cause frustration. This is particularly true when there is a perception that existing skills are very similar to a new skill.

I have always learned more from failures than successes. Through failure, we can easily see what can be fixed and improved. For successes, this isn’t so easy. But in want of learning, for me, I believe the following is fairly accurate and consistent:

“If you think you can, or think you can’t, either way, your right.”

Whatya think?