July 28, 2019

Your role as an educator, how you can help your business to learn

By Paul Laughlin

Over the last 2 months I have been lecturing MSc students, so I’ve pondered your role as an educator.

Although we focus on Customer Insight or Data Science leaders being technical, much of their roles are education. Whether you focus on Data, Analytics, Research, Data Science or Database Marketing – I bet you face education challenges.

Think of the last time you needed to pass knowledge onto your team. Have you had to educate your board or executive committee? Do you need to be an educator to ensure your peers engage with insights that could improve your business?

It is due to pondering these thoughts that I have had an education theme for this month’s blog content. I’ve also been primed to keep my eyes and ears open for related content online. So, in this post, I’d like to share some other posts & podcasts that have helped me think through how leaders like you can be more effective educators.

Learning about powerful teaching as a leader

I’ve previously recommended the excellent Coaching for Leaders podcast, hosted by Dave Stachowiak. I’m still a fan and regular listener.

So, the following commentary from Dave caught my attention at the beginning of a new episode:

Almost every leadership role calls on us to develop the skills of others. Yet, most leaders have never had any formal training or even a simple course on how to teach.

Given my focus for this blog this month, I was hooked. Well, it was well worth a listen. His guest, Pooja Agarwal shares so much relevant research and advice for leaders with this challenge. The benefits of practicing retrieval of what you’ve previously learnt really struck me. Plus, the research that you should learn via multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic), rather than just my preferred style.

Listen to hear what you can learn from this fascinating interview. Pooja shares how you can improve your effectiveness of your teaching. It sounds well worth also investing in her latest book “Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning“.

Help People Learn, with Pooja Agarwal – Coaching for Leaders

Pooja Agarwal is an expert in the field of cognitive science and is passionate about bridging gaps between education and the science of learning. She is the founder of and Assistant Professor at the Berklee College of Music, teaching psychological science to exceptional undergraduate musicians.

Being aware of cognitive load when training

The podcast episode above also inspired me to look further into the Information Processing model of human memory. It formed the basis of Pooja’s point about the importance of retrieval as much as encoding. It also inspirted me to include a ‘pop quiz‘ in the final lecture of my part of MSc Data Science programme, which appeared to help students.

Whilst researching that model and its implications, I also came across this useful blog post from With several useful embedded videos, it explains the importance of considering cognitive load when training.

If you are to be a successful educator or your team, you need to ensure your approach avoids excessive cognitive load. Are you for instance expecting them to think about a generalised theory & apply to specific examples at the same time? Well worth considering as you structure any education.

If the theory does not do it for you, you can always skip to the final video. That is helpfully simple visual summary from PowToon, which focusses on how to apply the theory. Enjoy thinking about yourself as a teacher – the very point that Dave was making at the start of earlier podcast.

Cognitive Load Theory: Helping People Learn Effectively | Cleverism

Have you attended a training p program or classroom where you could not remember anything because the course material was too complex? Or, you could not grasp any knowledge because the instructor went through the course with the speed of light? Such poorly designed programs can cause more harm to the growth of any student than good.

Democratise your role as an educator – how to encourage team teaching

Hopefully you have found it useful to consider the recommendations from that podcast & videos. However, I am also conscious that we live in a time when the role of leaders is changing.

Not only are most leaders moving away from command & control styles of leadership, the way they work with their teams is changing. Alongside the techniques within Agile development models, is a different philosophy to getting things done. One that emphasises teamwork & cooperation.

So, how might this apply to the need for training & your role as an educator leader. Well, my final recommended post suggests enabling your employees to better learn from each other. I’d be hard pressed to find a more established leadership publication than Harvard Business Review, so this is a serious suggestion.

In this post, Kelly Palmer & David Blake (co-authors of “The Expertise Economy“) share the results of their research. This includes not only surveys of current practice, but Kelly’s experience when leading on learning at LinkedIn. Lots of interesting ideas and 4 helpful best practices to establish peer-to-peer learning.

How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other

Executive Summary Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful development tool that breaks through some common barriers to skill-building-and it taps into the expertise that already exists in your organization. People learn new skills best in any situation that includes all four stages of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned.

How could you improve as an Educator Leader?

Thanks for reading this far. I hope that recommended content was useful and has got you thinking about your own leadership.

If so, I encourage you now to pause and identify one thing you will do differently within 2 weeks. Committing to even a small behavioural change as soon as possible is a great way to also improve your learning.

If nothing else, Customer Insight teams & their leaders should surely be exemplars of lifelong learning. Enjoy learning & teaching this year.