Reflections on a “Magical” #lrnchat – Early Edition 03 Feb

The early edition of #lrnchat this week had a very special topic: Magic.

I get a real charge out of these innovative approaches to the chats. Sadly, I had a scheduling overlap so I’m combining my observations from the early part of the chat with a review of the transcript, along with a few of my own thoughts.

Everyone has their own impressions about the idea of Magic. Whether they consider it from the viewpoint of illusionists or seeing something happening in their lives that fills them with wonder, many believe there is Magic all around us.

Our first question to ponder got us thinking about our own interpretations of, or reactions to, the word “Magic” (Q1). I found it curious that some of these reactions were negative. Some people think they’re being fooled. I know that what I am seeing isn’t “real” but I know I like being “fooled” in that situation, so I’m willing to suspend a little disbelief. There’s probably an element of information culture that plays into these more negative reactions. We in developed cultures have greater bodies of knowledge than someone who might only be able to perceive a similar illusion as something akin to witchcraft. But as I think about it, when we’re in that learner-teacher dynamic, the Learners may see the end result of the Teacher effort as “Magical”, simply because that experience or skill may be beyond what the learner can explain, do, or articulate.

It was interesting to see the individual emotions expressed when the question was posed about reactions to stage magic (Q2). The reactions ranged from emotional immersion in the experience to the rampant skepticism one might expect in situations like that. I see parallels in learning where you see the the full spectrum of learner engagement. What I don’t think you see as frequently in learning situations is the “how did you do that?” reaction, at least, not in face-to-face settings.

In our field we draw on many sources, and Im intrigued by what L&D professionals can learn from stage magic (Q3). This question seemed to force a lot of thinking among the participants and there were far fewer answers here. From my viewpoint, I think stage setting is critical; both physical and logical/virtual/emotional. Adults are responsible for their own learning, so you have to ensure you’ve done your bit before they enter into the experience, but also be flexible enough to adapt to individual learner results and feedback. I also see an important lesson in that a stage magician wants everyone to see the elephant disappear, or see the woman return whole after being sawn in half. L&D is a little different because while we may want to achieve a certain objective, more adaptability is required to help achieve that aim. Someone like David Copperfield will rehearse an illusion in a very specific way and it will be performed in a very specific way. However, anyone in the learning field trying that is likely not to get the results they desire. It’s also important to remember the requirement for interactivity in the learning process. Stage Magic tends to use people as props, whereas learning participants need to be far more than that in order for the learning to happen.

It’s interesting to also consider what magic and learning have in common (Q4). I’m in general agreement with the participants that there are time and emotional investments in play if either practitioner wants to be successful. Sure, there may have been times when I have been forced to deliver content I’m not as familiar with as I’d like, but I can draw on the “profits” of my investment in facilitation and delivery techniques to cover a shortfall in content expertise. I will note that it’s a somewhat risky approach and just because you occasionally get lucky doesn’t mean you should fly by the seat of your pants all the time. Sadly, I see a lot of stakeholders who dont genuinely appreciate those personal and professional investments and expect “automagic” results. Maybe it’s worth revisiting what we should be doing to better convey our requirements for success.

Finally, we have to consider what Magical elements we want to incorporate into our learning efforts (Q5). I think this is important for all of us to consider, becauseI believe there should be an element of showmanship in everything we put before the learner. However, it was pointed out by @jzurovchak that we have to be careful that “magic” doesn’t become illusory or that it is perceived as trickery. In other words, the “show should not outstrip the message. I see a genuine implication there when designing or planning immersive learning or game-based learning.

In many respects, Clark Quinn’s comment sums it up well for me. He says,

learning, like stage magic, is about facilitating an experience, not providing one.

I find this a wonderfully constructivist viewpoint. As each learner goes through the meaning-making process, they create that personalized reality. Each experience is unique, and each person will see something different.

That, folks, is where the magic really lies.


Posted on February 4, 2012, in commentary, lrnchat, reflection, thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Mark,

    I like your last paragraph and ending with that quote from Clark Quinn. You get at the heart of it for sure. It’s magic….


  2. Thanks, Brent. Clark is always good for a quote and he definitely pulled these comments all together. Someone might be able to explain all the brain science, but it will always be magical to me.

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