“Real Artists Ship”

Colin Johnson’s blog


Archive for April, 2020

The Diversity of my Interests (2)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

(no, I don’t know where “boxing gloves and pads” came from either)

Repetition and Communication

Friday, April 17th, 2020

As I so often say, repetition is a key point in communication.

I’ve been in endless meetings about, for example, student induction, where we have a futile discussion about how to present lots of information. On one hand, should we present it all at once – the single, long induction event, where we try to tell everyone everything. No, we shouldn’t! People will get bored, they won’t take much in, they’ll be frightened by the amount of information. But no! If we don’t tell everyone everything up front, they’ll be confused and anxious. They won’t know what’s what, and before we know it, we’ll have people picking up random wrong information here and there. Better to get it out the way at the beginning.

Why not both? Start with the big, comprehensive, presentation, but recognise (and be clear that) people won’t be taking everything in. There’ll be reminders! There’s a reference here where you can look things up! If you don’t know, ask this person! That way, we give people a framework from which they can take the gist, and then we remind them, and repetition makes for a stronger memory (“stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”).

I think a lot of people have internalised an idea that (one-to-many) communication of information/procedures/policies should be a one-shot thing. If you’re not communicating everything, perfectly, at your first attempt, then you’d damn well better make it better so that it does come across. I don’t know where this pernicious idea comes from.

Perhaps I’ve had it squeezed out of me through years of studying complex maths and similar topics. When I was at university, it was clear that you weren’t going to get the topics right away. You’d go to a lecture, and perhaps get the broad idea, but then you’d need to spend ages reading the book – over and over again – trying problems, working out your own examples, before you really grokked the idea. Indeed, there was a useful piece of guidance about reading maths textbooks in our student handbook – “sometimes it’ll take an hour or two to understand how to go from one line to the next”.

As I said earlier, let’s embrace repetition. Again, and again.