Do you remember finding a coin on the footpath when you were a child? Or a spectacular seashell along the shore? Perhaps you’ve put your hand in your jacket pocket and pulled out a banknote you didn’t remember was there. Or come across an unexpected view while driving along an unfamiliar stretch of road. There is a wonderful feeling when you find something you didn’t know was there. This “thrill of discovery” is what helps us learn.
Your brain is designed to release a pleasurable “rush” of dopamine when you work something out for yourself. That’s why many people enjoy the challenge of crossword puzzles, Sudoku and computer games. Neuroscience shows us that the pleasure centres of the brain are engaged when people develop their own ideas. When people discover a truth for themselves, their level of comprehension, ownership and application is exponentially multiplied. There is amazing power in helping people to actively construct meaning by themselves rather than spoon-feeding them with pre-prepared conclusions. When people are actively involved in the process of constructing meaning and reaching their own conclusions, they develop stronger connections in their brain, resulting in a deeper comprehension of the topic, and more “buy-in” or “ownership” of their conclusions. They are more likely to put their learning to use in real-life situations, and to actively engage in problem solving, using what they have learned.
The greatest mistake teachers often make is to think that they have “taught” a concept simply by exposing people to it. When people listen passively, research shows they remember less, and it is only recalled when asked for directly. There is little sense of ownership of the information, as the listeners were not involved in the process of constructing it. They may only have a shallow understanding of it, as they never went through the process of thinking about it and exploring it themselves. It tends to remain theoretical and disconnected from their own life experiences. Passive listeners lose confidence in their own ability to interpret and contribute to the development of a concept. It is more powerful to learn than to be taught.
It is possible to move away from using monologue teaching in church, and replace it with dialogue/facilitated active learning methods. There are a number of user-friendly approaches to studying God’s Word in a group, which lead to greater engagement, comprehension, retention and application than sermons, and often empower people to continue to learn and teach others outside of the Sunday service. I would highly recommend Simply the Story, which we have used with our community for the past few years with amazing results. Sparkhouse are developing a similar approach called “Echo the Story“. The Discovery Bible Study is another simple, inductive approach worth a look. Josh Hunt has developed some good resources for interactive learning, mostly aimed at adult Sunday School groups, but potentially usable in a larger context. All of these methods are interactive, inductive, question-based, primarily oral approaches to studying Scripture – worlds away from the passive listening, monologue sermon.
We are in the process of developing an approach to teaching God’s Word that can be used creatively in any church context – from small to medium churches right through to very large congregations – if they are willing to embrace interactive, facilitated, active learning. In five steps, this technique will replace the sermon, engage God’s people in active learning, and give the community direct access to God’s Word. It’s called DIGS (Deeper Into God’s Story), and I’ll share more about the steps in my next post (keep an eye out for that in the next couple of days).
Have you experienced discovery learning in church? Do you prefer monologue or dialogue teaching approaches? Are there any methods you would recommend?
The following posts in the series are now up;
- Introduction: Changing the way we meet, the way we learn and the way we lead.
- Part 1: Welcome to a new era.
- Part 2: Participation changes everything.
- Part 3: Rethinking the seating arrangement.
- Part 4: Connecting through story.
- Part 5: Food and fellowship.
- Part 6: From spoon-feeding to hands-on learning.
- Part 7: Learning through shared experiences.
- Part 8: Discovery learning in church.
- Part 9: Digging deeper into God’s story.
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