#220: It Turns Out You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!

It turns out old dogs like me can learn a lot from the young crop of Gen Z students emerging from our college campuses.

Old Dog New Tricks

This was my fourth year teaching a class in Sales and Sales Management at Azusa Pacific University. This year’s class of 40 dwarfed last year’s class of 20 students and was equally divided between juniors and seniors.

Feedback from the students last year made it clear they wanted a diverse mix of teaching methods. Given their short attention span, hour-long lectures in a three-hour class just didn’t cut it. Variety is not only the spice of life; it is absolutely necessary for a classroom of Gen Z’s!

My goal this year was to really mix it up by making the class far more experiential and less dependent on lecture:

  • To create a simulated workplace team environment, I divided the class into eight teams of five students each based on their Strengthfinders results. Students were assigned to groups so that each of the four Strengthfinder Leadership Domains (Executing, Influencing, Relationship, and Strategic Thinking) were represented in each group.
  • The teams worked together on two major assignments: creating a sales training manual for a company of their choosing and teaching their fellow students by presenting the contents of one chapter of our text.
  • Role play exercises in six of our 13 sessions were designed to give the students an opportunity to practice selling skills in the classroom.
  • In one class session, students were required to present key learnings to the class gleaned from a published article on sales.
  • Three sales training videos demonstrating elements of the sales process were used to show how selling skills discussed in class came to life in a selling situation.
  • Short quizzes were given covering the material in each chapter every week. Scheduling quizzes as we covered material ensured that students stayed up to date and eliminated the need to “cram” for a midterm or a final exam.
  • Students were each required to write six short case study papers over the course of the semester.

Overall, the objective of this mix of group and independent work assignments was to give students an opportunity to learn while also developing their presentation skills with the support of their peers.

What I Learned from Their Feedback

I give my students a feedback form during our last class session asking three questions 1) What was helpful that we should keep doing, 2) What was unhelpful that we should stop doing, and 3) What would you do differently?

1) What should we keep doing? The interactive exercises, especially the role plays, were a hit with the majority of the students. Students also liked having the weekly quizzes following the lecture because it helped reinforce what they learned that week.

2) What should we stop doing? Long (45-60 minute) lectures were mentioned several times as pushing the limits of their attention span. Allowing student groups to teach a chapter was not as effective as I’d hoped because other students felt they didn’t learn as much. Finally, the training videos were somewhat dated and failed to impress this YouTube generation.

3) What would you do differently? The class had a number of excellent suggestions for improving the learning environment in the class. Several students thought a guest speaker who was currently in a sales role would be a great addition to the learning experience. Doing even more role plays and doing them in small groups rather than as a whole class was suggested to allow more people to get more practice. Finally, several students suggested in-class discussions of the case studies as a way of reinforcing what was taught in the text.

What I’ll Do as a Result

As always, the student’s feedback is a valuable tool for me to improve as a teacher and to develop a learning framework that will be beneficial for the majority of the students. My plans for next semester include:

  • Reducing the lecture time even more to allow more time for interactive role plays and class discussion.
  • Maintain the weekly quiz schedule and the requirement to write case studies.
  • Devote time during the class to discussion of the weekly case study.
  • Bring in a sales representative one week to teach the class and talk about their personal experiences.
  • Abandon the dated videos. I’ll look for something that is relevant to the material in the class with a higher production value.
  • Rethink the way the team projects are completed. Although it was intended to get them to work together, this group did most of their “teamwork” independently and then just assembled the results.

Lesson for Leaders

Peter exhorted believers to “…use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

Leaders, to be effective, we need to learn and adapt to the changing environment. We need to stay on top of our game by using the gifts God has given us to serve others.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this year’s class is that every class is different. What worked well last year may not work well at all this year. Building relationships and engaging with the people in our organizations is the very best way to ensure that we are serving them well.

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. What lessons about developing and leading people have you learned from others?

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Category: Skills | Human Resource Development

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4 thoughts on “#220: It Turns Out You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!

  1. Ron, awesome analysis and feedback and a willingness to change and improve the student learning experience. Excellent listening skills. The fact that you even care for this type of 360 view is impressive. Wish more people would consider relationship and get feedback. Insightful for us and me personally.

    • Thanks, Jim! Something else I asked the students was to give me the name of a professor whose class they really connected with and why. As I sort through their responses my plan is to interview professors who are mentioned multiple times. I figure their experience will propel my growth curve. Search and reapply learning!

  2. Hands on role playing definitely engages more than long lectures. Another thought is to video tape an hour lecture into theee segments and make it homework to watch, thus reducing the hour long experience into bite size chunks!

    • John,
      Like so many things, we have the textbook learning and the experiential learning. I really feel like the experiential learning is the most important element of this class and am really struggling to find the right mix and balance to keep people fully engaged. Someone else recently challenged me to video record parts of the lectures. I’m going to have to put some serious thought into how I can do it to make it fun, engaging, and a good learning exercise! Thanks!