Can We Create “Teachable Moments”?

You can probably remember at least one “a-ha” moment in your life.

A moment when something suddenly just clicked.

That feeling of impact when you realized the importance of a concept and how it related directly to you or filled an important gap in your knowledge.

In educational circles, this is called a teachable moment.

Teachable moments are unplanned opportunities that arise in the classroom where a teacher has a chance to offer insight to their students. It requires engaging in open and honest dialogue and patience to go into any detail necessary to explain the “why” behind something.

In agricultural circles, these are high-interest, high-impact scenarios – the type of high engagement interactions many of us dream of generating more regularly.

Teachable moments are not something you plan for or contrive. Often, they will be the result of a conversational tangent and can therefore pop up anytime, anywhere.

So, while you can’t really create a teachable moment, you can be prepared for one when the opportunity arises.

Survival tips

In his 1952 book “Human Development and Education”, Robert Havighurst wrote “A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’ It is important to keep in mind that unless the time is right, learning will not occur. Hence, it is important to repeat important points whenever possible so that when a student’s teachable moment occurs, s/he can benefit from the knowledge.” (Italics are mine.)

Teachable moments are found at a crossroads: when two conversation partners simultaneously collide at the corner of Subject of Common Concern and Inquisitiveness. 

In terms of the farm to consumer conversation, this collision occurs when something about food production and/or farming practices has sparked a consumer’s curiosity. Both the asker and the askee have a common interest in exploring the topic at hand: the asker has noticed a gap in their knowledge (gaps are psychologically uncomfortable) and the askee is eager to engage and fill that gap with the correct information.

Crucially, the timing of a teachable moment must be right. How do we know when that is? When someone has become self-aware about a gap and consequently makes a conscious effort to seek out information to fill that gap, they are open to learning at that point. Self-identifying for a learning opportunity generates a psychological effect that means not only will they remember the information more easily, but the simple act of seeking out that information on their own makes the moment and the information all that more relevant and meaningful.

You should also repeat your key takeaways in many different ways. One of them is almost guaranteed to resonate and stick.

You also need to understand the importance of interacting on a brain-to-brain level, that is understanding the mechanics behind how people receive, store, process, and retrieve information. Critically, this means interacting in real time, face-to-face in the analog world (a.k.a. the real word!).

To truly understand what constitutes a teachable moment, you need to be finely attuned to where someone is on the knowledge spectrum and be willing to meet them where they’re at.

With some practice, you’ll start to recognize teachable moment triggers, that is, the types of questions that prompt people to open up, share opinions, and start to ask questions. Allowing for a natural conversation rhythm (don’t force it) and ample time to explore the topic at hand (don’t rush it) can sometimes precipitate the birth of a moment.

Spontaneous teachable moments can – and often do – come when least expected. They are uniquely high interest-high impact; it matters how we respond in these moments.

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