Ending up in the audience

Steve Roesler: Tom, This is one of my favorite topics. (using experts wisely)

Tom: Thanks for stopping by. It's a favorite of mine also.

Steve: I've always thought of my role as an orchestra leader who, at some point in the concert, joins the band. By the end of the program--if I've done my job well--I'm sitting in the audience applauding.

Tom: That's a great metaphor for anyone providing useful information. When we experts "end up in audience", we have shared power, seen viewpoints outside our own and valued the "total production" after the end users joined in.

Steve: One of the most lethal dynamics in consulting/facilitating takes place when the "expert" views the others as "patients" who have "problems." These kinds of "experts" see their clients as "sick" in some way...and the clients pick up on that very quickly and with understandable resentment.

Tom: Excellent insights! I've seen the same dynamic with product designers/tech salespeople who find the customer to be "too stupid to appreciate a good product". Likewise with college professors who think the students' failing the course is no reflection of them, their teaching methods or their approach to providing useful information. In every case, fingers are getting pointed at "sick patients with problems" by experts with some kind of immunity from responsibility and involvement. So much for making music together with the end users.

Steve: Experts walking into any situation would serve themselves well by asking, "What am I going to learn by being with these folks today?" They will be pleasantly surprised.

Tom: The folks will be surprised by the seeming authenticity, emotional availability and integrity of the expert. They will inspired by the know-it-all actually learning something from them. They will be amazed at how much more confident they will feel when joined in making music together. Thanks for harmonizing!


  1. You wrote "In every case, fingers are getting pointed at "sick patients with problems" by experts with some kind of immunity from responsibility and involvement. So much for making music together with the end users."

    I agree with much of what you said except that at some point the student/organization does need to take responsibility for their learning. I see increasingly the attitude that ALL failure is due to poor teaching. I find I am open to learning from my students, but at some point they need to take charge of their own learning. I am so disappointed that many feel if I don't give them "the correct answer" I either don't have expertise in that subject (so why am I teaching) or a poor teacher since they "can't learn".

    The current educational system is going to begin to creep into the workplace within the next 4 years (most college freshman and sophomores are products of NCLB)in which students have been educated to only do what the test requires (above and behind may translate into lower grades)and to look to the teacher for any short-comings in their knowledge (it's not my fault, I was never taught it, therefore, you must require me to learn it before I will study it).

  2. Thanks for these thoughts, Virginia.

    I find it impossible to resolve issues of responsibility in a context of irresponsible blaming and self pity. When I've succeeded at creating a context for authentic learning in my college classes, I framed the responsibility issue as follows: It's the students' responsibility to have personal experiences and relate what is being taught to those experiences. If the material only relates to experiences of getting lectured, tested and graded, they have not done the work of connecting the dots to really troubling situations in their lives. It's then my responsibility to frame the material as if I am providing useful information for solving the kinds of problems they will face in their lives, jobs and relationships. I do not want the learners to imitate my understanding of the material. I want them to develop idiosyncratic appreciations, in the same spirit as this explosion of self expression called Web 2.0. Authentic learning is intrinsic and cannot be measured by tests of comprehension.

    By setting it up that way, I have been "blown away by the feedback" I received, much like you wrote about on your blog: ( ). Until you suggested it here, I had not realized an implication of NCLB would be blaming the instructors for any learning failure and indulging the learners' chronic desire to tell victim stories about their educational experiences. I do see the academic and legislative systems as responsible for lowering expectations and suppressing differences between learners. I've explored those issues extensively on my other blog: Clues to College Blues.

    Perhaps we're close to hitting bottom on these dreadful "passivity and dependency" expectations you're facing in your students.