How to optimize communication for understanding (hint: prove the model).

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I loved teaching, and I loved my students. Unlike many teachers that I heard complaining, my favorites were always second language learners and special needs students. These students were a continuous challenge because they required me to think critically about how I delivered the content of our lessons. The challenge, I found, was often matched with the joy celebrated with these students’ successes.

Of course, there are the modes of learning to consider (visual, kinesthetic, etc.)–not everyone absorbs content best through text.  Then language, setting, mode of collaboration, and individual experience all come in to play. For every lesson. 8-15 times a day, five days a week, for 180 days.

A smart teacher learns pretty quick that the best way to refine your instruction is to see student assessments as a test of your teaching. Test to establish a baseline, implement lesson, test to determine success, refine lesson, test to determine success. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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Hang on, you’re saying to yourself, this is starting to sound like a very smart way to optimize anything. It is, indeed.

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Even better, I got tons of experience viewing my product through the eyes of my customers. I learned how to not take prior knowledge for granted. I learned how to use predictability to increase understanding. I learned how to remove distractions. These, in my experience, are the tenets of good usability and feature design. I’ve had amazing opportunities that have allowed me to prove the model. I’ve used these learnings to inform feature design for highly intuitive websites, processes, and mobile apps.

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Epilogue

Teaching took me out of the startup world for about five years. In retrospect, it was the right thing for two reasons. Obviously, the opportunity to experience the joys and hardships of teaching in such difficult settings is something that has shaped my capacity for empathy and my outlook on social justice. Now I find that all of those hours spent trying to meet the needs of such exceptional children has actually equipped me to meed the needs of online audiences. Transferrable skills, for real.

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What to read next: I re-entered technology as the primary business associate of a serial entrepreneur which, I think, was better than an MBA.

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