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Teach With This Trait in Mind: Task-Oriented

Teach the WordThis is the third article in a five-part series by Prof. Stephen Geiger, who teaches education and New Testament at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the seminary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Sunday morning adult Bible class is not the time to teach people how to use a new computer program.

But if it were, you might insist that every class member bring a computer. Why? You can talk in theory about how to create a new document in Microsoft OneNote, but learners will better remember what you teach if they can try it out immediately. Putting learning to work promotes learning.

We are looking at five key characteristics of adult learners. Adult learners are self-directed, experienced, task-oriented, problem-solving, and interested in immediate application. Today's focus? Adults are task-oriented. Said another way, adults benefit from active learning. While adults are certainly capable of acquiring information by sheer force of memorization, they appreciate putting a concept into practice as soon as possible. “Give me a truth. Then let me do something with it to ensure that I understand what you have just taught me.”

What kinds of activities can one do in a Bible study? “Task-oriented” makes sense when teaching someone how to use a computer program, but how could my teaching of a Sunday morning Bible class be different if I keep this particular trait in mind?

  • Make me practice: If brief lecture teaches how to open a new document in a computer program, sitting down and actually trying to do it solidifies that teaching. With Bible instruction, think about how a learner can “try out” a particular doctrine. Imagine that we are in Revelation chapter 2, having just learned how Ephesian Christians were gifted at distinguishing false apostles. Learners are now asked to read through three paragraphs from modern heterodox doctrinal statements. Their job is to identify the false doctrines.
  • Virtual role-play: Some outgoing individuals may be ready to do an actual role-play. But generally speaking, virtual role-play may be the safer choice. Allow your class to break up into smaller groups. Create a scenario to solve that requires understanding of a particular Bible teaching. For example, Numbers chapter 25 highlights the seriousness with which God handles sexual sin, as Phinehas drives a spear through an immoral couple. Have your various smaller groups work through this learning activity: Imagine reading this account through the eyes of a non-Christian friend who has never heard this story before. What questions might that friend ask, and what answers would you give to those questions?
  • Target learning styles: Some learners acquire significant quantities of information simply by listening. Others love to be active in some other way. You are studying Hebrews 6:19, which refers to our eternal hope as an anchor in the Most Holy Place of the temple. Give everyone a piece of paper. Invite them to draw what they understand Hebrews 6:19 to be picturing. (Then, if you have the ability to project live images to a screen from a mobile device, you can share with the entire group some of the images the artists—and nonartists—came up with.)
  • Count-down: The task-oriented nature of adults appreciates that sense of accomplishment that comes when a clearly defined task has been completed. How does one clearly define a task? One technique involves requesting a specific number of answers to a particular question. For example, Revelation 1:7-9 refers to opposition against Christianity. Rather than ask, “What are some threats Christianity faces today,” offer this: “Make a list of the top five threats to Christianity today.”
  • Question design – Encourage conversation: If one is learning how to operate a computer, there is quite naturally physical activity that is required. Bible teaching doesn't lend itself as naturally to muscle movement. But one can appeal to the task-oriented nature of adults by promoting mental activity. What is one way a spiritual shepherd can help learners be mentally engaged? Give them opportunities to talk. Encouraging conversation within small subgroups in your class can be an efficient way to make this happen. The best kind of questions for small groups? Open-ended questions. What is an open-ended question? It's a question that has multiple correct answers. After considering the physical poverty but spiritual wealth of Christians in Smyrna, small groups might consider this question: In what different ways have you found that having more earthly possessions can make it harder for you to live as a Christian?

Adults are eager to do something. It can be a challenge to satisfy that longing, but what a wonderful thing when that longing can be satisfied through active engagement with Bible truth.

In next month’s issue — Adults are . . . Problem-solving