The Magic of Learning

November 22, 2017

The further I venture into the world of learning and development, I come across challenges. Challenges in engaging my clients to see the value in the final product, in merging their expectations with the best learner experience and in working with their information. In many of these challenges I tend to internally hear advice, given throughout my childhood, from my dad.

This advice isn’t in the realm of learning and development nor is it general life advice, but it all stemmed from his primary profession as a magician and ventriloquist.

Yes, you read that right, I grew up with a magician and ventriloquist as a father.

Now my dad isn’t a normal magician, the likes of David Blain or David Copperfield, he’s an educational magician.

Educational magician is not a new title that we as L&D folk should start using.  It describes how my dad primarily uses magic and ventriloquism to put on educational shows in topics like: the benefits of reading and reading programs, the history and adventures of Lewis and Clark, and how to prevent and detect bullying.

This may still seem like a foreign concept, but the best way to describe what my dad does is: He teaches key concepts using the tools of magic tricks and ventriloquism.

Does that sound familiar? It should, it’s what we do, right?

Our tools are a bit different but we still endeavour to use them to teach key concepts. With these key concepts being the goal of my work in instructional design, I quickly see the alignment of my dad’s goals in magic and his sage advice becomes very handy. (Don’t worry, I thank him as much as possible!)

My dad says: Use the rule of 3s.

You may have heard of something similar, but I heard it from my dad first. The essential concept is people are much more likely to remember key concepts in 3s.

Often used rhetorically, in oratorical story-telling and to create catchy slogans. Have you heard of these prominent examples?

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness


Stop, Drop and Roll

Even Carmine Gallo spoke to Steve Job’s obsession with the rule of 3 throughout presentations and product launches for Apple.

My dad uses this rule of 3 to his own slight obsession. He makes sure that every new trick includes three key stages until the trick’s conclusion. Or he makes sure each of his magic shows have at least 3 main tricks to support the concepts he is presenting.

So, how can we use the rule of 3s in learning and development?

3 elements are the smallest number needed to form a pattern and creating these patterns enhance the connections created in the brain. Also, 3 elements maintain the smallest amount of stages needed for story structure: set-up, anticipation (climax) and conclusion.

Boiling down subjects into 3 main concepts or using bullet points in 3s, will help to enhance retention. Especially because our world has taught us to remember things in 3s.

Using the rule of 3s is an easy and practiced way to help learners remember.

Furthermore, my dad would work to the ‘3-point outline’, to make sure that audience would know what he was presenting, why it’s important to them and what they are supposed to do with it. We can extend this outline to our learning solutions and they will know the importance of the information and how to apply it.


My dad says: A good trick starts with a good story.

When my dad sits down to put together a trick or concept for a show, he will instantly look for the story. Then he will find, or create, the trick to support the movement through the story.

In learning and development, storytelling is not a new concept. You will most likely find a resource, blog or tool mentioning the need to use storytelling in learning. My dad’s advice may not differ too far from these other sources; however, he does focus primarily on the story first.

How many times do we look at a learning solution from the lens of the tool rather than the lens of the story?

The tools, whether they are magic tricks or authoring tools, these are the additions to the story. If you craft the information and concepts in a way that present an engaging story, then the tools act to transform and enhance.

You want the learner remembering the story that you told them rather than the way you told it.


My dad says: Make your audience the star of the show.

This is the key to the planning of many of my dad’s magic shows, he seeks to make the audience the star of the show. His methods usually consist of audience participation, one or a few children on stage to participate in a specific trick, or using the audience to provide the magic needed for the final trick to occur. This ensures his audience feels as if they were just as important as the tricks used. Engagement is enhanced and the audience is invested because they helped make it happen.

In learning and development, we also hear about the struggles with engagement in each learner’s development. So how can we look to make the learner the star of the show?

Just like my dad would get an audience member or the audience to comment on a part of a trick, you’ve got to involve them. Let them take action in their own learning to reach some form of end result. Not only are they involved in their own results but they are also invested.

If we involve ourselves in the course of doing something, we will always want favourable results, we will be invested in the favourable outcome. In this case, the favourable outcome will be learning.

Not only will the learner feel invested, they will feel important, they will be emotionally engaged. It is known that remembering happens when there are emotions attached. If a learner has a reason to continue their learning and feels like it’s important, they are more likely to retain the full experience.


In each of my struggles in learning and development, my dad’s advice always seems to ring true. Using the rule of 3s, focusing on the story and making my audience the star of the show helps me hone my instructional design skills on a daily basis (and helps me write blogs too). With my dad’s advice, maybe we can add some magic to our learning solutions.

Want to see what my dad in action? See if you can pick out the above demonstrated advice or just enjoy a little bit of magic:

Recording of the Airhead Rudy Trick at a Lecture Series in 1997

Maybe my dad’s advice can help you as well. Or you have another tried and true method for learning and development that you want to share. If so, join the TLDChat and share your magic with the community.






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