Program Recap: What Harry Potter Professors Can Teach Us About Instructional Design

On Tuesday, January 21, muggle Jamye Sagan presented to the STC-SM and Northeastern Ohio Chapters about the lessons we can learn from Harry Potter professors when it comes to technical communication and instructional design.

One of the last things you were probably thinking about when you read the beloved Harry Potter series or watched the movies was technical communication. Sound about right? Not only is the series filled with magical adventures, contention between good and evil, and the development of friendship, but it’s also replete with examples of learning and teaching.

When students first arrive at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, they are introduced to an entirely new way of life. To guide them through this process, they have professors who teach them all sorts of magical spells, potion making, history lessons, and more. These instructors help shape the students understanding of magic so that they can go out in the world and use that magic responsibly and (hopefully) for good.

In her presentation, “What Harry Potter Professors Can Teach Us About Instructional Design,” Jamye discussed how six characters in the series portray both the good and the bad in teaching. She showed us clips of each character, provided an analysis of the character’s instructional methods, and then discussed what we could learn from the teacher.

During this event we were able to watch, evaluate, and learn from the following Hogwarts professors:

  • Severus Snape
  • Minerva McGonagall
  • Wilkie Twycross
  • Horace Slughorn
  • Rubeus Hagrid
  • Harry Potter

You might be thinking, “Harry Potter wasn’t a professor!” and that’s true, but you aren’t required to have the label Teacher, Professor, or Instructional Designer to be a communicator of information. As technical communicators ourselves, we provide information to our audiences that enables them to do something or understand something better after having learned the information. During his time at Hogwarts, Harry mastered the content, but he also learned valuable lessons in how to teach others. And isn’t that the goal of all communication? Enable others to learn the content so well that they can in turn help others?

After examining all the professors, here are some tips we learned to help improve our instructional design (and tech comm) work:

  • Know your subject matter.
  • Engage your audience by asking questions (and even providing answers).
  • Keep your information relevant.
  • Use multiple forms of media (images, videos, etc.). You want to engage the eyes, ears, and senses as much as possible!
  • Consider using humor if you feel that it will help engage your audience.
  • Observe and provide feedback to students (whenever possible).
  • Divide content into smaller chunks (it makes it easier to manage and your audience can maintain better focus).
  • Use easy-to-follow reference material.
  • Use checklists to track progress.
  • Use mnemonics to help your audience retain the information (but be sure to explain and demonstrate how they work!).
  • Show your audience how to do something and then tell them how to do it.
  • Offer rewards or incentives.
  • Clearly explain the criteria for receiving a reward.
  • Challenge students’ comfort zones.
  • Pursue positive learning.
  • Provide students guidance and encouragement.

We also learned some things you shouldn’t do while teaching others:

  • Don’t assume the knowledge levels of your audience! (You wouldn’t want a book to eat your hand or to be stomped to death by Buckbeak.)
  • Don’t make incorrect assumptions (ultimately it looks bad on you).
  • Don’t make fun of your audience and make them feel stupid (like Snape frequently does; it’s not nice).

Jamye’s presentation taught us to look for technical communication in places you would never think to look before. It was both engaging and informative, and the STC-SM and NEO STC chapters are grateful to have had the opportunity to view it.

Finally…

Registered for the event but couldn’t make it? Check you email for communication from the Northeastern Ohio Chapter; they’ll be sending a recording of the presentation as well as a link to the slide deck.