Thursday, June 28, 2018

Audience size

I realize the number of followers, fans, supporters, readers, listeners matters.  When we look at YouTube videos and see that a given person has 100 followers and someone else has 1 million, of course that means the two people are quite different. Most people involved with large audiences of one kind or another are professionals whose livelihood or a large part of it comes from their work with audiences.  

I have had distance education classes on television that can reach large audiences.  Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) can include 20,000 students or more. Similarly, books can be purchased by small numbers of buyers or by millions.  

I am writing to advocate for the idea that it can be helpful to ignore audience size.  When I had large online classes, I invited students nearby to come to the classroom during the scheduled class time if they wanted to.  Since all the materials for learning were online, few did. However, once in a while a student would show up in person, sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes out of academic need.  With one or two students, I could get very specific about their knowledge, their questions, their reactions to the class.

I know that many people feel very challenged by speaking to a group and that means that preparing a talk for a presentation is often a scary job.  Putting one's heart into a presentation, working carefully on every sentence and every slide is likely to make the creator happy if a large crowd shows up.  However, the way life works, one listener, one note-taker, one student or audience member who takes what is said seriously can make a world of difference.

It can be depressing to be an instructor.  I taught in college for 37 years and I had many students during that time.  Some watched canned lessons from tape or DVD. I never saw them. There are times when someone says,"I had you as an instructor."  Since I taught a wide range of classes, I ask, "What course did you take?" About half the time, the student, now decades older, can't remember.  They can't remember what they learned from me.

Maybe I did them some good and maybe I didn't.  Neither of us can remember every instance where my teaching helped.  We can't ever remember what my teaching was about. So, I advocate for delivering the best material possible and not worrying about audience size.  You never know who is going to really benefit or when.

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