A Framework to Teach Anything: What, Why, How

Brandon Stover
Founder of Plato University
September 1, 2023
min read

Ladies & gents, my name is Brandon Stover, and I’m the founder of Plato University. Welcome to Theory into Action.

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 “I have to teach a lesson and I have no idea how to organize my information. Is there some sort of framework that I can use in order to teach anything?”

Why yes there is!

In a previous video, I covered the three phases of learning, explore, engage, and execute, which can be used to structure an online course or some sort of learning experience. That framework is what's used at the macro level In order to organize lessons in a course.

There's a similar version that can be used in order to structure your lessons, to do this on the micro scale.

And that version is called the…

The What, Why, How Framework

So the what, why, how framework, implied by the name has three parts.

  • What is it the topic or what are the parts of the topic?
  • Why is it important to the student?
  • How do you apply that knowledge?

If you've seen the video on the three phases of learning. You may recall that it was based on the classical Greek Trivium, which included grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The what, why, how framework also maps onto that trivium, but we'll discuss that more in just a moment.

Why do you even need a framework?

Frameworks allow you to organize your thoughts in a way that's easily understood, so you can transfer the knowledge that's in your head, into the heads of your students.

The framework also allows you to move within any topic with ease and be able to teach it. You have a way to structure your information. So when you may be presented large swath of information on a topic that maybe you're not a complete expert in, you have a framework that you can plug in that information to. You can more easily teach that information.

Now you may use whatever framework works best for you.  However I find the What, Why, How framework easy to remember and widely applicable.

Part 1: What

What is all the foundational concepts and facts that are required in order to gain a full understanding of the knowledge set.

In the classical Greek Trivium, the what is related to grammar, which are the words, definitions, and sentence structures that make up a language.

If we were putting together a puzzle, the what are all the individual pieces of the puzzle, with the puzzle representing the entire knowledge set we should know.

Why Include the What in Your Lessons?

Without all the parts and pieces, you can't fully understand a topic. You're lacking a clear picture of the puzzle.

These parts become the building blocks or creating relationships between concepts and functions that can be applied later.

You're lacking that clear picture of what the puzzle is.

How to Deliver What in Your Lessons

So to deliver the what in your lesson:

  • Ask yourself: What are all the pieces or concepts that my students need to know in order to apply this information? Asking this question is going to tell you what's relevant out of a knowledge set. Sometimes knowledge sets are so vast and the reality is your student doesn't need to know the entirety of it. They only need to know what's useful for them To actually applying later.
  • During this process you're defining terms, you're collecting definitions, descriptions, and illustrative examples of those concepts.

If you're learning pharmacology, the what are all the drugs available to use. However we don't know why we might use a drug over another, or how it is administered and applied to this particular patients context.

Unfortunately this is where a vast majority of education stops... we memorize what things are. We don't learn why or how to apply them.

Part 2: Why

Why is answering the critical question the student has of "Why is this important? Why does this matter to me?"

Why creates relationships between concepts, most important, a relationship between the concepts and the person learning it.

In the Trivium, this is known as the logic, which creates relationships between words and sentences in a language.

If we were putting together a puzzle. the why is how puzzle pieces are shaped because they create relationships between the pieces on how they fit with one another. It's important for this puzzle piece to have this squiggly shape because it fits with this piece that has a squiggly shape.

Why Include the Why in Your Lessons?

If you don't explain WHY something is important to the student, the are far more likely to forget it.

Our brain is caloric hog of energy. It spends large amounts of energy on filtering what is relevant for its survival and discarding what is not. If the information you are teaching is not relevant, the brain is designed to throw it out.

How to Deliver Why in Your Lessons

So to deliver the why in your lesson:

  • Ask yourself: Why does the student need to know this?  Why is it important to them? How does this information affect their life?
  • In the process of answering those questions, you're going to define reasons, diagram relationships between concepts, and collect explanations, stories and emotions that are going to better make this information relevant to that student.

If you're learning pharmacology, the why will be the different ailments the patient may have, the cause and effect relationships of the drugs, the side effects, how the drug reacts with other drugs, the price of drugs, which drugs might be banned, the efficacy of drugs...  And even that particular students' stories about why they started studying pharmacology. All of these will be relevant to that student and their ability to apply the information later.

Sometimes education will give a reason for why particular information is important. However it's not always convincing because it lacks the connection to the internal motivation of the learner. Most people learn something because they want to do something with it to change their life.

Part 3: How

How covers how a particular knowledge set is applied to achieve an outcome relevant to the learner.

In the classical Trivium, this was known as rhetoric where language was applied in speech to achieve some ends.

In our puzzle example, the how is the action of putting together the puzzle pieces to create the picture on the box.

Why Include the How in Your Lessons?

Knowledge is irrelevant and useless if we are not applying it.

Although specific contexts can change, if you don't at least give a few examples of how information is applied, students will not have a place to start practicing its application.

Knowledge that is not used is forgotten.

How to Deliver How in Your Lessons

So to deliver the how in your lesson:

  • Ask yourself: What outcomes do my students want to achieve? And how can this information be applied in order to achieve those outcomes?
  • During this process, you're outlining steps. If possible, laying out a process for actually applying the information.
  • If that's not possible, you're going to want to provide recommendations or tips for application in a variety of contexts.

If you're learning pharmacology, the how will be the way the drugs are administered to patients in what context. If the patient has these symptoms, then give them this drug in this way.

Education often shies away from this portion because of the problem of transfer. However, if you have student’s practice in a variety of contexts and help them understand the principles (the what) and underlying logic (the why) of information, it will allow them to apply information across multiple domains.

Applying the Framework

I discussed this throughout the article, however here are some practical steps I take to create a lesson, including this one right now.

First I'll create an outline with the what's - the concepts I'm covering.

  • In this lesson it was the framework and the pieces of the framework.

Next, under each concept I'll write What, Why, How

  • In the What I define the concept
  • In the Why I give reasons for why its important
  • In the How I outline ways to apply the information

As I'm filling in each portion of What, Why, How, I'm including illustrative examples to further explain the point.

  • So in this video, we used the example of a puzzle. We use the example of pharmacology. We even used a little bit of a history example, bringing in the Greek Trivium.
  • The reason we're using multiple examples is because one may relate better to you and another may relate better to somebody else. I'm trying to take multiple swings at helping you to understand the information.

And its that easy.

Every lesson I've created uses this framework. Some are far more complex and take longer to explain each section, but they still follow the same basic framework.

Want Help Creating Lessons?

This framework is so simple, anyone can use it.

However if you have some particular nuances to what your teaching or need a little extra help, lets schedule a call together.

I can help you to turn your wisdom into actionable education.

Let's build something great together.

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