“How did you learn that?” is a question Andrew Barry often asks others, but in this episode he’ll be the one answering it! On effective teaching and learning methods, storytelling and a whole lot more
Connect with Andrew at
Find out more about Superlearning at
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the super learning professionals interview series. Today is very special because I'm joined by Andrew Barry. Andrew is the founder of curious lion learning, but he was also the program director of the online course creator fellowship, which I've joined and have learned a tremendous amount from about online creation, about doing these kinds of podcasts.
So, thank you very much, Andrew.
Thank you Dom. It's so cool to be here. Love what you're doing.
So, first of all, Andrew, what you've set up with curious lion is helping companies and creators teach in an effective and engaging way. So can you tell me a bit more about how you got interested in that and how you got the idea of building this company?
Yeah. So I've sort of been in the world of adult education for about 15 years and I'm a chartered accountant by background. So I studied that as a profession. And, I was always kind of good at math and accounting and sort of logic. And so follow that field, but I'd get into accounting, but as soon as I got into it, I realized I actually didn't enjoy doing the work.
What I really enjoy doing, and which was great was that professional accounting, like most big consulting companies have sort of training as a big part of it. Right? You learn from those just above you and you'd do a lot of these training courses. And I just fell in love with it right away.
And as soon as I went through those week long trainings, I just wanted to be the people, the facilitators in the front of the room. And so I set about doing that. So I made friends with them. I asked like how to this, how to do that. I started doing that back in South Africa. And so I just fell in love with the idea of helping people, teaching people, trying to explain concepts in a simple way, using a lot of analogies and examples.
And, I got really good at that with auditing, which was the profession that I was in. And so it just kind of started from there. And then, I came over to the states and started, ahead of seconded to do the development of the training that I was delivering back in South Africa. So they are to learn about learning outcomes and learning design and all of that kind of stuff.
And so I really got into like the geeky side of it and it's all totally self-taught. I never studied anything on this, but I would read big books on multimedia learning design and just like all these research papers and stuff. And I just read it like we talked about this a lot.
Like you've got to have a passion for something, and this was my passion, I didn't see that as work. I was just like plowing through these things and just picking up little nuggets here and there, trying them in the work I was doing. I did that for quite a while, joined a startup that was in the hospitality industry, creating training for hotels, did that for a year and a half.
And then, started curious lion right after that. And so I've been working with, with clients doing sort of custom training work.
Yeah, I love that. And I guess, there must have been a lot of learning involved also in going from corporate to starting your own business. So I'm very curious how you went about that? And did you apply any of the principles that you learned previously in starting your business, setting it up.
So what do you mean?
So in learning how to start and run your business and the curious lion, were you able to apply some of the learning principles?
Yeah, totally. We talked some about being meta quite a bit, but yeah, it's a lot of that method. Process comes through. So like, in my personal journey of starting a company and the last five years of building, it has been very much trial and error.
I look back five, six years ago. I didn't know what I was doing. It was, it's almost embarrassing to look at that. So it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes. I love spinning my wheels on stuff, going down the wrong path for a long, a couple months and then realizing, oh, that was all wasted.
That needs to focus on. And so, yeah, I, so trial error was something that I think, it's kind of like experiential learning and I think we do a lot of this now with the work we make, we create for clients in that you have to like, do the work that talks about this as well.
And, as you know, CC learning is hard. Like you have to do the work, make the mistakes so that you can learn from them. And that was definitely a huge part of my own process for learning.
Yeah, I can totally imagine that. And, so what are some of the basic, like 80 - 20 principles when you go to work with a company and they want to deliver some prints on training, what do you tell them?
So yeah, straight up, you have to know who your audience is. And most specifically what their prior level of knowledge is. So we do a lot of onboarding or like cohort based staffs. It's onboarding for new hires or new managers, or so it's people like in a transition and it's very important to know what do they know now?
What sort of trainings available to them now? What are they coming in with? So that's the first part. And then, you've got to be very clear on the transformation. And so you guys have heard me talk about this in OPCC, but we talk about this with clients all the time. So what is the transformation for your managers?
Like what do you want them to be able to do once they've gone through this program? And so we get very clear, very specific on what that looks like. And we then map out that journey. Let's see, the reason was for so I can manage the training. They want them to be effective leaders of their teams and to inspire growth within, within the people that direct reports in their teams.
And so like we identified performance management, the coaching and feedback, for example. And so we know where they're coming in. Sometimes, some of them haven't managed someone before we know where they want to be at the end of this program.
And then we map out those skills that they need and the milestones they need to hit to get this. So that's sort of, I'd say is the 80 - 20 to answer your question. You know, who are these people? Where are they starting? Where do you want them to end? And then reverse engineer the steps that you need to get them there.
Right. So, now recently with on deck, but also before you focused a lot on online creators, online teaching, so how are you able to map company learnings from company training to the learning principles that you can use when teaching online? And what did that learning process for yourself also look like?
When COVID hit, there was a temporary kind of pause and freeze in my business and a lot of clients, no one wants to spend money, but then soon after that, there was a big emphasis on these day-long workshops.
Some companies send their people somewhere for a week, training in some hotels in Las Vegas. And we got all these trainings. We get them all in a room. We do these things with them and how are we going to do that now online? And so that was when business picked up quite a bit because of people trying to figure that out. What does virtual training look like? And I think the mistake we've seen play out in the past with like MOOCs, that's a good example in the very early days was let's just take the lecture, let's just put a camera on that and then film it.
And then someone's going to watch that video and then we'll design some elements around that where people can discuss it and maybe some activities and exercises. Like we all know that doesn't work, right? No, one's going to sit through a 60 minute lecture, that's just put on video, you know?
So, we have to get pretty creative with how we deliver it. And the best way I've found to do that is to break out. And I talk about the why the what, the how, and the actions that you want people to take. So why is like, why are we learning this? Why is this important? How's it going to benefit you as the learner?
The, what is all the concepts and the frameworks and the definitions that they need to know to be able to do it, the, how is how to do it. And that's where a lot of examples and analogies and all that come through, and then the action is, what should you do next? Now that you've learned this piece.
And so what I've found is what works really well is we take the why and the what and you preload your front. You pre-train. Is that your front load it with asynchronous training, through videos, audio podcasts, resources, books, blogs, blog posts, or that sort of thing. And so people go through that and then you create a sort of a deliberate, the action step in that thing is, is a deliberate reflection, right?
An opportunity for reflection. So what did you learn from watching this video? How are you going to apply it? This essay, the blog posts, whatever. And so with that class, we create these physical workbooks, which were then shipped to their employees and they would write this down. So they spend the first half of the week, watching these videos, learning the why's and the what then reflecting.
And then we would use the precious zoom time, which as we know, everyone was just completely wiped out by the end of just zoom fatigue. So we would try to limit the amount of time that they spent on it. And we would focus on the how. So then its much more facilitation. There's no lecture needed.
Cause that's all been pre-trained and it's really like, okay. So you guys learned about this concept of the growth mindset. You read you watched this Ted talk by Carol Dweck. So how are we going to apply that to our situation here? Right? How would you apply that, in a team meeting, for example, with the direct report?
And so it involves the learner a lot more. It's a lot more generative learning and then some practice with breakout rooms, that kind of thing. And then at the end, basically the aim, the action that they're going to take is getting them to commit to it.
So all the learners sort of leave going, I'm going to set up this meeting with this director. And I'm going to practice this framework for giving feedback, for example. And then we would have one more zoom meeting, which should probably be a week later to then debrief that. And so they would all come back and there's hardly any facilitation.
It's all driven by the learners saying, okay, I did this thing. This really worked well. I kind of found this part pretty tricky and they just start talking to each other. And as you know, from, NCCC that peer to peer learning is. It's huge. We learned so much from each other. Cause I can see. Okay. Yeah.
Dom, you, you did this, you had this conversation and the way you were explaining it there, like the challenge you faced was exactly what I felt like. And it may be helped me see it in a different lens or so those sort of second zoom meetings, the debrief ones were, were incredible.
So the feedback we got from this was just, people never had that opportunity to get together and to really discuss their learning. It's like this deliberate practice, right? Like the actual, like they took the action and then they talked about what they learned. And no one, I often know that, especially in companies that are moving at such a quick speed, they don't go through the rigor of thinking like that and and so just breaking it out was a huge revelation for people.
And I found it like that as well when where we're able to basically break out, talk one-on-one about our experiences about how we tried starting a course. And by trial and error we learned, but then also we can learn from other people's mistakes, by matching up their experience to our own and then kind of spotting patterns. I think we should also kind of getting into now. It's okay to talk a bit more about peer-to-peer learning and supporting parents that we can learn from.
Yeah. So the peer-to-peer piece, it increases your surface area for coming into the content. Patterns that you can recognize. Right. I think that's a key component of that. So you're just going through so many more of these breakouts you've got to, you're bound to find someone where you're like, that sounds similar to my situation. And then you can really dig in and dive deeper with that person and learn from each other. And then the pattern recognition piece of that comes in. I think, where I talked about deliberate practice and a big part of that as I know you've thought a lot about is mental representations.
So the more you do something and especially when you do it in a deliberate way, you're creating mental representations. That could be, depending on, it varies by person, but it could be like visuals, right. That you use to like construct. This knowledge tree for a particular topic or domain, whatever.
So I think that's another big part of it that you're slowly creating these mental representations over time. And I think that the cool thing I like about pattern recognition is you need time. So as, as you keep doing this and you do it over a long period of time, you get the benefit of pattern recognition.
And it's why, for example, I've been doing this for 15 years. I can look at a course or talk to a course creator and pretty quickly diagnose where they're stuck and can give them two or three things that I've seen work in those situation. Right. And it says, it's not prescriptive.
It's not saying, oh, this is what's wrong. And this is what you need to do. And you can, but it's like, this looks like this thing. And in these three cases, this is what the person did, or this is something you could try, and that's it. Right? So it's more like it's the guide on the side, as opposed to the Sage on the stage as not framed canvas in. And I think that's just the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher and as someone that's done the deliberate practice, that's built the experience and has built mental representations. How you teach that to people is to show them, and you've got the superpower to be able to do it very quickly to show them all the different possibilities.
Yeah. I really like what Ray Dalio also calls, it's just another one of those, right? If you have that experience, and I also loved what you said about building those mental representations. Knowledge tree and to combine that with, with deliberate practice, do you see any shortcuts to build these representations or do you actually have to put in the reps, and build that through to practice? Hey, be deliberate about building those representations or can you only be deliberate about the practice?
Yeah, that's a great question. My guts saying you can only be deliberate about the practice, the mental work. I don't think I'm ever, I'll speak from my experience. I'm not explicit in building up mental representations, as I'm saying this, I'm mostly thinking about memory palaces.
All right. So is something you've talked a lot about, and it was just to see how this fits in. Cause they all quite being quite explicit and deliberate, right? Okay, using this image in this room and it's going to denote this concept. But I think my true mental representation is like what Anders Ericsson talks about in peak is something that just is the by-product of time and deliberate practice.
And so the deliberate practice piece is intentional. And you see that in so many different fields. It's practicing the thing, golf swing, playing the piano. I don't know if, you know, doing an accounting, like balancing a balance sheet or whatever and then, and then sort of the deliberate part comes in.
And so a lot of people I interview on my podcasts do this and this is the hard part because the deliberate thing is like watching the game tape off afterwards, analyzing what you did and where you went wrong. And then really focusing in on this is the part I got it wrong.
This part of my swing. I need to practice. So then going back and doing the whole thing again and focusing on that one pot and then doing that and doing that over and over. And so that part is good. And then you see, cause it's, you know, it's a lot of moving parts and now we focus on another part.
That's deliberate practice and that just takes time, like lots of iterations of it, focusing on different parts and refining, it tweaking them, that's the hard part.
You have to put into practice, but you can be deliberate about seeking out those little problems that you then need to basically make smaller circles around that.
I think just why it is called the art of learning and basically really zoom in on that.
Yeah. That's exactly. That's a great visual representation
and to go maybe a bit more Metta in a different direction so you were talking about all those books, et cetera, that you read about learning and teaching effectively in the digital world, et cetera.
And what was your learning, system for learning about that and to basically becoming an expert in that area?
That's a cool question. I haven't actually been asked that in a long time, it's evolved. I'll say that. So it's definitely evolved. I think now my process is, I use roam quite a bit, so I consume a lot of information. From a lot of different sources and then try and highlight that and get that into roam and then through a process of iterating, take out, summarize and condense and summarize and condense, and then move things around until it sort of revealed some kind of new patterns or concept or idea, you know that feels unique. So, I mean, I think the initial step was, my only way of doing this was similar, but it was much more manual.
So what I would do, I remember I have this book sitting here actually, where I actually, I wonder if this is the actual book. So this is actually hilarious. This is, I didn't find this at all, but, this is the book, right? This is Richard Mayer's 12 principles of multimedia learning.
And so I would just write these like really detailed handwritten notes from reading the book. And if you can see much on that and this is all this stuff I still write about, like this is the first multimedia principle of visuals and words, better than either one of those by themselves.
And it's all very theoretical. It's quite dense academic stuff, but, that's kind of the point, right? I've never, I don't go back to this anymore, but the process of doing this really embedded these ideas in my head. And now when, this multimedia principle contiguity principle, I just know it when I see it..
I don't need to like refer back to like, he's got evidence here, five different studies, that type of stuff. And this is the kind of thing you don't teach people that, no one needs to know this level of detail. Right? This is better, this helps embed the idea in my mind so that I knew it when I saw it.
And I could probably explain it through a lot of examples. So that's where it's kind of hard.
Yeah. I love that. Exactly. That's all kind of abstract in a way. And then the real challenge also for us in OCC was how do we take that? And the stuff that we learned in your zoom calls and map that sort of actually messy, online words out there. Right. Actually, put it into practice. Do you have any tips for taking something and putting it into practice?
Yeah. I mean that is, you're right. A hundred percent the hard part and I don't always do a great job of this. I think it's something that you just have to keep working at. Like with that type of stuff. I would say. I would apply it, like, I remember, first starting a bit with the 12 principles that I think my first thing was I did like a whole curious line learning methodology, incorporated those incorporate a bunch of stuff and wrote up a whole long thing on it.
I think I even posted it on my website at one point and it was just like very dense and academic and it wasn't a good way to communicate that to anyone. Once I started using examples, I remember a couple of years ago, I would explain videos. I used a few of them and you know in OCC like this Virgin Atlantic has an incredible pre in-flight video or like the safety video at the beginning of the flights and it's just, if you go through that, like my I've got this guide on my websites, five steps to digital training and I've sort of break down the video and I highlight those principles as they appear in the video. It's actually amazing. Like once you see that and then point to that in video, or like in something like that, and people can watch it and go, oh, that's what that's called.
It just makes it so much clearer. Right. And so that was when it really started. I think resonating with people that like, oh, there's actually a word for that. There's a reason that those things are happening and, you know, it's tied and it's making me learn it better. So yeah, so I think to answer your question.
Examples, as much as possible, like that's the best way to learn things, especially these sort of very theoretical academic things. Just tons and tons of examples. And that's the hard part I remember in prepping for all the 16 sessions I did, the ones that my favorite sessions are the ones that I had, like really good examples.
And I was excited about them and I felt like those really hit the mark and they were probably two or three of the 16 sessions that I really didn't enjoy. And it was cause I was really scraping for examples and I think I probably erred on the side of too much instruction. So yeah, I think that's the key, examples from other walks or other parts of life and use that.
Yeah, Robbie Crabtree as well, because he did this great talk. I noticed, see as well about, storytelling and that's something Ryan and I also kind of arrived at like the best way to teach something is by telling a story and then interspersing that with the principles as they appear in the story.
Basically what you just mentioned as well. So I really liked that. Yeah.
So I'd love to know your thoughts cause that's really hard to do. I remember there were some sessions that I was sitting down to prep, I was just like, you can't force a story, right? Like that was the hard part. I don't know if you have any tips, on that from what you guys have been working on.
But I found there were one or two where I just couldn't get a story and you can't force it. And th those are the most challenging ones to design.
I've worked on recently is I've read this book about negotiation actually. It's called never split the difference by Chris Voss and it's amazing.
And he has every chapter, it starts with a story. And then after a story, he will basically explain all of the principles that he used in his story. And it's, it's really well done. And I actually discovered that if I want to learn this, what I have to do is not take like the bullet point summaries at the end of the chapter.
But I actually have to take this story from the beginning and then insert those principles as they appear in his stories. And because the stories are so well-written, it's actually possible to do that. And even make the principles into flashcards or something like that.
It's so good. Finding out in this book of mine, all my notes from never split the difference. Yeah. That's so funny, man.
I love it. So, I kind of wants to see if that's translatable to other fields as well.
Yeah. I think that's one of my favorite things to do is to Take a story from a totally different realm and relate it to something and that's actually what I tried to not ruin him as well. Like, so once you went back, the principal condensed into a form, you actually, this goes back to what I was saying about forcing it as well. It was like, you just got to let it sort of marinate and let it sit there. And like over time you might find a story and it's like, oh, that actually makes me think of this. You sort of make that match and that sort of where the magic happens.
Well, one thing that would be interesting is, have you found that roam can actually make you help those connections? Cause what I often find is that I can force that with a tool. I just have to let my unconscious work and maybe two days later or a week later, it will hit me or something. And I haven't found that I can actually speed that up with, with tools. And I'd love to hear your thoughts.
I totally agree. It doesn't accelerate that process for me that I think it makes it easier once like you said it, and suddenly like something clicks and you're like, oh, I need to do it. Then I find roam's easy to quickly find that thing. And so then make the connection myself.
But it doesn't accelerate the process for me yet. I'd love to know.
Yeah. Like it definitely helped to facilitate the process, of writing. But I think it's one bridge too far to call it like a tool for thought because I haven't found that yet. So another thing is like, you've been very inspiring to all of us in ODCC.
So maybe do you have some tips on how we can inspire others about lifelong learning, about having a growth mindset of the greatest things you talked about. Right.
Well, thank you for saying that. I mean, in this kind of line of work and I'm sure you can relate to a lot of people listening to it, right? That's the best thing to hear that others are inspired by what you do. I mean, it's a hard question to answer. I would say I think that the best, the biggest feedback I got, and that really resonated with me was that.
It was two words that came up a lot was that you're really passionate about this and you bring a lot of joy to teaching. And those two types of feedback from a few people who said that sort of some of the lines that really meant the most to me, I was like, I do, I love this.
I absolutely love this stuff. And I, you know, I can talk about this for the rest of my life and that I think the key to inspiring other people, right? If you are truly passionate about something and you bring genuine joy to it, that it's it's addictive, it's infectious. And I think that rubs off on other people.
And you can't fake it either, right? You have to actually, you really have to feel bad. So yeah, I think that might be the way to go connecting with that thing that you find the most joy and passion.
So yeah, basically in this whole long journey that we talked about, what has been your biggest learning challenge and how did you overcome that? The whole career
so I'd say a few, one is taking agency or ownership for your own decisions, your own time, your own actions. That was something I always wanted to do. It was definitely was something that was in me. But it was a lot harder to do than I realized it would be. And it's sort of like the obvious things that like, just where do you spend your time?
How do you prioritize things, saying no to things, that kind of stuff? That's sort of the beginning part, but then as you, sort of figuring out like, where should you wish to do it? Commit to like, once you start cause you, once you've gotten over that thing and you start to take control over your own decisions, your own actions, you're building something, you start to.
You have a lot of opportunities, a lot of ways you can go and then deciding like the right one, if it feels right, it feels it's intimidating because you're not gonna want to make a mistake and waste time and money and whatnot, going down the wrong path.
So that was definitely something. And I don't even know if there's a ride on, so, I mean, I would trust my instinct a lot more. I think the times I've made decisions with the mistakes, where were the times I second guessed my decisions or my instinct, that would, that would be the big one.
The other one I think is realizing that the market tells you, your audience tells you what they want and not the other way around. I definitely came into this thinking like, well, this is what people want. This is what people need, and this is what I'm going to create. And this was true for my business curious lion, and that has evolved into something completely different from what I initially thought it would be.
And it took me a while to learn that and I think I even saw that in OCC, but, just being more open to it. There was no way I could have prepped that whole eight weeks out ahead of time, and then just showed up every day and done the 16 presentations that I pre-done, they had to be done in the moment based on people's responses, based on people's requests, needs, questions, that kind of thing.
So, it's a much more collaborative process. Creating a product, creating a course, anything like that, even a service, it's definitely it's collaborative and you've got to listen to the person buying.
And I think a lot of people in OCC saw that as well. Like we came in with one idea for a course, but then as we tested it out with just what we see people and got feedback, we basically got into completely different directions and headed off in a completely different place.
That was one of my favorite parts of it to see, see people's courses, just develop and go. Just people coming in, thinking they were going to create a platform for a course and then ended up creating courses themselves. I mean, just things like that is amazing.
Yeah. Looking forward, obviously with the creator community and all of the opportunities for it.
Online teaching. What do you see happening in the future and as your role in that?
I think the grand goal, the north star of all of this is something that we may not ever achieve, but it's the thing that we'll sort of light the path to keep doing this. The idea of fully democratized access to education and education from practitioners, from people actually doing the things.
So it's practical. It's something that can be applied right away in someone's life or business. You just look at the people that went through ODCC and you know, I signed up for Jonathan Chin's, cooking class, and, you know, I got this box arrived in the mail and it had like a couple of tools.
And things to help you prep your kitchen and you don't get that from masterclass, Gordon, Ramsey's not sending you like little cooking kits. Right. And so that's not to say what Gordon Ramsey's, teaching's not necessarily practical. It's just that it's practical.
But it's also that personal touch where Jonathan can touch a certain amount of people's lives and like maybe improve their health and their cooking and all these kinds of great things. And so many other people can do that. And so if more and more teachers are doing that and, you know, I call them superstar teachers, but that really kind of learn and harness the power of the internet to reach people across the globe.
The second, the third order consequences of that are just staggering in terms of all the people that will benefit from that teaching. And if we could find a way to, we were working on this with, the course creators connected, we can find a way to upscale, teach teachers in other parts of the world so that they can then, you know, purchasing power parity is, is a thing, right?
So we've got to find it, make it accessible for people who have the skills and knowledge to be able to do this, to be able to learn how to do it. And then so that they can serve their market so that people in their market can get access to high quality education from practitioners that can transform their lives.
To me. That's the ultimate goal. I think with the internet, you have so much more scalability that can actually bring us much closer than we've been able to achieve in the past 50 years.
All right, so thanks a lot, Andrew, for the interview. It's been really great.
So one thing I always ask is who would you like to see next on this series?
Oh, right. I love that. And we, we talked about him earlier. I've got to say Robbie Crabtree. I think the thing with Robbie, he surprised me when I first met him, how deeply he thought about learning. You know, he comes from a trial lawyer background. Yeah, it talks about speaking.
And when I started talking to him, I was like, oh, this guy is actually into the geeky learning side of things. And he thought so hard about his course, his first iteration of performance speaking.
And yeah, I love that. I think Robbie is one of those persons. That'll be cool.
Makes it look very easy. But that kind of masked the fact that he makes it look that easy, cause he fought so deeply about it. I love that. Yeah. So thanks again, Andrew. And if people want to find out more about you about what you are building, what's the best way for them to do that and to get in touch.
Yeah. So get in touch, definitely on Twitter, @Bazzaruto. And if you want to check out the stuff I'm doing, for company related things, go to curiouslionlearning.com and if you're a course creator and you want to learn how to create, check out course,creatorscollective.com.
It's a new project that we're building with us. Very excited for that. All right. All right.
Thank you Dom. Thanks so much for having me.