Close X

Share Your Skies With Us

Got a great idea? A gripe? Pass it along.

*Required Field

Starlight - Our Blog

« Back to listings

The Five Persistent Problems of Learning: Problem 2 is Delivering on Relevance

by Todd Kasenberg

“Please, please, take away this pain!”

This, or some variant, is a pretty common theme in buying – and that kind of pain, in the buying process, is exactly what stokes further engagement.  It depicts the genuine yearning for (an) answer(s), and when that pain is felt, the seller (whether a salesperson or the internet) now has an opportunity to deliver some messaging that may well fall on fertile ground.

For learners, though, expressions of this nature are more often associated with the forced learning option presented to them, an option that they feel is largely irrelevant to their need.  I suspect we’ve all found ourselves in formal learning situations where we mutter to ourselves, “I sure wish I wasn’t here.  Oh look – a butterfly…” as we’ve stared out a window and daydreamed of better things.

What brings about this yearning for elsewhere in learning programs?  I argue that it is rooted in relevance and engagement – two factors that warrant serious consideration in learning programs.

In the process most of us undertake when buying a service or good, pain and need prompt a search for alternatives – alternatives that will ratchet the pain back to something manageable.  We begin the process of trying to figure out what an appropriate investment is, and more importantly, what returns we will derive from an investment.

Consider this typical scenario – you are exhausted after many months of working full out, putting in overtime.  Could be that you are a tax accountant.  You have a few dollars in your bank account.  You are feeling a need to “decompress”.  If you don’t, you know your psychopathy will emerge, and bad things happen when hulk show up.

So – what are your options? You likely wouldn’t be that impressed if the only “solution” to your need to decompress was a day of bowling.  Really.  Nothing at all against bowling, but truly, if that was your only available option, you’d likely do a Dexter.

You really do want to explore options.  You evaluate them on relevance – to things like your lifestyle, the timing you have available, your budget, the likelihood that you’ll have fun, your own perceived needs around adventure, variety vs predictability, sociality, etc.  Perhaps you are a social animal, and need a cruise.  Perhaps you want adventure, and that will take you to a racetrack vacation that puts you behind the wheel.  Or perhaps it is total relaxation at a spa in a warm destination.  The options to be evaluated are many – and if you are like many buyers, you enjoy “trying them out” before you make a decision.

Now jump back to learning.  We are still pretty caught up in thinking about formal learning, and so we immediately narrow the options.  Often, as learning designers, our challenge is that we must provide evidence of outcomes, nominally evaluative, for the purposes of compliance training.  So – we create one approach, because that’s what the budget allows for.  We know they’ll come because they must.

Huh.  That’s not very responsible or respectful of the real human (and adult learning!) need to feel in the driver’s seat, to evaluate options before “buying”.  That’s equivalent to saying, “It’s bowling for you, buddy.”  Without a doubt, this penchant, intended to improve control, greatly diminishes engagement in learning, and likely needs to incomplete outcome achievement at best, and sabotage at worst.

This speaks to providing learners with options.  If the “fire within” has been lit, and the learner is ready to engage, the last thing we want to do is smother the flames.  We need to provide “paths to learning” that honours the will and needs and style expectations of our diverse audiences.  Not all learning is delivered in classrooms.  Not all e-learning should be slide-based “Click Next” encounters.  We need to help the learner choose from a menu. We need to meet the learner at least some distance to where they are.

I’ve recently evolved an approach that, to borrow liberally from a buying process discipline, I’m calling Learner Journey Mapping.  I’m going to evolve a whole blog, and maybe even an online learning module, on this subject in the near-future.  What Learner Journey Mapping does is explore the perceptions of both the instructional/learning designer and successful learners with experience with subject matter, and work towards defining optimum paths to ensuring learner capabilities vs the required outcomes.  This methodology takes us well beyond traditional “needs assessment” and into the realm of mapping key touchpoints, key behavioural changes, and key emotional experiences to support learning outcomes.

Now this gentle vision is greatly complicated by getting the learner past the sense that they “already know that”.  I am a big believer in peer evaluation, in pre-program knowledge and motivation assessment. In one program I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with, we crafted a pre-program experience that helped the learner evaluate where they stand, and that recommended, based both on knowledge and motivation, what should be paid attention to in the program.  In some ways still primordial, this was a beginning to tailoring to the learner's needs, and helping each learner evaluate options and make choices.

Our learning programs need to go beyond “one size fits all”.  We need to provide acceptable paths for learners of differing aptitudes, experience, motivation levels, and even (dare I say it for provoking some…) styles.  We need to leverage the power of branching well beyond conventional thinking. We need to do better in mapping out how successful learners learned.  We need to take advantage of the opportunities for documenting outcomes provided by the xAPI (Tin Can API).  When we’ve done right, we’ll see more engagement, and hear less muttering about butterflies.


There are currently no comments.