What steps can you take to find out what really matters to your learners?
Several years ago, a young man named Josh Sullivan conducted a social experiment to find out about disparities between being Caucasian and African-American in society. Sullivan took pills that increased his body's melanin production, thereby darkening his skin significantly and he went around the city taking note of how people treated him now that he was "black."
In his experiment he saw how differently black people were treated even in simple day-to-day situations like walking down the street, hailing a cab, looking for a table at a restaurant or shopping in a store. His immersive approach gave him first-hand experience, first-hand knowledge, and a perspective he never would have had if he did not take the risk.
While Sullivan's methods were extreme (and physically demanding), the idea of spending time in another person's shoes in order to increase empathy and understanding is not a new one. In learning design, we can call this the Learner's Glasses. As designers, we need to set aside our own intentions and look at the subject matter the way our learners look at them. Putting on Learner's Glasses allows you to see more clearly how your methods are landing in your audience's minds.
As digital and social media guru Mark Bonchek wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review, "to sell your idea...you have to change not only what they think, but how they think. Without the right (perspective), they won't see the problem, understand the benefits, or make the change."
As designers, our role is to get the value of the lesson across to our learners in the most engaging way possible. At the end of every session our learners should feel enriched and empowered by what they learned. The problem here stems from us thinking like designers all the time and focusing on what they should or would be getting out of the experience.
This approach is somewhat bossy and overbearing, a throwback to a time when educators commanded rather than encouraged learning. I recommend putting on your learner's glasses and seeing things their way, from their point-of-view.
1. Would? Should? Do!
Spot the difference here:
Teacher says, "You should learn this and this because..."
Learner says, "Here's what I get about this lesson..."
Your intended effect can be vastly different from the actual outcome if all you focus on is what you think they should and would pick up.
2. Who are you talking to?
Have at least a working knowledge of your learners' demographics to get a sense of what will interest them and hold their attention. Age, educational background, interest, family situation, are just some areas you can look at to know more about who you are talking to. From our previous tip on experience and superior learning, we know that the integration of the learner's experiences into a story during a learning event, results in the learners building their own stories and improving learning.
3. Respect for time is respect for people
Let's face it: more and more people turn to e-Learning options because it's faster and simpler than traditional training models. This immediately means that your learners' time is valuable to them. If you can give them what they need in the most time-effective way possible, the more they will appreciate your technique and keep coming back for more. Check out our tips on chunking content into manageable bits in previous articles here, here, and here.
Instead of thinking about what your learners would and should get from your lesson design, try to see things from their perspective and figure out what they do get from it in reality. Let the learner's perspective - rather than your designer's intent - shape your goals.
Black for a Day
Don't Sell a Product, Sell a Whole New Way of Thinking
Tip # 23: How to Chunk Content into 3 Minutes - Part 1
Tip # 24: How to Chunk Content into 3 Minutes - Part 2
Tip # 25: How to Chunk Content into 3 Minutes - Part 3
Tip #36: Why Experience Results in Superior Learning
Ray Jimenez, PhD
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"