Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Learners are in a State of Readiness - Avoid Rigid Learning Objectives

Keeping to a rigid sequence in the implementation of the learning process is not a guarantee of a learner’s full attention or comprehension. Learners’ minds constantly wander to seek out discovery points that hold meaning for them in the real world. Find out how you can leverage this to maximize learning that greatly benefit learners.


In designing learning objectives, it is helpful to understand that learners are in a constant STATE OF READINESS. They constantly seek out Discovery Points.

Discovery points are similar to the ideas postulated in Contextual Learning.
According to Hull’s (1993) definition of contextual learning, learning occurs only when learners connect information to their own frame of reference:

“According to contextual learning theory, learning occurs only when learners process new information or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in their frame of reference (their own inner world of memory, experience, and response). This approach to learning and teaching assumes that the mind naturally seeks meaning in context--that is, in the environment where the person is located--and that it does so through searching for relationships that make sense and appear useful.” (p. 41)

Furthermore, Karweit (1993) defines contextual learning as learning that is designed so that learners can carry out activities and solve problems in a way that reflects the nature of such tasks in the real world. Research supports the effectiveness of learning in meaningful contexts (Carraher,Carraher & Schleimer, 1985; Lave, Smith & Butler, 1988).

In the illustration below, learners constantly seek out discovery points. The discovery points are topic areas that are of interest to the learner at that one point in time:
• Learner surrounded by many topics – he/she focus on his/her own interests
• Learner surrounded by one topic – he/she searches on his/her own interests
• Learner surrounded by no topic – he/she fills his/her own interests

The specificity of objective or following a rigid sequence of learning does not guarantee that the learner’s attention is focused on the content. The learner will always pay attention to his own interests regardless of the different topic conditions.

Elliot Massie shared in one of his presentations in Learning 2010 how he discovered that learners, specially, the nomadic or new generation learners, prefer to have more control over the way they study content. The following was his experience with a new team member:

“I was conducting an orientation program for a new team member and it was a face to face orientation. The new team member asked me if I can provide her instead a CD with the information I was covering during the orientation.”

Curious of this request, Massie asked, to paraphrase:

“Why do you need a CD?”

“The CD would be valuable so I can flip through the different sections and check out areas I want to review, just in case I need it while on the job”, the new team member responded.

In many of my workshops, when discussing learning objectives, I ask participants,

“How many percent are you mentally present and follow the discussions during the workshop?”

Majority tell me, that they are mentally present in the session for only around 5% to 15% of the time. Their minds wander around and often do not follow the goings-on in the workshop. Incidentally, the wandering minds is one measure that the learner is learning.

The learners’ wandering around is a natural inclination to pursue his/her own discovery points. So instead of sabotaging the state of readiness and pursuits of personal discovery points, we need to present or state learning objectives in a manner akin to the nature of learners.

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"


  1. I agree with this completely. Can you provide an example or two of what this kind of contextual learning objective would look like, in contrast to the conventional behavioral objective?

  2. Loved learning the concept! Keep up the good work!
    Resume Objectives


Welcome! Sharing your comments is very valuable learning experience for me and others. Thanks!