Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How to Create Context-Setting Learning Objectives - Tip #162

We are inundated by the constant and steady bombardment of information from just about any form of media available - on a daily basis. So how do we help learners focus on usefulness and context of the content and to design and deliver training and eLearning programs to resist the tendency to dump content? How do let go of the need to know everything?

According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, PhD, author of the bestselling book This is Your Brain On Music, we process 34 gigabytes of information during our leisure time alone and we would have created a world with 300 exabytes of human made information. Information overload is a growing concern and it has been discovered that the human mind can only take so much information at a given time. It needs time to digest.

A Massive Problem for Corporations, Classrooms
and eLearning Lessons

Organizations are unaware that they are actually paying a high premium for information inundation. "Corporations are failing to help staff cope with the technological barrage, daily meetings and constant connection, leading to rising levels of stress and psychological illness and costing billions in lost productivity," says Sarah O'Carroll in her article "How email deluge makes frustrated workers go postal" published by Herald Sun Melbourne Edition.

Yes, the overload problem is real and manifests in elearning, classroom training and other forms of learning. The challenge for eLearning designers and leaders to engage users without overwhelming them with dumped content is a reality.

Solutions for Learners and Companies

Paul Hemp in his article "Death by Information Overload" published by Harvard Business Review, suggested some solutions to the problem: changing corporate cultures, providing better tools, learning to use tools to filter and focus. The most important and maybe the most critical is a change in our belief system or attitude. Jerry Michalski, an independent consultant on the use of social media nailed it, "You have to be Zen-like... You have to let go of the need to know everything completely."

In training we are focused on production and efficiency of delivering content, not on its usefulness. Its consequence is the slowing down of the usage of content particularly apparent in the overload problems.

Context is the True King, Not Content

With the avalanche of information, the current challenge is not the lack of content, but the insufficiency of context. 
The need to refocus learning objectives based on the needs of learners becomes apparent. Instead of writing content from the context of the designer, write it as a "Set Up" so learners can instantly see their usefulness in real-life context. This is the essence of using Story-based Learning Objectives.

In designing content, start by asking learners what is important to them and why. How do story questions help make this work? This encourages learners to bring forth their own stories. The learners must be helped with your questions so they can focus on what they consider useful.

Here are some story-based questions aimed to help learners find out the usefulness in a content:
  • What problems will you solve if you find the answer?
  • What is important to you?
  • What are you trying to solve?
  • What do you know NOW about this topic?
  • What do you want to know about this topic?
  • How will you go about learning more about this topic?
  • How do others feel and what do they say about this topic?
  • How does the above change your understanding of what it is that you want?
Context-Setting Learning Objectives

How do we operationalize using learning objectives to aid learners to discover the usefulness of content and finding context instantly? Let's call this Story-Based Learning Objectives.

Preview the two examples below.

Example 1 - Probing Questions

Example 2 - Confidential Documents 

What is the difference between Static Learning Objectives and Story-Based Learning Objectives? Static learning objectives are statements of facts or academic learning goals. This is an example of what we dump during learning lessons. 

Learners are expected to appreciate and learn academic goals. However by the sheer nature of being a static fact, it is difficult to find meaning in it, hence, making it tough to learn.

Story-Based Learning Objectives, on the other hand, are context driven. They quickly bring the content into a contextual form. They help the learners visualize the value of the context in real-life context. 

Reflect on these questions when preparing  Story-Based Learning Objectives.
  • Do we engage the learner when we use it to focus on usefulness and context?
  • Do we relieve them of unnecessary stress?
  • Do we hasten his/her understanding of the content?
  • Do we make it easier for the learner to apply the ideas presented within the content?
The "Set Up Steps" of Story-Based Learning Design helps you to convert your content into highly contextually-focused learning objectives.


Story-Based Learning Objectives  support learners in their quest to understanding the the context of lessons, helping them to focus on what is useful and apply the ideas  presented within the content.

I'd love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments section. 


Ray Jimenez, PhD. Story Impacts Learning and Performance: Monogatari Press. March 5, 2013

John Gantz, Angele Boyd, and Seana Dowling: Cutting the Clutter: Tackling Information Overload at the Source
Annual Reviews: The Role of the Critical Review Article in Alleviating Information Overload

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

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