Connecting with Learners

As learning designers, we create learning experiences for learners.
But in the process, we often lose sight of the fact that every time we design a learning experience, we are learners too!
And in that omission, we pass up a valuable opportunity to connect with our learners and use our experiences as the basis for other people’s learning.

Over the years I have created countless courses on a range of subjects – soft skills, HR, retail skills, superannuation, finance, sales and marketing, systems training, product specs, workplace safety, journalism, insurance, health and mental health – the list goes on. Even a toilet training programme. And for many of these, I was virtually clueless about the subject matter before starting the project.

So one of the important preliminary steps in my process is to immerse myself in the content – to read through or review it. Sadly this activity is often neglected as time constraints and low expectations frequently force learning designers to reduce the review stage to nothing more than a copy and paste exercise. However, I believe the information review phase is a critical part of the ID process. This is when I view the information for the first time. This is when I react – with boredom, interest or confusion. It’s when I form my first impressions. When a light bulb moment may occur or I make a connection with something I’ve previously learnt. Sometimes I recall a conversation I’ve had about something similar or think of a situation where the information might come in handy.

I’m conscious that in a few weeks (or months), learners will also be exposed to this information for the first time. And so in a very direct way, I am able to see the world through their eyes. If I am conscious of my learning process, then I can sometimes use it to supplement theirs.

And so I capture as many of those thoughts as I can. I jot them down – those lightbulb moments, those connections and reactions. I expand them into metaphors and use them as a basis for interactivity. My experiences become scenarios and characters and videos.
If I find part of the material mind-numbingly boring then chances are the learner will too. If I’m confused after reading and rereading then chances are the learner will be too. My confusion becomes questions or a mental note that perhaps that part of the material may need deeper coverage.

Putting yourself in the learner’s shoes is a critical part of understanding the need for learning, the challenges the learner faces and what excites them and motivates them. We do this through direct consultation with the learner, however, there is another way we can walk in the learner’s shoes or more accurately perhaps, ‘sit in their seat’.
This involves imagining that you are the learner and then visualising the learning experience. I do this as I design the instructional materials, not at the end once they have been created. This ensures that the learner’s viewpoint is incorporated into the development, not as an afterthought. As I storyboard I visualise in my head how the screen or section would play out if I was the learner and then the best case scenario – how it contributes to my deeper understanding of the concepts involved. Visualisation is certainly a powerful tool because sometimes I simply write down what I can see in my head. The same applies to writing dialogue for scenarios and video. The key is to get into the frame of mind where visualisation is possible. But more about that later…

In the end, learning is about the learner. The more opportunities we have to connect with learners whether that be directly, vicariously or through the reflection of our own learning processes the better resource we produce and the more valuable learning experience we provide.

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