In this hectic world of on-the-spot access to information, conversations held in 140 characters or less, and instant picture uploads, Instructional Designers are faced with the challenge of designing effective learning that won’t overload learners. The heart of this challenge is finding the learners’ motivational sweet spot. To the Instructional Designer, this means figuring out how to get them to care. There are lots of ways to instill motivation, but even our best laid plans and efforts can fall short. How do we mix it up, remembering that we live in a world where sensory overload and external distractions lurk around every corner? Let’s consider a few ways we can challenge our learners to engage and translate that engagement into learning.
Create a paradigm shift
Let learners be a little selfish about their learning. Ask them to answer the question, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” Incorporating WIIFM creates an emotional connection to the learners’ desired outcome. This ultimately helps them see learning as an asset, rather than a chore or a checkbox. After all, isn’t it easier to adopt something that’s personally relevant, rather than something mandatory that doesn’t actually apply to you?
Try this: Weave honest, conversational feedback and stories from real people who have been impacted (by both having knowledge as well as by lacking knowledge) into the course.
Get them outside their comfort zone
Let’s be honest – change is hard. On the other hand, habits make us feel comfortable, safe, and confident. But situations that create discomfort and conflict force learners to stretch their capabilities by making inferences and assumptions, testing best guesses, and exploring their creativity. This anxiety and stress helps learners develop resourcefulness and resiliency while adding new knowledge and skills. After learners develop strategies for overcoming that discomfort within the safe confines of eLearning, they can return to daily life with their newfound knowledge and confidence.
Try this: Take a cue from the television show CSI (Miami, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans – you pick!). Shock the learner with the solution or outcome first. Allow the learners to “retrace” the steps from end to beginning. This will prompt them to think in a non-linear fashion and consider all possibilities and outcomes. This replicates the complexity of reality and situations they are likely to experience in their roles.
Create a black hole
Curiosity is one of the most treasured assets in an Instructional Designer’s toolkit. When learners discover a gap in their knowledge, especially one which prevents them from getting to the aforementioned “WIIFM?” the natural pang of curiosity kicks in. The search for answers intensifies, the content gains value, and the desire to conquer that black hole turns into a driving force. Another advantage of this approach is that you avoid insulting the learners’ intelligence. Although you expose knowledge gaps, you also give the learner the opportunity to fill those gaps by letting them find the answers for themselves through activities, scenarios, and embedded aids. That way they build confidence from the inside out.
Try this: Activate your learners’ curiosity by exposing them to their knowledge gaps at the beginning of your course. Integrate a series of questions which learners are likely to get wrong, or a phased reveal of resolutions to simulated scenarios. Include a guide or mentor to provide feedback and direct them to the resources they can use to fill their knowledge void.
Following in the spirit of natural curiosity, some of you may remember the days when you could play all day with a stick, a tire, and a cardboard box. And for those who don’t remember, let me tell you, an appliance box is the jackpot! Often, training is comprised of so many bells and whistles, lists of “do this/don’t do this,” and extraneous content that the whole experience just becomes overwhelming, and the learner just shuts down. Giving learners too much direction, too much audio, too many visuals can have the unintended effect of suppressing creativity. Remember – they’re not likely to have all the answers handed to them in real life. Manage distractions and increase creative problem solving by offering only the essentials learners need to achieve WIIFM. So, remove anything that inhibits creative exploration and problem solving processes, but don’t sacrifice usability.
Try this: Give learners the proverbial stick, tire, and cardboard box and let them figure out how to build a car. Translation: strip away all the fancy frills and provide simple tools that allow learners to build their own conclusions. Incorporate feedback mechanisms along the way that encourage or redirect the learner down a path to the desired outcome.
Bury a hidden treasure
Learning is an iterative process, with connections made through cycles of trial and error, reflection, and feedback. There are many ways to help learners build knowledge which may not be overtly obvious during a course, or may even seem counterintuitive. But these hidden “treasures” allow learners to master layers through exploration, discovery, and even hitting the occasional “dead end,” which ultimately helps the learner re-calibrate and get back on course.
Try this: Practice means improvement! Allow learners to “bank” bits of knowledge from each module that will be relevant to success in subsequent modules. Plant cues and thought-provoking tidbits throughout the course to encourage the learner to build a mental foundation. Creatively reveal the next layer of information when a learner successful completes a section. Make successive modules layer, build, and apply the initial concepts. This way, the learning process allows learners to revisit ideas and reflect on the implications.
Remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every learner and every learning style. People are motivated by different factors. While this may pose a challenge to the Instructional Designer, it is not an impossible problem! By tapping into innate human inclinations like WIIFM, natural curiosity, and the drive for meaning, Instructional Designers have access to invaluable tools that require just a bit of “creative treatment.” Before you begin challenging your learners, take the first challenge yourself. Ask: “Who is my learner, what makes them tick, and why should they care about this?”
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