Knowledge Transforms MeaningI was recently introduced to a card game called Dixit. The goal is to figure out which picture card another player is thinking of, based on a hint they provide. I figured I’d have some fun playing with friends and then go about business as usual. Instead, it changed how I think about “meaning.”

Here’s a summary of one of the rounds. The hint was, “I have a dream I hope will come true. That you’re here with me and I’m here with you.” The five picture cards were:

1. A couple playing chess
2. A woman sleeping near the ocean
3. A train going through the countryside
4. A person in a house alone
5. A man in prison smiling up at the ceiling

All of these could make sense with that hint. But I knew right away that 2 was the correct answer. I recognized the hint as a quote from the Pixar short Lava, which is about two singing volcanic islands, one male and one female, that are separated from one another. The other player guessed 3. They had never seen Lava. One past experience transformed that card’s meaning.

It’s a fascinating realization. The same thing can have different meanings or significance for different people based on their experiences. Jean Piaget called this concept constructivism. Maybe your association has some baseline information or compliance requirements that all members are supposed to know. Using examples is a good way to get learners’ attention and help them remember content. But if something doesn’t have any meaning or significance to someone they’re not as likely to dive into its finer points.

If that same information is presented in a way that’s personally significant to a learner, it encourages them to “own” that knowledge and helps them grasp the nuances. Think of it as the next step after providing examples. Examples generally provide context and let learners know “why,” personally significant information encourages further exploration.

Information with little personal significance: Looking at something that’s at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes helps reduce eyestrain.

The learner thinks: That’s good to know.


Information with personal significance: Looking at something that’s at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes helps reduce eyestrain. (This learner suffers from eyestrain).

The learner thinks: I’m going to try this and see if it helps. Huh, why would this help? I’ll look it up.

Realistically, there isn’t a way to make everything personally important to everyone. That variety is part of what makes people individuals. Depending on who you are, “He waited at the starting line, muscles tense and ready to go” could call up the image of a runner, racecar driver, horse, greyhound, or a number of other possibilities. What did you think of?

There are, however, a few ways your association’s educational offerings can benefit from your learners’ unique experiences and values:

• Ask members for their ideas, concerns, interests, etc.
• Have group discussions or forums so learners can share their experiences and ideas
• Provide links to additional resources so interested learners have a starting point for further research
• Give multiple examples to illustrate the same thing:

o It will be more likely that at least one of the examples will resonate with an individual learner
o Having multiple examples also helps familiarize the learner with the subject, since they’ll be able to see the similarities between the examples

Without people’s individual interpretations Dixit wouldn’t exist, let alone be fun. We all assign meaning to the things and information we encounter based on our own experiences. That’s why some things stand out as more important to some people than to others. Personally significant information can motivate learners to delve deeper into a subject. What makes something “meaningful” to you?

If you’d like to learn more about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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