I had the good fortune to spend a semester in Italy during college. Since I didn’t speak any Italian, I signed up for the introductory language course. The professor would assign us an activity, without any explanation, then wait a few minutes and give us the answers. It seemed like a waste of time.
Noticing my classmates’ frustration, I decided to let the professor know that the format wasn’t working well for us. I then, naively, suggested that maybe we could try doing the explanation first and then the activity. She listened patiently, thanked me for letting her know, and then politely declined. She reminded me that part of the experience of being abroad was seeing how other cultures do things. This was how teaching was done in Italy.
She had an excellent point and looking back at it now as an instructional designer it’s a sound method. The problem was that we American students were all used to having everything handed to us up front, memorizing a rule or concept, and then applying it. There’s minimal discovery, problem-solving, or learning from mistakes involved in this method. We were mentally shutting down when faced with something that was arguably better for us. There’s a clear divide between what’s valued more in each method, the final answers on the one hand and the process for getting to them on the other.
There were no penalties for getting questions wrong on those exercises. We were expected to, so we could learn from them. But we usually just made a basic attempt and then waited for her to read off the answers. We didn’t engage in it as a challenge or see it as something to be curious about. We didn’t want to fail, even when the activities were not graded.
This methodology shows up in eLearning a lot too. The learner is often expected to read through some content and then answer a handful of basic questions to pass with 100%. The fact of the matter is that this doesn’t really assess comprehension. It’s a test of short-term memory.
There are lots of other options. You can “flip” eLearning by starting with an activity or scenario and then use the feedback to provide an explanation. Game-based learning takes this idea of learning through experience and applies it on a, usually, bigger scale. Using a compelling story and having learners submit guesses about what they think is going to happen next can be a neat way to get them thinking. In short, look for ways your learners can “pull” what they need, rather than how you can “push” it at them. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity (and budget).
We need to stop being afraid of failure and use it as part of the learning process instead. Let learners “pull” information so they can draw conclusions and see patterns, rather than just memorizing facts long enough to pass a multi-choice quiz. Just because a method is different from what you’re used to doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time. Be curious and rise to the challenge.
Fun Fact: In Italian, ordering a “panini” would be incorrect. That would be like ordering “a sandwiches.” The singular for sandwich is “panino.” The “i” at the end indicates that it’s plural. Therefore “spaghetti” means… you fill in the blank. Seriously though, who’s going to eat one “spaghetto” by itself?
If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
Ready to find out what Digitec can do for you?