Why it’s good to lose control

Why it's good to lose controlAs instructional designers, we are used to being in control.  In control of the content, in control of how it gets delivered, in control of how people are assessed, in control of how feedback is given and in control of what happens next. And that’s exactly how we like it 🙂

But things are changing and we need to be changing with them.

The world of learning is becoming more learner-centric and self-directed which has lead to an increased focus on the theory of connectivism.  This approach actually emerged in 2005, but is only now getting more attention because the advances in technology are opening up new avenues for learning, especially through mobile and social platforms – and learners are lapping it up.

If we don’t adjust our style of design to fit the way that people are now wanting to learn, we run the risk of not only having disengaged learners but also alienated and frustrated learners who feel that our programs are outdated and stifling.

So if we are used to designing prescriptive learning, how can we change our approach and start to lose control?

I’ve been working on a set of elearning coaching programs for our business based on constructivist, humanist and connectivist approaches, which was an interesting and challenging experience that lead me to write this post and want to share  a few tips with you:

  1. Focus on the instruction and not the technology.  To keep your content up to date and in a format that will appeal, the design is what will get your program over the line, not how sophisticated the technology is.  Developing and maintaining a hi-tech program is time consuming and can be costly.  What platforms and tools can you use that will get your learner what they want when they want it?  At the end of the day, swanky functionality and pretty interfaces are great but what value do they add if the instruction is poor or the information is out of date?
  2. Get better at chunking information. How far down can you chunk information to make it more easily accessible on demand for learners rather than them having to work through a whole topic to get to what they need?  Could you think of your content in the form of FAQs and split it into small chunks related by category?  Could you hold a webinar or short face-to-face workshop introducing the topic and explain how to access the detailed information via an intranet, for example?
  3. Re-think immediate “content” assessment.  Find out how you can assess and evaluate learning in ways that are more closely related to the effect that piece learning has on the business, rather than how much information an individual has retained to score well on an assessment.  At the start of the project we need to be asking “how and when will we know if this worked” and then we’ll know how and when to perform the evaluation, noting that this may be several months out from the learning intervention.  It’s no good having all learners achieving 100% pass rates after a bit of self-paced elearning if they can’t transfer that knowledge back into the workplace.  We need to be checking if they get the concept of what we are trying to get across, then check that they can get more information on the detail they need to perform the tasks required back on the job.  We need to facilitate their skills in finding information, not actually storing it in their heads.

“Letting go” of anything is difficult, (especially when you have been working at being in control for over 20 years!) but if we don’t find ways to help our learners spread their wings and embrace a new way of learning and developing themselves we will have lost control anyway, so better to be in control of losing control – right?!

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  1. Michelle Ockers 13/02/2013 at 8:27 pm

    You are right on about chunking. When content is chunked down small enough it becomes more flexible in how you can use it and the range of target audiences who might put it together in different ways – a bit like a big bag of lego. I’ve been working on a project to create eLearning for production operators recently – we’ve chunked it down in a way that allows them to access and digest it in short ‘gaps’ of time that they get during a production shift when the line is running well, and also in a way that there are relevant chunks that the maintenance and quality team members will access without having to do the whole ‘program’. Good for bite-sized refreshers or ‘on demand’ learning too.

    • Karen Moloney 14/02/2013 at 9:02 am

      Thanks for sharing Michelle! We’ve found all kinds of uses for small chunks of learning and our target audiences appreciate being able to dip in and out of the content as they need, so I think it’s definitely something we need to focus more on as designers.

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