Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Big Question

This month's big question from the Learning Circuits Blog: What did you learn about learning in 2007?

I learned that connecting with the blogging community has helped me get more passionate about my work as an instructional designer. I'd go so far as to say that I've reinvented myself as a learning professional. Connecting with other people creates motivation.

Which brings me to my next point. And this is definitely not one of those things that I'm learning for the first time, but here goes:

Motivation is everything!

Over the past two weeks, I've had the privilege of watching my 4 1/2 year old son learn how to write. The motivation? Santa Claus.

N: "How will Santa know what I want for Christmas?"

Me: "Well, we'll have to write him a letter."

I'd assumed this meant he would dictate and I would write. But we got home and he went for the pencils and paper and dove right in. Only a mother and Santa Claus could have read his first effort, but wow.

Last night he wrote a birthday card to my mom. Sentences. Legible. Amazing. (Am I a proud mom, or what?)

Now granted, the plastic brain of a 4 1/2 year old is pretty different than your average adult learner's brain. Nevertheless, us old folks are still primed for learning when we are motivated.

I am reminded of that college econ class that my father pressured me into taking. I was so not motivated to be there, plus the professor was a jerk. Worst grade ever.

Motivating Learners in Learning Designs

As I've been writing courses on fascinating subjects like Six Sigma and financial software training after financial software training, I've been trying to keep that motivation carrot out in front.

Some things I've been trying to apply:

  • Put it into context. Explain exactly why the learner should care about this stuff. (You'll be safer. You won't get fired. You'll do a better job. You'll make more money.)
  • Keep it short and sweet. Less is more.
  • Show, don't tell. The learner wants to know what they need to know, not the detailed legal explanation. Thanks to Cathy Moore for reminding me of that one.
  • Forget the page of bulleted learning objectives at the beginning of the course. "At the end of this course, you will know how to..." What learner really bothers reading that crap? Instead SHOW the learner what they will learn. Create a scenario, add a little drama and risk. Thanks to Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning for that tip.
So what we I learn about learning in 2008? Any guesses? I'm primed and ready.


Lovekandinsky said...

Hey Cammy--great post, although I must admit my favorite part was the letter to Santa. I agree--totally cool and I'm not even the proud mama!

Anonymous said...

Consider that the kid's effort to write to Santa was not easy. I'm not sure learning takes place at all when things are easy; that's more the realm of routine application of things already learned.

It seems to me that motivation arises from valued accomplishments, and you increase it by approaching them. With your son, I see two: the "terminal accomplishment" of communicating with Santa, and the "enabling accomplishment" of writing a letter himself.

Far, far too much Six Sigma training (to pick a handy target) is a form of theology: here are the great miracles of the past, here are the holy phrases, here are the rituals to perform.

Not many people at the GE component where I worked cared to acknowledge in public that it can be tough to come up with demonstrable benefits for your mandatory green belt project when you don't work in a manufacturing environment.

Yet without the participant's recognizing those benefits in terms of his or her job, it's going to be lonesome at the chimney, waiting for Sigma Claus to appear.

(Now, if International Widget Corporation forces all its employees to take Profitability 101, you should do as much as you can to connect with the learners. I do think you need to admit at least to yourself that sometimes you're getting paid to help the legal department display boilerplate on employees' monitors.)