We can meet the multifaceted task of designing, creating, and launching great learning programs by applying everything we’ve learned about how humans learn and how to facilitate that process. Not easily and not without great effort and dedication. But we can do it.
Wouldn’t it be great if that were enough?
Yes, it would be. But it isn’t always. Really clever and perfectly devised learning programs can fall flat with people not completing them or even starting them if they can find a way around them. Training just isn’t as universally popular as we’d like it to be.
Bad experiences, pressing demands, fun alternatives all combine to discourage people from jumping into training programs enthusiastically. Once in, many begin looking at the clock and the agenda, trying to gauge how much longer it’s going to be before they’re free to do other things.
There are many factors, to be sure. But there’s one I think rarely gets enough attention. And that’s establishing personal relevancy.
I discovered this while studying the problems with our public educational system. It’s getting very bad grades. They’re worsening, in fact. Yes, the pandemic slapped the system down, but it’s not been an effective system for a long time and the results have continued to worsen since the pandemic.
My attention was initially focused on low-income communities where only a small percentage of students are graduating from high school. Black children in particular are not getting the advantages of an education or of employable skills. In conversations with teachers, administrators, parents, and children, one student's statement hit me hard:
“This school stuff. It’s for white kids. It’s not for us.”
Whoa. Isn’t it?
Well, of course it would be advantageous to be able to read, write, and do math well. But you can’t get away with just telling kids that. Although it surely helps, even successful black athletes, artists, and business people telling black kids how important an education is doesn’t result in most kids digging in with sustained energy.
Relevancy Matters to Everyone
As I was gaining some understanding of the intractable challenges schools face (of which I have much more to learn), I realized everyone needs to see, feel, and believe in the relevancy of what an instructional program is delivering. If you don’t, you are easily distracted. Annoyed. Impatient. Bored.
We need to pay attention to learners as individual people, not just focus on our subject matter experts and our instructional design principles. We need to learn about each individual learner to build on that learner’s strengths, interests, and priorities. Making assumptions about what these characteristics are or, worse, should be, is a crippling error that can defeat much of the good things we are doing.
In future newsletters, I’ll review ideas of how we learn about our learners in practical and empowering ways to make our instructional programs more effective than ever before.
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