Design learning to answer why?
When I taught marketing communications, one of the early lessons I conveyed to students, and the very first element I looked for in their work was this: can the audience explain WHY this message is for them, and will they care?
What makes this message, at this moment, significant?
Learning content needs to answer that same question: why? Learning experiences and materials send messages that must compete with those over 10,000 marketing messages a person receives daily. An educational message has to break through and elevate itself over all of the other messages that are designed to introduce, inform, and persuade.
When a college student or a team member sits down to learn, they look at the content, the instructor, and peers and ask themselves: is this experience and material for me, and why should I care?
In andragogy, a significant learning experience is tied to one’s social or vocational role, something immediate and impactful, that makes them better at what they do or get them prepared for an impending change.
The learner spends energy deciphering what is and is not important. Instructors, content, and peer groups can help to try and communicate why something should be important to them, but ultimately it’s up to the learner to decide that for themself. If the learner can see that this is significant to what they do or can contribute, then they become more invested in the experience and the material. If not, then they may be in the wrong class or position, or something else may be going on where they need support and assistance not related to the work.
But in the end, we need to design experiences and material that helps the learner understand a reason for existence with a specific task or situation.
It’s not so much the quality of an experience or importance of some information that makes the learning significant.
It’s the learner’s ability to answer why? that makes the lesson significant.
The learner needs the clarity that comes with knowing the importance of how the content relates to them, and how it helps them to fulfill psychosocial tasks and generate value.
Design to help the learner answer why? and you will have designed for learning.