Thursday, December 21, 2006

Supply vs. Demand Learning

I'm sure I'm not the only one to (re)stumble upon great stuff that had been forgotten from a previously read book. It's, at once, an exciting and frustrating experience for me - great in that I have a sudden rush of an "oh, YEAH!" reminding, but bitter in that I'm (once again) faced with how poorly I'm dealing with the challenge of my own information management efforts (which I see as different from my personal knowledge management, which, due to its being "personal" and "knowledge", doesn't really need "management, per say - it's who I am). I digress...

In reskimming JS Brown's terrific The Social Life of Information, I was reminded of a simple but important way to frame one of the common mistakes made in Instructional Design.

"Learning is usually treated as a supply-side matter, thought to follow teaching, training, or information delivery. But learning is much more demand driven. People learn in response to need. When people cannot see the need for what's being taught, they ignore it, reject it, or fail to assimilate it in any meaningful way. Conversely, when they have a need, then, if the resources for learning are available, people learn effectively and quickly."

So simple. So obvious. So often ignored.

What Instructional Designers (and those in charge of Training/Education, both at the academic and corporate levels) should always keep in the forefront of their minds is Motivation, Relevance, and Need. And I don't mean from the teacher's/organization's perspective - it's all about the learner, no matter how much we may twist and turn and stand on our heads to convince ourselves otherwise. Remember the old saying about leading a horse to water? The sooner we deeply embrace this fact, the sooner we'll stop burning time, money, effort, and goodwill trying to force that which isn't wanted.

The trick is to design to the "sweet spot" where what has been prescribed as necessary overlaps with what the audience wants. And it's not as difficult as one might initially think.

One way is to simply start each course/module/unit/section with a brief context-setting story or example that establishes (in the learner's mind, not the designer/instructor's mind) how the content that follows is important and relevant to the learner's world. BOOM! Suddenly the "sweet spot" overlap grows larger! It's certainly not rocket science, but the concept of establishing the WIIFM clearly and in a compelling/memorable fashion is so frequently ignored, there seems to be a need to provide (another) reminder.

The question is, will it be the last time the ID community requires this fundamental prompt?

Unfortunately, I'm guessing "no".


I'm really not sure. Probably because it's easier to simply copy/paste an old "preaching" design than to craft a new custom "teaching" design.

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