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As learning professionals, we have Knowles’ principles set in stone while designing didactic andragogic interventions. These principles have stood the test of time despite technological advancements that have shifted multiple perspectives around business and learning. Paraphrasing the four pillars:
- Learning needs to be self-directed
- Content should be relevant to their needs
- Learning should be problem-centred rather than content-driven
- Learning should be experiential
The concept is quite simple: Create relevant and solution-centred learning experiences that learners can access when they are ready. However, this simplicity is confounding for many reasons:
- How can one design a ‘universal’ course that is relevant to a specific person?
- What does one qualify as a solution for one person that can also apply to a universe of learners?
- When is a learner really ready to learn?
- How does one create experiences that engage a wide variety of audiences?
For the questions 1, 2, and 3; there is, however a cheat tip:
Identify a career step or an industry mandate that requires an aspirant to upskill. For career growth, this could mean becoming a people manager, becoming a leader of managers, etc. When it comes to industry mandate, the pace of innovation and disruptions has resulted in learners seeking to understand concepts like Blockchain, Digital, etc. The key to success here is to identify the stated and unstated needs of the learners in each of these interventions.
How do you do this? Imagine you are designing a program for a first-time manager. It is important to know your audience’s stories. Begin with creating a few ‘human’ learner profiles. “Anita is a claims supervisor at XYZ insurance, with a keen eye for detail. She is a 27-year-old mother, and she stays with her husband and 1-year old son in a rented apartment downtown. Anita is a commerce graduate and has been working with XYZ for two years. She approves the claims for accuracy before final verification and pay-out. In her last appraisal, her manager indicated to her that she will be eligible for a promotion soon. Anita has never managed people directly. She involves herself in educating the associates on why their documentation has not been approved and what additional information they need to seek before logging a claim. Now that her new role will involve managing a few supervisors and about a dozen associates, she feels that she will need help through the initial stages of her transition. She is also worried about how she will equip herself with the new skills, since her son takes up most of her time at home.”
The advantage of describing Anita as a character is that we can identify with her and her learning needs. We can use elements from the story to determine her learning goals and design interventions that are relevant.
Question ‘4’, however, needs more than a cheat. It requires a deep understanding of the diverse learners that will undergo the course. The challenge here is that each of these learners have their own individual preferences for learning and how they would like to experience it.
So, how to do you ensure that you cater to each individual when designing a course for the whole group? Experience in learning design can be enhanced by:
- The Content of the learning track: Make it crisp and focused on the skill.
- The Interactivity of instruction: Keep your learner engaged by using a range of design elements – simulations, games, in-trays, case scenarios… Don’t make your course monotonous.
- The Story of the learning: Humans don’t think in numbers (well, we all know exceptions that prove the rule), so engage the learner with stories.
- The Liberty to apply: Give learners ample opportunities to apply their newly gained skills, while encouraging them to practise.
- The Freedom of access: Make your learning accessible. Let learners decide when they want to learn – while commuting, on a break, late evenings, early mornings… Allow them the freedom to download content, the device they access it on, the time they spend on it.
- The Insight for the content: No one pays for content, but what keeps your learners hooked is the insights from the content. Find a way to help them see it.
Coming back to Anita, we know that she’s pressed for personal time. And unless we can design something that is immersive and insightful, she will feel that we wasted it. Speaking of time, it is important to ensure that your courses do not take up more that 20 minutes in a day, spread over an extended period of time. Design your course so that Anita has an incentive to stay current and not accumulate more than a week’s content at a time. Give her feedback and let her know how she’s doing.
All in all, easy to sum up in about 800 words. But it will take your design team at-least 800 minutes collectively to arrive at the right design for your next self-paced program. All the best!
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