This past year, I recall watching the presidential candidate debates and thinking, “The number of viewpoints in our political system can be deafening.” Our system has grown to be far more complex than simply identifying oneself as Democrat or Republican. I think plurality of viewpoints in our political system is positive. The problems and opportunities we face as a nation are too complex to create a solution informed by only one particular worldview. However, having multiple viewpoints weigh in on contemporary issues certainly does create a lot of noise for the general public to sort through as they make a decision at the polls.
There are a number of parallels between the multiple viewpoints in our political system and the perspectives guiding the design of learning experiences. For instance, having multiple viewpoints on how adults learn helps inform the development of robust and multi-faceted learning experiences that impact learners in a positive way. Without multiple views on learning, we would likely still rely on lecture-based methods for teaching. Instead, because we have multiple viewpoints on learning, we see learning experiences that incorporate multiple learning modes such as multi-media presentations, hands-on experiences, serious games, discussions with peers and more. The number of viewpoints on adult learning also creates a lot of noise making it difficult to determine which methods and approaches will really work.
In my last post, I introduced pedagogy as one of the five elements to consider in the design of a successful learning experience. Our team may not use the word in day-to-day interactions with clients, but rest assured this element drives our thinking as we design and develop learning experiences. Similar to political viewpoints, there are many pedagogical perspectives that offer different beliefs about how people learn. There are mainstream views such as constructivism and behaviorism. There are also minority views such as radical social constructivists. Each perspective, whether in the majority or minority, offers a nuanced set of beliefs about how people learn and, in turn, different principles for the design of learning experiences. You c
an see how a discussion about pedagogy introduces noise into the design process, making it difficult to figure out how to build a successful learning experience.
Personally, I don’t think it’s practical to adopt one view over another when designing a learning experience. If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, it’s likely that you’ll treat every problem you encounter like a nail. At Vivayic, we take a different approach. Like a good craftsman, we believe each project deserves careful selection of the appropriate tools needed to achieve the intended results. Rather than producing solutions that espouse only one viewpoint, we consider several dimensions that allow us to identify the best pedagogical approach to guide the design of a successful learning experience. Here are a couple dimensions that we consider when identifying the best approach for a learning experience. I chose these because they are leading trends in the design of adult learning experiences.
Situated-ness of Learning
This dimension deals with beliefs about the degree to which a learning experience needs to be situated within the context where the application is to take place. On one end of the continuum is situated. At this extreme, the learning experience would happen directly in the context where the application is occur. Imagine you need to teach folks in your organization how to use a new customer-relationship management software program. A learning experience that is situated would be embedded performance support tools within the software. When learners start the program they would have access to information and training resources (e.g., videos) on how to effectively use the program as they use the software.
On the other hand, a learning experience that is removed might occur in a more traditional learning setting. For instance, you might host a training session during which you give a PowerPoint presentation to employees. This presentation would teach them how to use the software when they return to their desk. In this case, it would likely be more effective to design a learning experience that is more situated than removed. Trying to remember and then apply what was learned about the software in an extreme version of the removed scenario might be very difficult.
Situated-learning experiences aren’t necessarily better than removed-learning experiences. There are learning and training situations where it might be more effective to pull the learner away from their everyday context in order to gain an adequate level of focus and attention or social interaction to learn the intended material. For example, a workshop on a broad topic like innovation might be most effective if facilitated in a setting that is removed from the day-to-day worksite to avoid potential distractions such as e-mail and establish an appropriate tone to achieve the goals of the learning experience.
At Vivayic, we believe there’s room for both approaches. In reality, most solutions fall somewhere in the middle. It’s a matter of deciding the degree to which the learning experience needs to be situated in order to achieve the stated objectives.
Formality of Learning
Another pedagogical consideration affecting the design of learning experiences deals with beliefs around the formality and structure necessary to promote learning. On one end of this continuum is formal learning. At this extreme, the core assumption is that careful structure and guidance from an authoritative source is required for the intended learning to occur. On the other end of this continuum is informal learning. At this extreme, the core assumption is that learning occurs organically through everyday experiences and spontaneous interactions with others.
This dimension continues to receive attention because there is a growing base of research indicating that individuals prefer, and tend to find greater utility in, what they learn from informal, self-directed interactions. This isn’t to say that formal learning has no value. There’s no question that formal instruction can be very impactful. However, the ongoing discussion regarding the appropriate level of formality for learning has resulted in a push toward incorporation of more informal means of sharing knowledge (e.g., wikis, discussion boards, knowledge-sharing platforms, etc.).
There’s a place for both formal and informal forms of learning. If sales reps need to be trained on how to effectively communicate a brand new value proposition, you likely won’t want to rely completely on informal learning experiences. On the other hand, if you have a group of practitioners who need to discuss and troubleshoot how to resolve technical issues with a particular software program, you likely don’t need a formal training experience to accomplish the goal.
As with situated-ness, we believe determining where a learning experience should fall on this continuum involves a consideration of the intended goals and the content to be learned.
As with political viewpoints, our beliefs about learning shape the way solutions are generated. Sifting through the multiple viewpoints on the design of learning isn’t an easy task. Vivayic’s experience has led us to believe that gaining a good perspective requires taking a step back to evaluate what will work best for the given learning needs, context, audience and content. Then, and only then, can we cut through the noise created by multiple pedagogical perspectives and begin to think about the best way forward.