Learners’ own stories are more important than yours

I’m quoting Clive Shepherd for the title here (from his article ‘Engaging your learner – four dos and four don’ts’). I just love the way this captures in a few words one of the most important principles of adult learning.

Our target groups are professionals, very rarely complete newbies. We’re helping experienced people do their jobs a little better. Unless the training is about a few new rules that came out, we’re not there to ‘instruct’. Compliance is a tiny fraction of what we do, so ‘instruction’ should be a tiny part of the training we offer. People’s experiences count and should be at the centre of their learning too.

Lots of e-learning articles promote the use of stories to make the learning experience more ‘engaging’. I couldn’t agree more. As an aside, I think we should aim at making the learning ‘empowering’ instead.

As a learning designer, I write a lot of stories. Stories are the backbone of real-life complex tasks. The story reflects what happens in the workplace. The task then imitates the decision making in the workplace. By doing the task, learners shape the rest of the story.

That’s how we design collaborative problem-based learning for eWorkshops. We make sure we hook the learners (“these sound like my challenges”) and we give them an opportunity to DO something instead of reading/talking about it (“this is hard but I’m sure I can solve this together with my team this week”).

The task needs to give plenty opportunities for learners to bring their own stories to the fore. It should naturally tap into participants’ experiences. When collaborative problem-based learning is well designed, participants feel the urge to share how a certain problem-solving approach didn’t work in their own context and why – and how this in turn impacts on how they approach the decision-making in the learning task.

Designing these story-inciting problems is hard work. Shallow problem-based tasks won’t trigger storytelling. It requires depth. When people are stuck alongside fellow professionals they tend to dig deep, beyond any abstract content in our outside of the workshop. They will use their own experiences to prove a point and move forward.

Depth and collaboration are at the core of learning that leads to empowerment. Learners’ stories are part and parcel of this process.

This is the essence of social constructivism.

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Earn the privilege to train your learners


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