So, if it’s up to the learner, the manager, and the designer, what’s left for the instructor in making sure that learning happens?
Instruction by Essential Ingredients
Here are some areas where instructors can make a huge difference:
Motivation. Why are we learning this and why should we care? Instructors can make the rationale for learning come alive.
Instructors can remind learners of their own reasons to care: value, usefulness, curiosity. Even staying out of trouble. And they can point out organizational or societal reasons to care, as well.With experienced learners, you can ask them, and they can add reasons for learning.
- What happens if we learn to do this well?
- What happens if we don’t?
- What difference does this make to anybody (including positive and negative consequences)?
Objectives. What will we be able to do after taking this course or learning this lesson? Sometimes the objectives are written in what I think of as “designer speak.” In other words, technical language that basically causes everyone else’s eyes to glaze over.If you are the instructor, you can assist your learners by translating what they’re about to learn into plain language that they can easily grasp.
- Teaching/Learning Activities. Reading slides to people is not training. If that’s all you have to work with, figure out how to engage your learners. Some examples:
- Memory. Organize lots of repetition, links to prior knowledge, or elaboration.
- Concepts. Make lists of examples. Organize sorting activities. Figure out ahead of time exactly what makes something this rather than that.
- Procedures. When to use the procedure. The steps. How to do each one. How to put them together. How to tell if you’ve done it correctly.
- Principles. When it applies. What it helps to explain, control, or explain. Situations when they might need to apply the procedure. Stories about successful and unsuccessful applications.
- Processes. All the above, plus an overall model for attacking the situation. Opportunities for modification and trouble-shooting. How to evaluate the results of the process. War stories.
Some of these elements may be designed in to the program you are teaching. Still, you can bring your own experience to make the learning come alive.
Levels of Instruction
To help people learn to do something they haven’t been able to do before, it’s a good idea to remember that there is so much more involved than simply “covering” everything you want them to know. Some instructors can only present information. Others can present and also facilitate. What we usually want, is someone who can present, facilitate, and train: making sure that the learners master new skills.
- When presenting content, find ways to keep people awake. Ask for a show of hands, take a poll, ask for best guesses, suggest connections, have people write down ideas and questions. Make sure they are not passively sitting there, just letting the words go by.
- Facilitating interaction with and between learners. Get them to talk with you and also with each other. They can discuss ideas or plans in pairs or small groups, complete an assignment, build something, or solve a problem together.
- For training, keep the objectives firmly in mind. Keep tabs on whether the learners can achieve the objectives. Do your best to include enough practice for your learners to feel confident that they can use their new skills back on the job. Discuss with them how they’ll use their new skills. Consider reviewing possible barriers and asking or helping your learners to come up with solutions.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, showing some of the many ways an instructor can make learning happen.
If everyone in the learning quartet (learner, designer, manager, and instructor) works at it, then people will more easily learn skills they’ll use in their job, at home, or just generally, in life.