July 16, 2011

I Learned Something New

Posted in Learning at 5:25 pm by kristibroom

Image by simminch

The other day we were enjoying our time outside, and my son exclaimed “I learned something new!”. He had discovered that, by varying pressure on the nozzle of the garden hose, he can impact the length and width of the stream of water. And, enjoying this new learning, he proceeded to water our lawn. Bonus for us!

As I was thinking about his discovery, and how proud he was that he figured it out himself, I thought about my own experiences of learning something new. Like him, I love to learn, but the most memorable things I’ve learned ten to come after I’ve struggled with something and finally, through trial and many errors, figure it out.

And then I think about training. Whether it’s instructor-led or elearning, our courses are often designed to make things easy to learn. It’s a topic that has been on my mind, especially after reading Julie Dierksen’s post, “Why ‘Clear and Easy to Understand’ can be bad.” In it, she cites the research and studies that explain why challenge aids retention of learning.

I do think there are times for the “clear and easy to understand” type of design. When we “train” to meet a regulatory requirement, I could not appreciate more an easy course that I can breeze through with minimal effort. But when we really want someone to learn, they’ve got to struggle a bit.

I think there is a balance, though. Too much struggle and it seems like all that is all that is remembered. I clearly remember a time when, as a second grader wanting to do well in school, I was challenged to find the right order to a number of statements. After multiple attempts, and after exhausting the patience of my teacher, I remember tears in my eyes as I randomly ordered the items, hoping that magically they’d land in the right order. I still don’t like those types of exercises. In that situation, there was clearly too much struggle.

I see ties into the conversations happening around gaming and gamification, and the desire to allow self-directed learning. All of these will succeed when we allow learners to struggle, to figure things out for themselves, and simply get out of the way. I’m not suggesting that support is not needed — of course it is — but I can say that personally, I feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and I am more likely to remember what I’ve learned, when I’ve had to figure something out on my own.

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