I met Julie Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn, when she was teaching a 2-day workshop on advanced e-learning in San Diego. We both live in Minneapolis so it’s a little odd having to travel half-way across the country to go to a workshop with her but it was worth it.
Even though there was a fairly set curriculum, she could barely contain herself for deviating into the vast material covered in her book and I was happy to get the real deal from her. But shortly after I returned I pulled her book off my bookshelf and jumped back into it.
Gold mine! Seriously. SO much packed into this book about what we know about learning.
Below are just a few things I pulled out that haven’t covered in some other form in this blog.
Tip 1: Understand where your learners are coming from
One of the hardest things for those of us creating courses about our own areas of expertise is that it can be really challenging going back to a time when we, too, were novices.
Here’s what you might do about it: Break out a new document on your computer or call a friend or fellow entrepreneur and tell the story of how you learned your area of expertise. Did you practice it? How did you get feedback about how well you were doing? Did you learn quickly or did it take a long time? Did you DO something specific with your developing expertise? Could other people see you do it or know that you’ve done it?
Next, talk to other people proficient or expert in your area. Have them tell you their story. Ask loads of questions.
Try to uncover what motivated them to keep learning even when it got more difficult:
- What did they hope to do with the information?
- What did they expect the topic would help them professionally?
- Why was the topic important to them?
- What problems did they hope it would solve for them?
Tip 2: Assess the gap between where your target learner is now and where they want to be.
Julie broke this down into several specific areas that I think are particularly helpful:
- Motivation – Presumably whatever you are teaching necessitates some kind of change in the learner (or, in your case, to the person contemplating buying and taking your course). What is the learner’s attitude toward the change? Are they going to be resistant? Get clear on the gap between where your potential learner is now in terms of their motivation and where you’d like them to be in order to buy and complete your course.
- Habit – Next look at the habit gap. Are any of the behaviors that you want them to change merely habits? Are there existing habits that will need to be unlearned?
- Environment – What in the environment is preventing the learner from being successful right now? What is needed to support them in being successful?
- Knowledge – What information does the learner need to be successful? When along their learning journey will they need it? What formats would best support them?
- Skills – What will the learners need to practice the skills you’re teaching? Where are their opportunities to practice?
Julie’s got some great questions that she found to be particularly helpful in creating a gap analysis:
- Ask, “What do they actually need to DO with this?”
- Follow a novice around and watch what they do. Follow an expert around and do the same. What are they doing differently?
- Ask yourself if the person would be able to do something if they wanted to badly enough. If yes, it’s not a knowledge or skills gap.
- Ask, “Is there anything – anything at all – that we could do, besides training, that would make it more likely that people would do the right thing?”
- Ask, “Is this going to involve changing the way they do things now?”
- Ask, “What is the consequence if somebody does it wrong?”
- Ask, “If someone is getting this exactly right, what would that look like?”
- Ask, “Is it reasonable to assume that someone will get this right the first time out, or will they need to practice to get proficient?”
Tip 3: Identify the level of proficiency needed
Not everyone needs to be amazingly proficient at your topic to be successful.
Check out these levels of proficiency and match those with your learner’s need. Cut out of your course anything that’s not necessary!
- Familiarization – Be able to recognize or recall something
- Comprehension – Be able to explain or describe principles/guidelines/procedure, or recognize examples, if prompted
- Conscious Effort – Attempt to do the thing by consciously using the principles/guidelines/procedures
- Conscious Action – Successfully do the thing by consciously using the principles/guidelines/ procedures
- Proficiency – Successful do the thing using the principles/guidelines/procedures without laborious referencing.
- Unconscious Competency – Do the thing using the principles/guidelines/procedures without even thinking about it or deliberately referencing the materials.
Tip 4: Design for fast or slow learning
Sometimes something needs to be learned quickly. I teach managers to use a specific process when they’re dealing with an employee who is having performance problems. A manager can have this 4-step list on a little post-it and implement it on the fly. That’s fast!
Here’s what it might look like to design help for those things that fall on the continuum between fast and slow learning:
- Very Fast – Tools, checklists, specific procedures
- Moderate – Skills, practice, proficiency development
- Slow – Higher level conceptual and strategic skills, expert coaching, extensive practice
You don’t need to bring in the bulldozer when you just need a shovel! Match the need to your approach – no more, no less!
Julie’s book is chock full of a ton of other information. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in how people learn best. See if your library has it or make an investment yourself.
Cheers and good luck!