On January 22, 1984, during a break in the third quarter of the Super Bowl XVIII telecast, the Apple “1984” commercial aired nationally on US television. The ad is set in a dystopian future reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Legions of gray-clad men and women march in lockstep towards an arena. They take their seats before a giant screen. Staring down at them is the giant talking head of Big Brother spewing forth his vapid propaganda.
Mention “elearning” and something like this dismal image is likely to come to mind for at least some people. Let’s unpack its key features.
• People – “drones” – march in lockstep with a complete lack of personalization
• People sit, immobile and mentally passive and are dehumanized
• People are subordinated and diminished by Kafkaesque content which is literally elevated over them and made primary
Dead Poets Society
Compare this with the image of learning presented by Mr Keating in the film Dead Poets Society. In Mr Keating’s first class he immediately invites his students to step away from the neat rows of desks in his classroom. Later he quotes Whitman’s conclusion to the poem “O Me! O Life!”:
“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
Keating asks his students, “What will your verse be?” and intends for his students to reflect on this, and come to their own, unique conclusions.
Big Brother vs Mr Keating
Why is it that conventional elearning is more likely to be associated with the Orwellian vision than with the vision of learning presented by Mr Keating in Dead Poets Society? Sadly, the answer is obvious. In commodity elearning solutions:
• Users are made to work through impersonal curricula
• Users take a mentally passive role – perhaps superficially interactive – which is dehumanizing
• People are subordinated and diminished by content that fails to invite and recognize personal contributions
But the days of impersonal learning are over. New educational technology and approaches are throwing a proverbial hammer at old school, Big Brother elearning solutions.
Virtually any elearning program can be improved by looking for opportunities to invite contributions from users. After all, it’s not just millennials who are looking for meaningful learning in the workplace. No-one enjoys being treated as an object, nothing more than a vessel to be filled up with new information. Let’s remind ourselves that the word “education” comes from the root “educe”, meaning “bring out or develop (something latent or potential)”.
How can you build hyper-personalization, active learning and learner-centricity into your elearning program? What can you do to invite contributions from users? Here are four suggestions you may wish to try:
1. Ask people for their thoughts
People like to feel consulted. Ask your elearning users to reflect on the ideas you’re presenting and to share their own, unique perspectives. You can invite users to share a past or a current circumstance which they feel is relevant.
2. Ask people for their emotional reactions
Are your learners feeling confident, inspired, excited by the new ideas? Or frustrated, exhausted or overwhelmed by change? Don’t be afraid to invite your learners to share their emotional reactions to new learning and change initiatives.
3. Ask people to consider their choices
When you ask people to share their thoughts and feelings they begin to raise their self-awareness. The next step in this process is to encourage people to consider their choices. What actions might they take individually to improve in a particular area, or achieve their goals more effectively?
4. Ask people to commit to specific action steps
When Walt Whitman wrote about “contributing a verse” he meant it not in the literal sense, but in the sense of taking action in the real world. Elearning programs should drive users to put their new learning into practice.
What contributions are your learners making?
Here are a handful of the thousands of contributions shared by users when working through coaching guides on the Cognician platform:
It was a very positive exercise and I feel more self-aware after completing all the coaching guides and was able to connect all my strengths into a bigger picture. I also realized how my behavior could affect others at or outside my work environment.
I’ve learned that I don’t have lofty goals, say to climb Everest, but that it is important to me to strive for excellence in everything I do; to be the best I can be according to my own measure.
I didn’t fully appreciate how much non-Analytical people draw confidence from the approaches or methods an Analytical person takes. It can provide comfort that I take for granted.
I’ve refreshed my older ideas while going through this coaching guide. In our routine we tend to forget our great ideas without exploring further and making them real.
It makes me think more about those in my life that have inspired me, motivated me, led by example. It makes me take a better look again at myself and ask the question, “Do I do this to my peers all the time”? The answer is no, but the motivation is to become better and be more aware of the influence I have on people.
It is important to be a positive motivating person. Influencing behavior can be very vital to improve workplace productivity and also create a feel-good factor for individuals.
I’ve learned how to build connections between strangers and how we all have something in common if we just look for it.
I learned the power of vulnerability and the importance of connecting with others to understand them and even to understand yourself and your reactions within an environment and in different situations.
I’ve learned that sometimes to fix a problem I need to fix a relation.
It’s really important to try to understand people. To listen and to give. Trust is key.
What can you do to invite more contributions from your elearning users?
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