Saturday, June 18, 2011

Feeling the Pinch in the Learner's Shoes!

I first heard the phrase "in the learner's shoes" over 15 years ago when I began my career as an Instructional Designer. Since then, I have used it and heard it being used countless times. But it's one thing to imagine yourself in these proverbial shoes and another to actually step into them, with all your callouses and corns!  

For the past few weeks, I have been preparing for a Buddhist study exam. Formal learning and examination being rare occasions at this phase in my life, I decided to observe myself learn and prepare for the exam, focusing on myself as a learner, not as a learning designer. Here are some of my observations about my learning process, the techniques I used, and the type of learning aids that worked for me. 

1. I studied the study material seriously only on two occasions, the first when I bought the material a month ago, and the second yesterday, two days before the exam. Urgency made me a lot more productive and focused. 

2. I started my studies by going through the sample test paper first, expecting to ace it. Discovering that I knew little about quite a few topics didn't feel good at all but brought out my competitive spirit. I decided to conquer the material and beat the test. 

3.  I discovered that I still like to make notes, by handWhen I was a student, I was the "notes queen", my notes being sought after by many. My hand writing is terrible now, but the confidence that comes from scribbling notes hasn't changed. 

4. Looking at my notes, I realize that I like to break down and number things. I used headers, bullet lists and numbers for almost everything. 

5. My notes were full of arrows and connectors between concepts. Sometimes, I would go back to earlier notes and make annotations about their connection with other concepts.

6. I also made some tables with related information, such as the Sutra chapter number, the key message in it and who it was spoken to. In the study material, the easiest page to understand also had a table. I gravitated towards it- it felt like an oasis in a desert of words. 

7. My favorite part of the learning material was parables. I could read and digest them very quickly. Obviously I like stories. Luckily, Shakyamuni understood that about people like me 2500 years ago and taught a lot of concepts using parables. 

8. I read and reread concepts that confused me and didn't stop till I had figured them out. Having spent that extra time and effort in being immersed in the tougher concepts, I did have a greater sense of achievement after mastering them. Although the parables were fun to read and easy to understand, immersion and the satisfaction of immersion came only from the quest to understand the tougher concepts. 

9. I did a little Google search to clarify some concepts, but knowing that the test would be based on the study material and that I had very little time left helped shorten and focus my Internet strolls.

10From my past experience with a similar exam, I know that only the final result, passed or not, will be revealed. But I really want to know how much I scored and how I fared as compared to others. 

So what does it all mean as a learning designer? I have drawn some lessons from these observations and validated some of the design principles I use when designing learning, such as the power of pre-assessments and feedback to set the context for learning, the need for frequent summaries and checks, and the benefits of infographics as learning tools. 

But it has also thrown up some disturbing questions, like how much simplification is a designer's responsibility and how much learning should be the learner's own personal quest
. Had the material been organized and presented better, with tables and infographics like in my notes, would I have learned as much? Or was my learning a direct result of the act of my scribbling notes? Had the difficult concepts been explained more clearly in the study material, would I have immersed myself in the content and derived the satisfaction and sense of achievement that I did? 

I am left wondering if by spending all the effort that I do in making learners' life simpler actually limits the opportunities of immersion and growth for them! Am I actually robbing them of a great learning experience by trying too hard to provide a great learning experience to them?

These learner's shoes sure pinch! 

1 comment:

  1. Updated this post with more insights into the responsibility of a learning designer. I aced the exam by the way!