From M&Ms To Supernatural Learning: Attributes Of Effective Learning Strategies

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I don’t believe in cookbooks for learning.

I’ve seen too many well-intentioned instructors pick up someone else’s education recipe and create a flawed experience. It just falls flat.

The Meal Needs More Than Just The Right Ingredients

I do believe in sound ingredients that can be combined and recombined in many ways to create a simple or elegant meal. The difference in the meal is not usually grounded in the ingredients. It’s usually in the specific combinations used as well as the experience and sophistication of the chef.

Sometimes these ingredients can make flaky biscuits. Sometimes they make croissants. Sometimes they make a puff pastry.

They have the same starting elements. They just require more skills, steps, intentionality and time.

Attributes Of Effective Learning

Designing effective education programming and learning experiences are like that. They need more than a recipe. They need good execution, skills, time and talent.

1. M&Ms Of Learning

Having the right content (ingredients) with a motivated audience is usually not enough for real learning to occur. While motivation and good content are important, they don’t automatically translate into new attitudes, skills and behaviors. Therefore designing the right learning experience that leads to change is crucial.

Learning experiences must have two M&Ms in order for change to occur! They must be meaningful and memorable.

  • Meaningful – If the participant can’t understand the learning experience or it seems irrelevant, it becomes a waste of the person’s time. If the participant can’t see the applicability to their work or the advantages of new processes over what is currently done, the learning experience is of little benefit.
  • Memorable – Similarly, if the participant can’t remember what was heard and done, the experience is unproductive and worthless.

Education sessions that lack meaning and those that are quickly forgotten are instructional failures. They result in many learning causalities.

That’s why learning experiences must have two M&Ms. They must be meaningful and memorable.

2. Applying Supernatural Learning Powers

Hands-on, interactivity and participation are the supernatural powers of learning. Education programming that truly connects with its participants as learners and fosters change universally employs interactivity.

Interactivity involves two primary things: thinking and doing.

  • Thinking – Interactive education makes participants think. The instructor stops talking and gives the audience time to think, digest, discuss and engage. Thinking leads to understanding. Understanding can lead to readiness for change.
  • Doing – Hands-on, interactive education requires us to do and to accomplish things. Executing something can lead to new skills. Improved skills lead to behavior change.

Interactive education provides four things:

  • meaningful context
  • a challenge that requires thinking
  • an activity to physically respond to the challenge and that gives evidence of the participant’s knowledge and abilities
  • feedback that reveals the effectiveness of the participant’s actions

These four components must be instructionally and purposefully integrated into the design of the education experience. Without them, interactivity is nothing more the useless entertainment.

The extraordinary power of interactivity is to get people thinking through doing and doing well by thinking. That supernatural power is not fully applied without careful and purposeful education and instructional design.

Hat Tips to Michael W. Allen for his insight on elearning that sparked my thinking.

What should instructors include in presentations to make them more meaningful and memorable? How can presenters provide more meaningful context to their content?

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  1. […] Designing effective education programming and learning experiences need more than recipes and the right ingredients. They need these elements  […]

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