Why information isn't always the answer

A couple weekends back, I finally got around to reading a book recommended by a former client: Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro. 

Mike is a web designer. I'm a learning designer.

Different design flavors aside, we both have a commonality: Designers solve problems.

Learning designers (aka instructional designers) solve learning problems. 

But how do you solve learning problems?

After creating online courses for nearly ten years, there’s one thing that new and experienced course creators do time and time again:

  • They assume the solution to a learning problem is to present the learner with more information.

We’ve all been there. But the actual learning solution is often more nuanced.

Because information just gives your learners data. In other words, it fills a knowledge gap. 

  • Information alone doesn’t transform your learners.

  • On top of that, too much information can overload them.

  • Besides, what if the learning gap doesn't have anything to do with knowledge?

(Sidebar: this is why I'm transitioning away from teaching information-focused self-paced courses. Stay tuned for more on that.)

In order to spark transformation in your course, you have to do a little emotional digging.

What Your Learners Want

For example, the other day I had a great conversation with a mentor, Jen, in a course I’m working on. She said:

They come in saying they need help with sales, but what they really want—which they’d never admit—is handholding. They need guidance and reassurance that they’re doing it right.
— Jen, the awesome & insightful mentor

In other words, your learners will say they want a specific, measurable result, but they’re after something greater.

They want mentorship and transformation.

The Two Sides of Transformation

Transformation always has two sides: one side is masked in results, e.g. getting more sales leads. The other side is more internal (and often emotional), e.g. having the confidence to market your business.

What does this have to do with information?

A lot.

Information is usually part of the package, but to focus on information only would ignore the underbelly of the results your students are seeking.

I’m talking about informal learning.

Community. Mentorship. Peer interaction.

These things help build the informal and emotional parts of your course that lead to transformation.

So, if you’re wondering how to improve your course completion rate, take a look at your course structure.

Because when it comes to transformation, information alone won’t get your students there.

  • They need application.

  • And community.

  • And mentorship.

If it sounds like I have all the answers, I don’t.

When I started creating my own courses I naively thought students would just do the work.

(In my defense, I was coming from an academic environment where students have a strong external motivation to do the work.)

Turns out it doesn’t happen like that.

Around the same time, I started helping my clients create solutions that focused on transformation.

What I found is, in the age of self-paced courses, what people yearn for is human interaction.

  • Humans to hold them accountable.

  • Humans to cheer them on.

  • Humans to answer questions.

That's how you achieve deep transformation. Information alone won't do it.

What can you do?

Designing your course for transformation requires a different approach. You’ve got to look at your students as humans who are on a journey. 

  • Where are they starting?

  • Where do they want to go?

  • What challenges will they have along the way?

  • How will those challenges affect their work...what about their personal life?

  • What’s the emotional underbelly to the result they say they want?

  • How are they feeling when they come to you? How should they feel when they leave?

Your Homework

To start designing your course for transformation, here are a few questions to answer:

  1. What's the transformation your students want to experience in your course?

  2. What does the journey to achieving this transformation look like? (Where do they start and where do they end up?)

  3. What obstacles might your students encounter during their learning journey that could keep them from achieve that transformation?

  4. What structures can you include in your course to help overcome those obstacles and support the achievement of their desired transformation?

Nerd brain signing off! Sign up for my newsletter if you want more nerdisms. 

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