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All learners need a fish bowl

August 8, 2010

Acknowledging learners’ strengths, needs and wishes is a holy grail in my book. To me it’s the first step in creating good (e)Learning material. But more importantly, it sends out the message that you respect your target audience and have taken pains to get to know and understand them.

Freedom of choice

There are so many pitfalls though and it would be a big mistake to ignore them. In an earlier piece, Connected (Part 1), I talked about a deployment strategy using social media tools and I also pleaded to give the learner freedom to explore various learning choices.

All learners need is a fishbowl to acquire as much knowledge as possible. No limits.
All learners need is a fish bowl…

I still adhere to my tenet of ‘Freedom of Choice’ — but I’ve also learnt a lot more since then. I now ask myself: Is it possible to give the learner so many choices that in the end you paralyse him?

The paradox of choice

What brought this on? Well, some time ago I stumbled upon Barry Schwartz‘ hilarious video talk: The paradox of choice. Schwartz, a renowned psychologist and researcher, discusses among other things the marketing of consumer goods and the choices we make in life.

The 20 minutes talk itself has very little to do with learning, creating learning concepts or even setting up learning environments; yet I highly recommend it. I promise you won’t regret it.

The essence: a fish bowl

Schwartz triggered the following questions in my mind:
Can it possibly be that alike the modern man, who ends up being paralysed by an overwhelming amount of modern society’s choices; the learner, faced with an abundance of digital widgets and applications, doesn’t know where to start? So he just doesn’t?

Be honest. How many times have you not created a top notch digital environment and was disappointed to notice the learners’ inactivity? Did you ever stop and think that this seemingly lack of interest could’ve been related to an environment that was abundantly open?

Schwartz sharply ends his talk using the metaphor of a fish bowl as an answer to the choices dilemma. To me, this is the essence of the matter. Tackling the choices paradox, boils down to giving the learner a fish bowl.

Know your learner

The trick for the tutor is finding out which fish bowl fits which learners best. This means getting to know your learners by creating the most accurate and thorough profile you possibly can.

Surprisingly enough — and sad to say, this step is often underestimated and often done skimpishly or even skipped altogether. While your learner’s profile is the starting point you use to build an eLearning environment that has an audience related dosage of:

  1. Linear (low interactivity) versus highly interactive content;
  2. Social media possibilities;
  3. Synchronous versus asynchronous learner-tutor communication.

The above shortlist isn’t conclusive and is intended as a directive. How you use it, is up to you. What matters most is to always keep in mind that a digital learning environment’s autonomous.
So, as a tutor it’s your duty to guide the learner by building him a clear and well structured learning environment, stripped of superfluous and perhaps confusing widgets.

And in this well structured environment, you place well structured content. Content that’s visually appealing, but more importantly content that contains relevant information that doesn’t insult the learner’s intelligence.

Increase knowledge

Wrapping it up, your basic objective is to ensure that your learners effectively increase their knowledge. Getting to know and understand them and then building them a fish bowl, is one way of doing just that.

What do you think? Can Schwartz’ metaphorical fish bowl help you create better eLearning? And significantly increase the transfer of knowledge?

Related post(s) to read:

No mistakes nothing makes

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Fred Cunningham permalink
    August 9, 2010 20:34

    I have learned over the years to follow the saying “The best way to control your sheep is to give them a big pasture” (not that learners are sheep!).

    Too restrictive an environment leads to learner disatisfaction (not enough choice – they are adults, after all). Too much choice leads to confusion (they are there learning something new, so they can’t always make great decisions about the best path forward).

    To me, good ID constructs a large pasture full of “forage” and then sets a fence around it to keep the learner in the area. Once the area is “grazed”, open the gate to the next pasture (next level of learning and choice).

    Works for me!


    • August 9, 2010 21:07

      Dear Fred,
      This is exactly what I mean with the tutor figuring out which fish bowl fits which learners best.
      I couldn’t agree with you more!

      Thanks for your comment.
      Greetings, Evita


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