pile of books about teaching

Design for learning

Professional teachers and designers tend to inhabit separate realms that don’t often connect. However, while preparing a recent 3-day training program, we learned that early input from a professional educator can not only greatly increase the quality of facilitation, but also the learning outcomes of a training. Experienced teachers bring a special toolkit and skills focused exclusively on the tricky business of getting people to remember and use what they learned in the long term. This entails more than good presentation and feedback. The key thing teachers understand is that everything uses up the limited ‘battery’ of brain power people need for learning.

The importance of conserving brain power

Here are a few ways a teacher can make a big difference when designing a workshop or training:

Create precisely worded learning outcomes. If stated at all, these are often too numerous, broad, or vague (“… an increased awareness of the importance of…”)

Point out where the limits of cognitive, motor or visual load are being exceeded. This is probably the most common mistake, because the right approach can seem counter-intuitive. For example, an impressive and inspiring visual introduction may actually leave participants with too little processing power to do the work of committing new information to long-term memory, which hurts the final outcomes.  A few expert changes to the structure of the activity, or the use of visual media can result in great increases to the ability of participants to remember and apply what they learned.

Conscious creation of affective goals, i.e. goals related to the emotional experience of participants. This is almost universally neglected. For example, if there are multiple facilitators, you may decide precisely how you want participants to feel after their introductions at the beginning of a workshop and then select images, tone-of-voice and text accordingly.

Base post-training surveys on learning objectives. In this way, you gather quantitative feedback about progress made on each objective.

The power of a schoolish approach

This may all sound rather schoolish. But participants in a workshop designed with the expertise of an educator will experience it as an uninterrupted flow in which they feel relaxed, upbeat, engaged and free to devote all their energy to the task at hand, as opposed to becoming passive spectators or succumbing to fatigue as the day progresses.