When i’m creating a learning solution, i’m trying to contract with the learner: give me some of your time and i’ll give you something in return. Broadly speaking, both things need to be of similar value – the time and the learning.
If someone gives me an hour and i give them a long and tedious e-learning module that lacks structure or proper navigation, then i’m failing. If i design something dynamic, but they can’t be bothered to complete it, then they are failing. Layer on top of this the constraints bought in by clients and budgets, and you start to get a complex relationship, but a relationship it is and, the contract between learner and designer needs to be nurtured to thrive.
An important thing to remember is that, broadly, other people are like you. Yes, this does mean tall, dark and handsome, but in particular i meant that they are curious, easily bored, intelligent and discerning. You can dispute the easily bored bit if you like, maybe that’s just me, but nevertheless, the golden rule applies that if you think something is boring, it’s quite likely that your learners will too. Indeed, the great white elephant in the room is often a lot of clients and designers looking at something that large and boring and trying to convince themselves that it’s not.
One part of the learning contract that’s quite easy to fulfil is to do less. Yes, stop trying to do everything and spend some serious time deciding what you’re not going to do.
When projects are scoped, there is a valuable exercise where everyone maps out what should be in it. This often ends up like a long process map or wish list, but the thing is that it’s not usually all critical. Much of it is often common sense, or covered elsewhere. Take insurance. You need to understand your audience. There’s no point in doing an elaborate part of a module explaining what Actuaries do if it’s not relevant to the task or if it’s covered elsewhere. Or if your audience is actually actual Actuaries, in which case they probably already know. Or at least we hope they do.
You can’t cover everything anyway, so you may as well choose the best bits rather than letting natural selection take it’s course.
On the flip side of the relationship, it’s good to let learners decide what’s good or bad. There is a temptation, when scripting an introduction, to spell out in idiot proof terms why something is great. After all, we’ve sweated and laboured to make it so. So we say ‘for the business, this is great because… for you, this is great because… and for your customers this is amazing because…’, but we are often on a hiding to nowhere by doing this. After all, some things are neither amazing, nor even good. They are just things that we have to do.
Better to say that directly, better to acknowledge that some things are hard, tedious or difficult and let individuals fill in the gaps. It’s like paying the gas bill. I don’t enjoy it, i always put it of, but ultimately, i know it’s good for me to do it.
There are cases where the learning contract may be explicit; places where we want people to commit chunks of time or effort and we want to document and contract to this. Often this is the case where the organisation is committing significant resource and wants to ensure lower drop out rates. This is fine, but we should always remember that, even where there is no piece of paper, a contract does exist, just as it does between you and me. We are all discerning consumers of media and all choose where to spend our time.