The High Jump – why it’s sometimes good to introduce barriers to learning

Usually, we try to make things as easy as possible for the learner. We ensure that we know where they are going to have to do the learning (in a classroom, on the train, at home), how long they have free to do it and why they have to do it (regulatory training, new job role, personal interest etc). We make it accessible, using screen readers, scalable text and transcripts, and we try to make it as engaging as possible, using likeable characters and a Guide to help you learn.

But sometimes, it’s important to introduce barriers to learning.

We don’t want to make it hard for a learner to use the materials, but we might want to put preconditions on access to the materials. We don’t want to make things less clear, but we might want the learner to build the structure of the learning for themselves.

Sometimes, free and easy access to things doesn’t make them better. Sometimes having to strive to achieve something gives it a perceived greater value and, in fact, a quantifiably better learning outcome.

Let’s look at an example; carrying out Sales Training for a large Financial Services Organisation. We might imagine that it’s best to make the course and materials available to the whole of the Sales population. Sure, this is one way to do it, but what you can do is to make a basic module available to everyone, then only make the Advanced module available to the top 100 Sales people across the organisation. Ensure that the Advanced module includes skills which people recognise as being transferable, so that they have an incentive to complete it for their longer term career aspirations, as well as short term sales activities. Introduce barriers and competition for access. By introducing barriers like this, you can actually generate an increase in demand.

Another example would be where we look for the learner to create the structure of the learning, to some extent, themselves. We could do this by using scenario based video, where we show a Sales encounter playing out, but where we ask the learner to diagnose the issues within the encounter themselves. Not by using traditional ‘branching’ video, where the choices are simply ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but by using more sophisticated environments where they have to differentiate between multiple ways that a situation could play out, multiple paths of which could be ‘good’, but each of which reflects different choices that have impacts down the line. Using more sophisticated structures mean that we can build complex stories where choices have implications ten or twelve steps further on.

In effect, we are asking the learner to build their own story, the outcome of which may be negative. We are putting a barrier in front of the door to the correct answer, in the belief that having to navigate and avoid the poor outcomes is, in itself, a valid learning experience. Indeed, what we tend to observe from the data is that around 15% of learners actively try to ‘break’ the training and deliberately generate a negative outcome, not because they are poor learners, but rather because we’ve given them a toy to play with and they want to explore.

Creating learning experiences with barriers to the correct pathway can be challenging, but ultimately, it ties in with many native problem solving behaviours that we all have.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Barriers to Learning, Branching Video, Exploration and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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