One thing leads to another. Cause and effect, but, you know what they say: the first step is the hardest.
Well, it’s kind of true of many things, and learning journeys are no different. It’s easy to think about it, plan for it and picture success, but much harder to take the first step. And once you’ve taken the first step, whilst the other ones may not be as hard, they can still feel pretty steep at the time. It’s very true that many learners embarking on long programmes, courses or degrees will drop out part way through, and thinking about how we can keep them engaged is a worthwhile activity.
People lose momentum and fall off the edges for a variety of reasons. For some, the reality of study is not what they expected. For people whose only experience of learning is in school or college, the self study that is common in adult life can feel very different. For some, the subject simply seems too complex, abstract or irrelevant; all issues that may be picked up earlier with suitable selection criteria and ‘promos’, but which, in reality, just tend to kick in when reality strikes.
For many though, the reason is simply that they run out of steam. That the everyday pressures of balancing work, home life and study are overwhelming, and that study is the thing that gives way. Generally, study is the thing that squeaks the quietest when you give it up.
This doesn’t need to be the case though. These days there are a wealth of approaches available to us that can reinforce the learning experience and drive up engagement, support collaboration and help to generate a sense of community among learners. You see, one of the greatest ways to keep people on board is to build a sense of community, with regular communication that adds value, building social bonds as well as ‘studying’ bonds. Communities, by their nature, will put the needs of the many above the needs of the individual, and are more likely to step in to re-engage and support the failing learner.
Creating spaces for learners to collaborate online is more than just the latest ‘trend’ in Learning and Development, it’s more than just paying lip service to vague notions of the ‘social’ in ‘social media’, it’s actually a way of working and studying that fits seamlessly into the ways that we naturally form bonds and generate community.
When we’re designing larger programmes, looking at the layout of the learning journey, we should pay active attention to the pace and energy required, ensuring that whilst some areas may be challenging and difficult, focussed on business outcomes, other areas should be more focussed on community. After all, whilst a community can spontaneously emerge from a group, it does need to be built and nurtured.
Looking at pace and momentum is a vital part of recognising the ‘real’ pressures on the learner, of understanding that learning does not take place in the abstract, it takes place against a background of the ‘real’ world.
To get the stone rolling, you have to start by giving it a good push, but, like the Victorian child with a hoop, you need to keep giving it small additional shoves now and then to keep it on track. Sure, if you hit a downhill section, it will gather it’s own speed, but even the smallest hill can cause it to stop. Knowing when to lend a hand is a great thing to do.