learner centered design and motivation

12 12 2004

in a quirk of the net, my link to stephen’s web today opened to an archived article from january 28, 2002 in which stephen discusses a panel discussing learner centered practice and design.   while the article is a great overview of the issues around designing "instruction" to be learner centered, i was particularly drawn to a point he makes in his conclusion and one of his reader’s comments on it.

his point, after discussing martinez’s learning orientation model, was:

indeed, it seems to me that most of the evidence and most of the
argument against learner centered learning is based on bias in the
questions and bias in the practice. bias in the question, in the sense
that self-learners never seem to be included in studies of the
effectiveness of learning online. and bias in practice, in the sense
that (in a university environment especially) only learning
accomplished through formal instructor-centered learning is recognized
as legitimate.

and a comment by garym:

that leaves us with a paradox: those with a’s are by definition less
well educated and less devoted to their field, and yet they are favoured by the certificate-myopia of the job market.

how can this paradox be reconciled?

i argue that the paradox is a strawman setup by the assumption that
learner centered learning is the best format for all learning to
occur.  particularly in workplace learning, much of the content we need
employees to learn is content that they would very unlikely seek to
learn, if left to their own devices.  can you imaging many of the
managers in your company independently taking the time to read, learn
and practice what they need to know about sarbanes oxley?  would all
sales associate independently come to the same sales technique if no
guidelines of practice were "given" to them?

what is missing from this, and the current, discussion ongoing
around learner centeredness is what the motivation for learning is and
where it comes from in the workplace.  i maintain that there are two
related motivations that drive what employees will learn and what they
won’t – 1) what will allow me to keep my job and 2) what will help me
get promoted.  neither of these motivators lends itself to pure learner
centered learning because both beg the question of "what does my
employer expect and need me to learn."  they are both employer-expectation centered

in my own experience, i’ve found my intellectual curiosity and
strong will to learn as much as i can about a topic to be counter to my
employers’ expectations.  i have a problem with knowing when to stop
learning, at least temporarily, in the workplace.  or often i would be
focused on learning something very meaningful to me, and i’d argue
meaningful to my employer in the long run, but not relevent to what my
manager needed me focused on.  isn’t it the right of an employer to set
out what then feel i need to learn to accomplish the business
objectives for which I’m responsible?

i’ll argue that we need a blend in the learning not only from a
delivery mode standpoint (elearning, instructor led, knowledge bases)
but also from learning orientation model in which, sometimes, much of
what the company needs the employees to learn is content the employees
are not self-motivated to learn. 

i see this as our challenge as learning professionals.  not as a paradox.  learning per se
is best designed by the learner.  however, instruction is about
focusing and accelerating the learning process to meet an objective(s).

please hit the comment button below and share your thoughts on this
topic.   i totally agree with stephen downes when he says that the
internet, through blogs like this one, is a powerful informal learning
tool when we share and discuss our ideas.  you can also email dave.


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