Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

2 October 2012

The third goal of learning

Clark @ 6:02 AM

I’ve regularly told workshop and talk attendees that our learning goals are twofold.  It may be time to amend that.

Formally, our goals for learning interventions should be retention over time until needed and transfer to all appropriate situations (and no inappropriate ones). And these are important goals.  If the learning’s atrophied by the time it’s needed, it’s of no use.  If we don’t activate the learning in all relevant situations, we’re missing opportunities.

But it occurred to me there may be more.  I was working with a group developing a certification in a particular area, based upon their wildly successful workshops.  One of the outcomes they talked about, in an endeavor that occurs with a very high amount of stress, was that one of their outcomes was confidence on the part of the attendees.

It struck me that confidence on the part of the learner is very much a desirable, maybe even necessary outcome of any really successful learning.  I regularly talk about the importance of the emotional component of successful learning: supporting motivation and reducing anxiety, and working to create a trajectory of building confidence. That confidence should be an outcome as well.

Too often we practice until we get it right, instead of until we can’t get it wrong.  Add to that the learner knowing they’re fully capable of performing right, and we’re there’re.  We have to continue to address the emotional side of the equation as well as the cognitive.  It’s part of experience design. (And, now, I’ve got to go change my presentations ;)


  1. Clark I agree that building confidence is a crucial outcome for successful learning (and as you say, it may be a necessary one). The only caveat I would add is that this confidence must be based on successful performance, not on ephemeral things, such as praise from a charismatic instructor, or mis-placed enthusiasm of co-learners.

    Comment by Ara Ohanian — 3 October 2012 @ 12:51 AM

  2. Interesting post. I would also add that we may also question how competent students are with the LMS and navigation etc. Many of these systems are complicated and lack true integration with other technologies. I am wondering (and would love your thoughts) are on what do you feel the benefits are to a well constructed LMS and learner success. I am trying to come up with my dissertation topic and any insights would be most appreciated.

    Comment by Doug — 4 October 2012 @ 8:01 AM

  3. I love the confidence dimension. We’ve added a mechanism to attempt to capture confidence in ability to perform and make decisions during user testing. Most of the time the measure affirms the associated performance factor, but not always.

    I don’t completely agree with Ara, though I get the point being made. Propping and stroking alone are almost never enough, though I do think enthusiastic support is a factor in motivation to deliberately focus on a task. Confidence is preparatory. And sometimes, an orientation to the challenge or task *can* be enough to bump folks into the range of successful performance. The ultimate goal is successful performance, not necessarily the confidence that comes from successful performance. Confidence from successful performance helps the next time around:)

    Comment by Steve — 4 October 2012 @ 10:29 AM

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    Pingback by Learnlets » The third goal of learning « Performance by Design — 8 October 2012 @ 7:06 PM

  5. Thanks for another interesting post. When you write “retention over time” and “transfer to all appropriate situations”, I align what you’re saying with the learning objectives for Knowledge (retention) and Skill (transfer). I know my interpretation might be a little basic here, but I’m trying to take this further to the Attitude component of learning objectives, which I have struggled with, particularly since I develop training in the IT industry, and I’ve never found a need for an Attitude learning objective. I do see Attitude as essential for training high-risk roles, for example, a learning objective for an airline pilot or a brain surgeon: “Demonstrate that you pay attention to detail.” “Demonstrate your concern for hasty decisions.” But Attitude for computer programmers?

    However, now you come along with the third goal, confidence. Perhaps this is an Attitude learning objective?

    I’m just putting this out there. I’ve always struggled with the Attitude learning objective and what to write for that learning objective. Maybe someone can shed light on that? Thanks!

    Comment by Marilyn — 25 October 2012 @ 1:58 AM

  6. Marilyn, I think confidence is an attitude, but across disciplines. For computer programmers, I might want an attitude of absolute dedication to code correctness.

    Comment by Clark — 25 October 2012 @ 5:37 PM

  7. Confidence is a side effect, not an objective. Humans gain confidence by approaching objectives they are uncertain they can achieve and then struggling and hopefully achieving. Part of good instruction is allowing the struggle and giving the learner procedures that help learning come from failures along the way. A more measurable and central third target outcome of training should be INVENTION. When part of the assessment is to prompt the learner to offer up something that the instruction did not think to ask for, the learner is fully engaged and for probably the first time in the training experience, takes ownership of the materials and the outcome. As long as that scenario isn’t too difficult to result in success, but not so easy as to seem pat and contrived (game developers call it hard play) the learner will surprise and delight you every time. And if they don’t, you didn’t do it quite right and it can be fixed.

    Comment by TAhiya — 6 November 2012 @ 4:32 PM

  8. I agree with you Clark. It is the old addage that practices makes perfect. The result of practice isn’t necessarily becoming perfect (making no errors) it is perfect in the sense of becoming mature which is a by product of of success and failure which is part of the learning process for all humans. eLearning is moving in the direction of simuluation for this reason. The US military has successfully pioneered simulation training and the results are evident.

    Comment by Marty — 7 November 2012 @ 7:27 AM

  9. TAhiya, I have to disagree with parts of what you say. Confidence can, and should, be a focus of our design. If we don’t consciously work to achieve it, it’s a toss-up. Confidence comes from reducing anxiety to productive levels, and achieving increasing success, until demonstrably capable of the full performance. Yes, they have to struggle, but we can adapt that to keep it in the ZoPD or Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow state (choose your metaphor) where they’re struggling between the level they’re capable of and capable of with help. And Invention, to me, is a curricular goal, not a pedagogical one (tho’ one I like). I do like to support flexibility in outcomes, and my larger model does have the learner taking control of the learning experience (again, scaffolded), but that’s a meta-learning issue, and I’m first focusing on the learning issues. I don’t believe learners are truly equipped unless they know they can do it. And, yes, we *will* need to tune.

    Comment by Clark — 7 November 2012 @ 8:33 AM

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