In a previous post, I suggested that we should not do the ‘click to learn more’, as it was just about presenting content. But we do need to present content, so what content makes sense? Obviously, examples are one thing, but let me make the case that the ‘how to’, the concept, should be in the form of a model.
There’s a problem in that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to the what they do,but they have access to what they know, so it’s real easy to get a knowledge dump. And it’s hard work to make sense of it, sometimes, and it’s easier to just recite it. For example, expertise in many areas requires careful distinctions (e.g. such as in instructional design between the elements of learning). However, it’s hard for learners to acquire all those careful distinctions without the underlying rationale of how they differ.
Similarly, most procedures to do something are guided not by arbitrary reasons, but instead are sequenced because of inherent constraints. These constraints guide the proper procedures. There’s a reason you do X before Y, and then a causal relationship that explains what you look for before deciding to do W instead of Z.
Too often, I see someone presenting learners with an arbitrary list of different things, when there are conceptual reasons why they differ. Similarly, I’ll see steps presented without a rationale for why. And in both cases, learners will remember better, and perform more robustly (particularly in environments with changes), if they have the model that explains what to do as well as the information. While this might seem like more information, it’s really not, as the model minimizes the amount of arbitrary information you present. And it leads to better outcomes, so it would be worth it anyways.
Models give us a couple of useful things; they help us explain what has happened, and predict what will happen (e.g. if we do A, we’ll see B). Which makes us more flexible in our actions, a useful trait. As an aside, models also can draw upon metaphors to facilitate developing a useful understanding. Whether it’s flows, transformations, whatever, finding a concrete equivalent in the world can help recollection and application.
The problem, of course, is getting the model. It’s not always there, nor even easily inferable. Which doesn’t mean you can ignore it. The designer must be willing to work until they can understand it. But it’s doable, and valuable.
So, please, model your learning design on the model of good learning with models. (Ok, I went too far there :)