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

16 August 2017

3 E’s of Learning: why Engagement

Clark @ 8:07 AM

Letter EWhen you’re creating learning experiences, you want to worry about the outcomes, but there’s more to it than that.  I think there are 3 major components for learning as a practical matter, and I lump these under the E’s: Effectiveness, Efficiency, & Engagement. The latter may be more of a stretch, but I’ll make the case .

When you typically talk about learning, you talk about two goals: retention over time, and transfer to all appropriate (and no inappropriate) situations.  That’s learning effectiveness: it’s about ensuring that you achieve the outcomes you need.  To test retention and transfer, you have to measure more than performance at the end of the learning experience. (That is, unless your experience definition naturally includes this feedback as well.) Let alone just asking learners if they thought it was valuable.  You have to see if the learning has persisted later, and is being used as needed.

However, you don’t have unlimited resources to do this, you need to balance your investment in creating the experience with the impact on the individual and/or organization.  That’s efficiency. The investment is rewarded with a multiplier on the cost.  This is just good business.

Let’s be clear: investing without evaluating the impact is an act of faith that isn’t scrutable.  Similarly, achieving the outcome at an inappropriate expense isn’t sustainable.  Ultimately, you need to achieve reasonable changes to behavior under a viable expenditure.

A few of us have noticed problems sufficient to advocate quality in what we do.  While things may be trending upward (fingers crossed), I think there’s still ways to go when we’re still hearing about ‘rapid’ elearning instead of ‘outcomes’.  And I’ve argued that the necessary changes produce a cost differential that is marginal, and yet yields outcomes more than marginal.   There’s an obvious case for effectiveness and efficiency.

But why engagement? Is that necessary? People tout it as desirable. To be fair, most of the time they’re talking about design aesthetics, media embellishment, and even ‘gamification‘ instead of intrinsic engagement.  And I will maintain that there’s a lot more possible. There’s an open question, however: is it worth it?

My answer is yes. Tapping into intrinsic interest has several upsides that are worth the effort.  The good news is that you likely don’t need to achieve a situation where people are willing to pay money to attend your learning. Instead, you have the resources on hand to make this happen.

So, if you make your learning – and here in particular I mean your introductions, examples, and practice – engaging, you’re addressing motivation, anxiety, and potentially optimizing the learning experience.

  • If your introduction helps learners connect to their own desires to be an agent of good, you’re increasing the likelihood that they’ll persist and that the learning will ‘stick’.
  • If your examples are stories that illustrate situations the learner recognizes as important, and unpack the thinking that led to success, you’re increasing their comprehension and their knowledge.
  • Most importantly, if your practice tasks are situated in contexts that are meaningful to learners both because they’re real and important, you’ll be developing their skills in ways closest to how they’ll perform.  And if the challenge in the progression of tasks is right, you’ll also accelerate them at the optimal speed (and increase engagement).

Engagement is a fine-tuning, and learner’s opinions on the experience aren’t the most important thing.  Instead, the improvement in learning outcomes is the rationale.  It takes some understanding and practice to get systematically good at doing this. Further, you can make learning engaging, it is an acquired capability.

So, is your learning engaging intrinsic interest, and making the learning persist? It’s an approach that affects effectiveness in a big way and efficiency in a small way. And that’s the way you want to go, right? Engage!

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