Engaging your learner – four dos and four don’ts

From Clive on Learning by Clive Shepherd
URL: http://clive-shepherd.blogspot.com/2015/03/engaging-your-learner-four-dos-and-four.html

Whether you’re teaching in a classroom, developing some e-learning or producing a video, you’ll be concerned about engaging your learners. Why? Because, if learners aren’t engaged they’ll pay little attention to what you’re offering and they’re very unlikely to retain anything. You can spend a fortune trying to engage learners, but the secrets to engagement do not demand you break the bank. Here are four dos and four don’ts:
1. Make an emotional impact: Too much of what we teach is aimed at the rational, reasoning side of the human psyche, but that’s less than half the battle. If we’re not emotionally engaged we won’t be listening to the facts, figures and scientific evidence. Do what you have to do to up the emotional ante – humour, shock, pathos, drama.
2. Tell stories: Which brings us to stories, the currency of any great learning experience. We are engaged by stories (often for hours on end), we remember them and we pass them on. You can’t say that for theoretical models, processes and procedures. And don’t forget, learners’ own stories are more important than yours.
3. Be relevant: ‘Relevance drives out reluctance,’ so hook into what is interesting your learners right now. Relate the learning experience to real work issues. And don’t forget those more fundamental needs – self-image, relating to others, sex, money, football, whatever.
4. Be challenging: We love a challenge, just so long as we feel we have a chance of success. Nothing too easy, nothing too hard. We will spend any amount of time solving an interesting problem. So this time isn’t wasted, relate the challenge to the goals of the learning experience and the lives of the learners.
1. Overload on glitz: It’s a common misconception that super-high production values will provide that elusive engagement, but there’s no evidence to support this. There’s nothing you can do with video, 3D models, animation or high-speed interactivity that learners won’t have seen before (only done much better) in movies and video games. Overdo the bling and learners are more likely to complain that you’re wasting money.
2. Interact for the sake of it: Interaction is important for learning but only when it’s relevant to the objectives of the learning experience and sufficiently challenging. Questions with obvious answers don’t count. Interactions that simply reveal information don’t count. And don’t forget that questions from learners are far more valuable than questions from you.
3. Cross the line: In the effort to relate to your audience you might be tempted towards the lowest common denominator. There is a time and a place for everything and a learning experience is definitely not the right place for offensive humour. If you’re not sure where the line is, test your content with representative learners.
4. Pretend to be what you are not: It is patently obvious when you are trying too hard to talk the language of your audience, to be like them. You can be empathetic to your learners without pretending to talk like them or like the things they like.

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