by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
“Create Meaningful and Memorable Learning Experiences.” You probably hear us at Allen Interactions repeat that statement all the time. We hand out M&Ms to help you remember it. It’s one of the hallmark “Success Factors” that Michael Allen bases his design philosophy on.
It’s a seemingly simple statement; and because it is so simple, there is a tendency to forget what a powerful idea it is. It’s easy to think, “Yeah, of course, the experience should be memorable, blah, blah, blah…” and dismiss the radical significance of a truly memorable and meaningful learning experience and, in turn, underestimate the focus it takes to actually create such an experience.
Recently, I was pulled out of this complacency quite by accident. I travel a lot, and am often challenged in picking out the right book for a trip. Last month as I was preparing to leave for the airport to go to ASTD ICE, I suddenly realized I was without satisfactory reading material. Luckily, I had just bought a bag of books at a charity used book sale in town and the bag was sitting by the door. It was mainly filled with a bunch of unnecessarily self-important faux-leather editions of Agatha Christie novels (hey, the bag was only $2 for whatever could fit) and I grabbed one volume and threw it into my travel satchel as I ran out the door.
When I took the book out to start reading, I was surprised and delighted (and surprised at how delighted I was!) to find that I had randomly picked There is a Tide. (You might also know it by its alternative title, Taken at the Flood.) If you do know it, you might be surprised that it would create such delight, because it really is a very run-of-the-mill effort by Dame Christie.
But for me, it unleashed a flood of memories and emotions. This was the first Agatha Christie (and actually the first adult “whodunit”) I’d ever read back in 1974 when I got my first “adult” card for the public library. I was mesmerized by the way the clues were revealed, how interest was built around each character, how irresistibly the idyllic English countryside setting was revealed, how the inevitable and improbable murders piled up, and by my utter failure to be able to pronounce “Poirot.” That was a unique and significant experience for me that is still alive after 40 years. I’d read plenty of books, but this “new” style of writing captured my attention in a way nothing had before. Not the best, not the worst, not the most significant, but uniquely memorable and meaningful.
I realized that this is a model of the sort of memorable and meaningful design that we should strive for in e-learning. Consider the opportunity to create this kind of lasting impression with your delivery of content—as if this were the first time a user might be encountering just this sort of content in a distinctive way. It positively disposes the learner toward learning and persists through multiple exposures. I’ve read dozens of Agatha Christie novels…all with a certain degree of pleasure because they connect with and enrich this memorableness.
Our experience with successful e-learning has been similar. The Union Bank Banking Loss Prevention Curriculum we frequently use as an example creates a unique striking impression in the first module about Check Negotiability. The same elements unify and add meaningfulness to an extended series of modules on related topics. The meaning and memorability actually prepare the learner to know what to expect and to positively anticipate the learning activities they will encounter.
I hope this insight helps add a layer to your understanding of “meaningful and memorable” as much as it has to mine. It is so easy to become mired in what is routine in designing and developing e-learning and lose focus on the opportunity to create experiences that intrigue rather than bore, enliven rather than stupefy, and inspire rather than discourage.