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Putting Learners First

Angel Green

by , instructional strategist

A short time ago, I had a conversation with a young man who recently earned his Master’s Degree in Adult Education. We were totally “geeking out” in our discussion on the differences between andragogy and pedagogy. When we got to the part of the discussion where we shared the reasons we had chosen to enter into the profession, he expressed feeling a bit of disappointment.

You see, like many people who choose our profession, he had gone into the field because of a genuine passion for learning. He loved studying the science of how people learn, the techniques to best facilitate discussions among learners, and the best part – the reward of watching the light bulb ignite when something you said has clicked with the learner. However, in his current role of instructional designer, he felt isolated. He had little contact with the learner and was contemplating moving away from instructional design and back to course facilitation.


My friend wanted to connect with the learners – he wanted to teach. I understood his pain. After spending the early part of my career as a facilitator for a new hire training program, I moved into instructional design and e-learning course development. There were times during my early entry into instructional design where I felt isolated; spending my time completely removed from learners who would be taking the courses I designed.

Sure, traditional instructional design models may have attempted to connect me with learners at stages in the process. But, that small amount of learner involvement did little to fill the void I felt from leaving the training delivery world and entering the world of design and development. Luckily, I am fortunate to now work for a company who believes the same.

The iterative nature of the SAVVY Process thrives on the input, early and often, of learners. By involving learners in the content development efforts and even interface design, you can reclaim some of the joy of teaching that likely drew you into this profession.

And, the good news is that this somewhat selfish desire for justification of our efforts also benefits our learners. It makes our training better. Why? Because when you involve the learners throughout the entire design and development process, you will create a course that is much more meaningful. How? Because it forces us to focus on the real not the superfluous.

Let’s take a practical example. Say you were asked to create an e-learning course designed to build a sales associate’s ability to select the best product for a customer, based on his or her needs. What approach would you take?

You might first introduce the learner to each of the products your company offers, giving a historical timeline of when each product hit the marketplace, the sales figures and trends and the unique features and benefits of each. You might then show each product and give a features/benefits matrix and even an example of a customer who might be interested in purchasing this product. At the end of the module, to test the learner, you might ask them to drag fictional customers to the appropriate product based on their needs, giving them two tries to get it right before telling them the correct answers.

Sounds practical, right? Sure. But…is it real? Are sales associates able to drag customers to a product? What if they make the wrong choice? What happens then? What does that reaction look like? What does it feel like? Do sales associate get a chance to go back and drag the customer to another product? Of course not. Only through involving the learners could you find the answers to those questions. Only by asking them the real responses they get from customers will you understand how to write the content. Only by involving your learners can you make it real.

So, go back to the reasons why you entered the profession – was it a desire to write a series of bulleted lists and objectives, of questions and answers – or was it a desire to help people learn?