Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Finding the sweet spot for learning

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

Learning is an extremely complex field and, in order to make sense of what is going on in the interaction between teachers and students, models and diagrams can help to make sense of the complexity. we will never capture the whole picture in one diagram but the interplay between models at least offer us guidelines for practice. 

One diagram caught my eye last week  in an article by Melissa EmlerFuture of Work Is Nothing Without Consideration For The Future of Learning (see below). The article looks at professional training but shows that learning takes place at the intersection of three elements: event, content and community. The gist of the model is that learning doesn't happen if one of these elements is missing.

If organizations want to get a return on their investment on learning, the components must be seen as interdependent parts of the whole. When making decisions about professional learning opportunities, people must understand the best experiences will contain all three components: community, content, and events. The ones that don’t contain all three components can be left unopened in your inbox.

Basically an event full of content but with no community element (ie. no discussion, interaction) has no lasting effect. Similarly a community with events but no content lacks a purpose - maybe lots of fun but what's it all about? Finally a community with content but with no events lacks urgency and the chance to get involved. Over the last couple of years we have certainly seen examples of all three with countless well-purposed webinars full of useful content but without forming a sense of involvement. many started a good discussion but offered no space for that to develop into a sense of community. I have certainly been part of quite a few such ventures.

In a pre-pandemic era, the components of training and development could stand alone. But if the goal is to embrace being a learning organization in the post-pandemic era, they can’t. During the pandemic, people in every industry were faced with a barrage of offers for free events and online courses. At first, many dove right in because they had a need to upskill fast. Now, heading into the third year of the pandemic, people are tired. Screen fatigue is real. Making sense of the one-off events is complicated. And, the logins for those online courses remain tucked safely away in the email inbox never to be seen again. And more than anything, people are craving connection and a sense of community. 
There are similarities here to the more complex community of inquiry model that shows the close and essential interplay between three presences: teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence. These elements vary from course to course but the true educational experience takes place in the sweet spot where the three presences meet. So many solutions fail because they only focus on one or two factors. You can have lots of great well-designed content but without a wider context and sense of community it has only limited impact. We need to offer that magic space where several factors intersect.

Image: Melissa Emler Modern Learners 2022


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