Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You Can Do It !!!

Design Basis: Learning Theory
You probably have either experienced or seen the following scenario: A group of people are gathered for an orientation. The auditorium is buzzing with chatter of anticipation. A commanding figure enters; a hush prevails. Without introduction the following directions are given: “Look to your right and to your left. Know now that only one of you three will succeed in this program!” Dramatic? Yes! A good introduction? No!! Well at least not for designing purposes. Why? Isn’t competition motivating?
Overall it is a poisoning formula for learning.  Let’s look at the mixture.

One Part Adult Learning Theory
One of the fundamental principles of adult learning theory is that “Adults have a greater volume and different quality of experience than youth”. (1)  Consequently, adults have a different perspective on experience: it is our chief source of self-identity.

One Part Psychology
Our self-identity is directly allied to our social status. And, situations that place our status in peril physically elicit an emotional “threat response”. Status is like all other emotional experiences, the threat response is stronger and more common than the reward response.

One Part Biology
The threat is visceral, including a flood of cortisol to the blood and a rush of resources to the limbic system that inhibits clear thinking. The body is readying for conflict.

One Part Learning Theory
If you were to apply this situation to the SCARF Model I think you will agree it would definitely push the brain’s goals of status away from what is best for learning.   (See my blog on The Brain – Yesterday and Today)


So after a good dose of this formula you end up with a learner ready for conflict and not clearly thinking.

The Antidote

Knowles (1) recommends “a learning climate of collaborativeness rather than competitiveness. In some ways, I think Knowles was ahead of his time in regard to the effectiveness and application of what we refer to as “social learning” today.  Knowles suggest strongly, the first question in the design process should be to answer the question “What procedures should I use with this particular group to bring this desired climatic and conditions into being”

An element you can design into your introductory material is a You Can Do It (YCDI).  Learners are more likely to learn new knowledge they believe they are capable of mastering than knowledge they believe they will never comprehend. Further, learners are more likely to use the knowledge after training if they have confidence in the skills they have learned.

Foshay, Silber & Stelnicki (4) suggest the following strategies:

  • Use research results or testimonials from role models or other learners to explain how people like themselves have succeeded in learning this new knowledge.

  • Point out that the learners have already succeeded at learning something similar to what you are teaching.

  • Emphasize the support resources in the organization (people money, facilities, equipment) that are available to help them.

  • Be honest about the initial difficulty of learning the new information and skills.

  • Separate their ability to learn the new knowledge (danger of task failure) from their worth as a person and work (danger of personal failure).

  • Have learners compete with themselves rather than with others.

  • Make sure your training ends with practice in realistic contents with realistic difficulty levels, distractions, stresses, and so forth.

  • Be sure to tell the learner in a believable way what is “reality” and that they succeeded.

In the future, as you develop your WIIFM explanation (as you have done so effectively in the past) consider adding an YCDI element to prepare your learners for the challenge and set them up of that “ah ha” moment when he or she achieves success.

Best regards,



1.      Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Cambridge Press.

2.      Rock David (2009). Your Brain at Work - Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. Harper-Collins. New York, New York.  NeuroLeader Institute – Home Page

3.      Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T. J. (1993) Instructional Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice-Hall.

4.      Foshay Wellesley, R. Silber Kenneth, H. and Stelnicki Michael, B. (2003) Writing Training Materials that Work; Hot to train anyone to so anything. Jossey-Bass/Pfeifer. San Francisco, CA.


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