Why should you take the time to explain your course design? Well, helping your learners understand why they are learning in a certain way can be a powerful tool for engaging learners and overcoming resistance to learning.

You’ve almost certainly been in this position yourself. Think about the last time you bought a product that came with a poorly-designed manual, and how frustrating it is to not be able to find the information you need. On the (rare) occasions where this doesn’t happen, it’s usually because the unboxing experience explains clearly why you need to do things in a certain order.

The same dynamic occurs in learning design. If learners don’t understand why they are learning something, it can cause unnecessary frustration. And this often prevents learning from happening.

Power and resistance

Teaching and learning is about power and resistance. Typically, the teacher has most of the power and learners have very little. The teacher’s role is to use their power to help learners overcome their resistance to taking on new information.

A lot of this resistance comes from learners not understanding ‘why’ the teacher is asking them to do something. They may have signed up for a course or a training program because they are intrinsically interested in it. But equally, their interest might be more strategic – they may need to pass to apply for a job or get a promotion. Worse still, their line manager might have given them no choice but to take the course, thus creating significant resistance and resentment.

The power of why

However, explaining why a course is designed in a certain way can help reduce unnecessary resistance to learning. Taking time to go through the course design with your learners irons out much of the frustration that can arise from not knowing why they are doing a particular activity, or focusing on a certain topic.

Start by looking at the intended outcome or outcomes with your learners. Outcomes are the ultimate ‘why’, as they should influence why all the content and learning activities have been chosen. Ensuring your learners have a clear understanding of the intended outcomes enables them to construct a vision of what success looks like.

Then explain what they will need to produce to demonstrate how they have met the outcomes. This helps your learners begin to develop their understanding of the destination they are aiming for. It also enables them to get a feel for how much distance they have to travel based on their prior knowledge and experience.

Finally, talk through the sequence of steps they will need to follow to reach the destination. Doing this enables learners to visualise a path from where they are now to where they need to reach.

The journey is more important than the destination

Whether you’re a teacher or a learner, it’s easy to become fixated on the content of a course. But it’s just as important to understand how this content drives the learning activities that will propel learners towards their destination.

If the journey is well-designed and clearly explained, the destination should be much easier to reach.

Photo by Tamas Tuzes-Katai on Unsplash


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