Woman Marathon Winner

6 Ways to Develop Marathon Learners

I’ve been thinking lately about the word “training.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines training as:

  • a process by which someone is taught the skills that are needed for an art, profession, or job
  • the process by which an athlete prepares for competition by exercising, practicing, etc.

If I were a personal trainer preparing someone to run a marathon, the first thing I’d do would be to take her out running. I’d help her pick appropriate goals for her current level of ability. I’d help her work on her stride, her pacing, her breathing, and her endurance. I’d make sure she had the right gear, including insoles or knee braces if she needed them. When her determination started to waver, I’d encourage her to keep going. I’d also eliminate as many obstacles as I could. I probably wouldn’t make her leap hurdles or climb walls. And I definitely wouldn’t make her stop in the middle of each run, read a map, and then decide where to run next.

When you think about it, this could be a fairly useful comparison to what we do as educators. No matter what subject we’re teaching, we want our learners to make it all the way to the finish line. Does the analogy hold up when we dig into it? I think it does:

  1. Start off running – We can start the learning experience with a challenge that gets the learner going. The conceptual stuff makes much more sense when it’s in context.
  2. Pick appropriate goals – This one’s tricky, because we’re usually designing for many different learners with many different capabilities. One useful tactic is to embed supplemental material for learners who need to catch up. At the same time, we can recommend additional materials for advanced learners who want to explore an idea further.
  3. The right gear – We can include no-risk diagnostic assessments to help identify weak spots, and provide appropriate supports. We can convey information via text, audio, and visual channels to accommodate varying preferences. We should also remember to design for learners who have visual, hearing, or motor challenges.
  4. Encouragement – We can help learners become more confident by building in opportunities for them to test their knowledge and prove to themselves that they’re able to succeed.
  5. Eliminating obstacles – Our writing can be economical, our visuals can have a purpose, our assessments can relate to the learning objectives; there can be no excess in our design. And if we know that many learners find something particularly challenging, we can break it down into smaller chunks.
  6. Knowing the route – Our route should be planned with the end result in mind. What are the learning objectives? How will we know if learners have achieved them? We can also post roadsigns along the way, reminding learners how far they’ve come and where the finish line is. If someone gets a little lost, it’s our job to point the way back.

So, yeah, that works. I’m sure you can think of other tactics that can help learners (ahem) stay the course. Feel free to post your ideas in the comments.

Now my next question is, how can I be more like a personal trainer? That is, as an instructional designer, how can I create learning experiences that feel more like personal training experiences, especially when I’m designing for the ultimate in impersonal learning: learning online?

Share your thoughts in a reply.

(by Rissa Karpoff)

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