Information? Or Instruction?

I recently began work on a new course-development project. The goal of the course is to prepare workers for a highly technical job in the petrochemical industry.

Like many courses, this one will be founded on a textbook selected by the project’s subject matter experts.

The textbook is a great resource, filled with tons of important information for the work these folks will do. At the same time, it’s pretty much useless. See, it’s a terrific reference manual – if you’re already familiar with the job and you just need to look something up. But for a novice? It’s just one, big, insurmountable wall of… stuff.

The problem is the way the book is organized. There’s a chapter for each type of process and each category of mechanism. But this structure doesn’t relate at all to the way a new technician will encounter these processes and mechanisms. Sure it tells them what they need to know, but it doesn’t tell them why or when.

I’m no gambler, but I think it’s a safe bet that most people would find this book overwhelming and intimidating. And when you’re talking about workforce development, that translates to lots of lost opportunities for good, smart, hardworking folks.

Look, I know I’m not the first person to say this, but we obviously haven’t won the battle yet: We can’t just throw a bunch of information at people and hope that it sticks. We need to put ourselves in the learner’s shoes and really think about why, when, and how that information will be used.

A reference manual is no more a textbook than a pile of wood is a house. It needs the right structure so that learners can, well, inhabit it. That’s what helps us turn information into instruction.

And on that note I wish you, and all of your house, a very happy Thanksgiving!

— by Rissa Karpoff

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2 thoughts on “Information? Or Instruction?

  1. Gary Wilton

    “We need to put ourselves in the learner’s shoes and really think about why, when, and how that information will be used.” Yes, I think you nailed it on the head here and I encounter this problem as a student as well. If the textbook or material at-hand is of significant volume as well, if it is not organized in a more activity-based format and/or as you say, in how you will encounter it, it does prove to be useless to a great degree and one ends-up spending more time searching and piecing together than doing and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Rissa Karpoff Post author

      Thanks for the comment Gary. You’re so right. And of course it’s nearly impossible to remember something if you aren’t introduced to it in a relevant context. Recent neuroscience suggests there are 4 stages of learning: attention, encoding, storage, and retrieval. Relevance and context are deeply intertwined with all 4.

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