Monday, April 04, 2005

Perceptions of learning versus expectations

I've had this question playing in my head for a little while: when we talk about designing for learning experience what does it really mean? We tend to look to the learner for guidance on things like
  • learner characteristics (such as the general characteristics of the learner group or student cohort),
  • professional applicability (subjects like nursing, business, ambulance services, etc),
  • timeframe for the learning to occur (most often in the form of 12 week semesters), and
  • learner styles and context (based again on learner group/s as well as individuals).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of factors relating to learning design, but hopefully it premises my next lot of thoughts here!

So, how do we know that the learner knows what they want? In other words how do we seek to differentiate between the learner's expectations leading up to a 'learning event' from what they perceive they have actually learned? You might say well, one occurs prior to learning and the other after the learning - no? I disagree. Firstly the two terms are different in their use for one. To expect something is to have a preconceived notion of something; to be expectant, anticipating something. To me this carries a value judgement to a degree. An individual can hold expectations about a film where they may have read rave reviews, only to be disappointed on viewing the film themselves -- their experience was almost 'tainted' by the overlaying of their expectations shall we say.

Perception then is what you perceive something to be... To me this acknowledges the moment, as in 'to be'. We cannot perceive something unless we are involved in it! It is about observing, gaining insight, developing an understanding of something. It is becoming aware. This is worlds apart from expectation, which is more about anticipation and probabilities - it is more a measurement or a forecast.

Now to get to my point (taking the long way round!)...if we are designing in line with the learner's perception of how they learn (as well as what they are learning) then we are theoretically closer to designing a lived and embodied experience. We thus decrease the gap between the design and the actual learning taking place. Well, this is a good thing isn't it?! If we design for the learner's expectations then surely we're perpetuating the myth that runs counter to learning how to learn?

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