Learning Design Guiding Principles: Part 1

Speak the language of the people you want to influence.

Communicate the What’s In IT For Me (WIIFM) in words and phrases that resonate with people in different organizational roles, with different responsibilities and different perspectives related to the source of a common problem and proposed problem solving strategies. Talk to people in your target audience to get to know how they communicate ideas related to the subject. Read articles and presentations or listen to podcasts that subject matter experts and workers in the field have published. When designing learning experiences, if you neglect to do this, you will likely fall into the trap of thinking you have clearly communicated ideas only to find out later that siloed segments of your target audience have significantly different working definitions for similar words, phrases, and acronyms. If you attempt to communicate one universal message that speaks to everybody in your target audience, it is likely to resonate with nobody in particular.

As a teacher, I first encountered this dilemma when I was teaching 8th grade science. My class was composed of students with various ability levels and often I would find myself preparing lessons that primarily targeted the “average student.” I was especially frustrated by the challenge of addressing students with special needs because at that time I had not been given any training on neurodivergent thinking and learning strategies. What I came to realize after many years, is that I simply could not provide individualized instruction to all of my students every class period.

What I could reasonably do is acknowledge unique needs by making readily accessible more targeted self-directed tools and resources for students to utilize independently, to free up more time for me and students more knowledgeable in specific areas to provide guided instruction to other students during our class time. This blended learning strategy is just as applicable and effective in the workplace as it is in the middle school classroom.

To collaborate with different stakeholders in your organization effectively, you will need to learn to understand what I think of as different dialects of the same language, in real time. We often think we are aligned in our messaging around a subject when the truth is, we are not.

When our approach to learning design is based on the design thinking framework: Identifying the disconnects in the words we are speaking to each other is the goal, not an obstacle.

Amplifying the voices of real people with real challenges reduces the impact of unconscious bias and takes away some of the burden of translating ideas into a common language. Ultimately to reinforce organizational learning, you will need to establish more uniform messaging describing processes, objectives, and best practices across different functional teams, but to get there you have to first acknowledge that people often have significantly different points of view of the same problem, process, or methodology – and that’s a good thing!