First Do No Harm – A Basic Principle of Instructional Design: Part 1

First Do No Harm – A Basic Principle of Instructional Design: Part 1

First do no harm. This is an unforgettable title of a book I’d read long back (complete title First do no harm: reflections on becoming a neurosurgeon, written by J. Kenyon. Rainer). Good advice that. Especially in the context of training and instructional design.

Robert Mager’s book, How to Turn Learners On…without turning them off echoes the same thought, worded differently. In the preface, Mager says that his book “is about a universal goal of instruction – the intent to send students away from instruction with at least as favorable an attitude towards the subjects taught as they had when they first arrived.”

The question is how?

To widen the scope of the topic, how can we influence learners’ attitude favorably towards learning, especially in the eLearning context?

First do no harm

With our learners far removed from our immediate physical context, it is sometimes very possible to overlook a simple basic fact – that our learners seldom come to our courses in a neutral mode. They come to the learning experience with their own attitude towards the subject, towards the medium of delivery, and towards the course materials (an attitude varying from favorable to unfavorable – with all shades in between). Our job is to try and make sure that whatever we do as instructional designers helps them move from an unfavorable attitude towards a favorable attitude or in the worst case scenario, at least help them stay in neutral gear. When designing our courses, a basic guiding principle would be to first do no harm. We need to do whatever we can to make sure that we don’t put off our learners! In this article and the next, I will explore a few ways of doing this.

Attitude towards the medium

For those learners new to eLearning or uncomfortable with it because it appears impersonal, it could take some getting used to initially. Here’s how we can help.

Make them feel welcome: One of the limitations of eLearning is that it lacks the human touch and that learners interacting with a machine need to be that much more motivated to complete the course. Think of how a classroom session is likely to go if you dived into the course without even a warm welcome to the participants. Now think of how much more challenging it is to make learners feel at home in the eLearningcontext. How do we ensure that learners who come to our course feel like clicking the Next button? A warmly worded welcome, along with outlining the benefits of taking the course can help do that. In fact, with the appropriate use of audio, the impact can be even more favorable.

Simple orientation helps: This tip applies is especially applicable if you have learners who are new to eLearning. An introduction to the navigation and UI can provide the required orientation – you could provide a course map or a virtual tour of the way the course is organized. A few simple signposts can also reduce a lot of anxiety for learners. In fact providing enough signposts allows learners to always know where they are and where they’re expected to go.

Attitude towards the subject

This is a tough one, especially if the learners have a deep-rooted aversion to any subject or training. A lot of times, employees are signed up for courses that they really don’t feel motivated to take. Only the fact that it is an organizational mandate makes them complete it. Apart from highlighting the benefits of taking the course, what else can we do to help change their attitude towards the subject matter of the course? Part 2 of this article will cover a few points.