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Starting a New Learning Year

constraints-penAt a dinner party I attended the other night, some of my friends started to share stories about their children who are very good at imitation. One story that stood out to me was of a little girl in a department store. She went over to a rack of clothes (her size) and began looking through the clothes around the rack. Every third or fourth item, she would pick up the price tag, look at it, and then continue. She was about 2 years old and couldn’t read, but she had seen her mother perform this ritual many times. She had learned what “shopping” was to her mother and she was adopting a similar practice.

I want to couple that experience with that of my nephew. The other day, he was playing with a computer program he got for Christmas. He was easily maneuvering the mouse and creating pictures with his new Christmas camera. My mother came into the room and was shocked at how well a 5 year old could use the mouse and create pictures montages. She commented, “It took me a long time to feel comfortable using a mouse.” But, for him, it’s second nature. He’s never known a world without such technology.

It seems that learning happens all the time, particularly when we don’t realize it. We’re constantly recognizing and creating patterns. Within instructional design, we focus so much on how our audience learns that sometimes we might forget that our own learning style and methods are integrally entwined in all the instruction we design. They influence how we design instruction.

I think it is safe to say that a majority of people stick to the means and methods they learned first or best. They turn to their old stand-bys in terms of design and effectiveness. I don’t think this is a horrible approach; in fact, it is quite natural and most of us function in this way. But, since it is the time of year to create resolutions and to break out of habits, I hope that we look at our own form of learning just as much as we focus on the learning of our audiences. Here are some questions to think about:

How does your learning affect the way you design instruction for others?
What patterns of design could you re-evaluate this year?
Where are you the most comfortable? What will you do to challenge yourself?
How will you use the contemporary patterns of instruction to best reach your audiences?

So, on your list of “things to do in 2009,” perhaps after your exercise plan and budget listing, be sure to include an item about evaluating your learning habits.