In reviewing my ISPI Handbook of Human Performance Technology, I came to consider the three variables of learning described as 1) the experience of the learner, 2) performance outcomes, and 3) instructional strategies. Briefly described for reference, the experience of the learner refers to the perception of the learner from the reference point of their current mental model. In other words, if you broadly instruct me to cut a potato with a knife, the result may be anything from julienne to Mr. Potatohead. Therefore the point is valid, the instruction must consider the potential mental models of the target audience if it is going to assume even moderate performance success. The second variable, that of performance outcomes, refers to those outcomes that involve either informing or performing. Informational outcomes are good if you want to build awareness, as with a new company name or a natural ingredient. Performance outcomes are the trickier proposition, because you are ultimately attempting to build or change behavior as the goal. You cannot merely slap up information if you want to affect someone’s Pavlovian response. They must receive relevant training. This can be training that changes procedural performance, as in learning a new function key on your computer. Or it can be training that impacts principled performance, which requires instructional architecture at a much higher level because there is no absolute approach. For example, if you are attempting to sell a product, every potential buyer is coming from a completely different reference point. The sales presentation must be tailored to each customer, taking into consideration a huge number of variables and preconceptions. This is, in my mind, the gold mine. To understand what it means to create a training that compels a customer to change their principal behavior and start buying your product, that is the sweet spot to be sure. But how? How do you create instruction, bury it in your pitch, and realistically expect a core behavioral shift?
Instructional strategies must approach the question with a discussion on reality. There are four instructional architectures that can be used to accomplish this marketing feat, receptive instruction where the learner is a sponge and are just sitting around waiting for you to inform them; directive instruction, where the learner builds increasing chunks of knowledge to build appropriate responses and skills; guided discovery, where the learner has greater control over a cognitively flexible process that is readily applicable to real world situations; and exploration, where the construct assumes that learners build their own knowledge with selection of any number of stimuli and tools and thus, variety is king. But I am in favor of only one: Exploration. In my mind it is the most difficult proposition for instruction and performance because it places emphasis on the individual”s preexisting knowledge and experiences, which are unique to every person. Exploration leaves it to the individual to “step in” and find their starting point as appropriate to their needs and preferences. It cannot successfully impose a pre-specified skill set of preferences by nature, because it is futile to tailor to everyone. It assumes that the individual will instinctively know where to start based on their unique schema, and the instruction need only provide any number of methods from which the user may choose.
Daunting, yes. But in this way, isn’t it reflective of the current informational economy, where everything is available but not everything is useful? If we truly understand the rapid pace and large expanse of information out there, we will design instructional strategies that give the learner the greatest control. In sales, the idea is to give the client the illusion of control so that the desired decision has the semblance of coming from the client. So then, exploratory instruction must be broad but devious, must provide for many potential choices with an inherent emphasis on a key few. We must assume that the learner in today’s society is used to a high level of control and has a level of relatable experience or schema. Multimedia technology must be designed to have immediate importance to the learner and then have a self-directed framework where the learner can back out or change gears at any time if they have bumped into existing knowledge or lost their way. The enemies of performance change are boredom and irrelevance, so learning must take place in a stimulating environment. Not just bells and whistles which can be distractive, but by having supreme relevance on a deep level. Don’t assume relevance to the learner or you enter into a mind maze. Make the instruction relevant to the task, to the job, to the competition, to the market, to the pace of life, to the key instincts of the human mind: fear, hunger, hope, love, power. Then you have the potential for real change.