What’s In It For Learners?

In organizations, we talk about addressing WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).  As a key component of motivation, we want to connect to individuals viscerally.  With my focus on engagement in learning, I’ve felt it’s important to address the conative (anxiety, motivation, etc) of learners as well.

What I’ve meant by this has included having introductions that viscerally capture the consequences of the knowledge (positive or negative, dramatically or comically; I’ve a predilection for comically negative), help them connect the learning to the broader context of the world, help them understand why it’s important for them, remove anxiety, etc.  I believe we need to open up learners emotionally as well as the well-known benefits of activating relevant knowledge cognitively.

I was just writing up a list of what would need to change for schools to be effective, and as I was riffing on epistemology (having learners understand and take responsibility for learners), it occurred to me that we needed to address the WIIFM, and I realized it’s about WIIFL.  We need to explicitly address what makes the learning experience valuable to learners.  I’m sure we’ve all heard learners say something like “I’ll never use this”.  If it’s true, bin it.  If it’s not, then help them see it.

On a set of content I was lead on the design of (math), I created the spec for our introductions to show how the content would get used in real life, and then we worked through meaningful examples and practice items. In another set of content I created the engagement for, we used a professional cartoonist to create a comic that introduced every section.

We don’t emphasize enough helping learners understand why they should care, so is it any wonder why they question the WIIFM?  And it’s not presenting the learning objectives that we use to design, it’s a more coherent story that uses, essentially, marketing to get them to get it.

Ask yourself, if and when you’re creating a learning experience: WIIFL.  If you do, you can either eliminate unneeded content, or help learners connect in a motivating way. If you don’t, you risk learners tuning out and staying away.  Which isn’t a worthwhile investment of time and money.

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