Over the last few years, my husband and I have slowly renovated our home from the outdated, 1950’s bungalow with some craftsman character to a more up-to-date, functional, and put-together home that fits our needs and interests. While the home had a ton of charm and historical architecture, there have been many components that needed to change to suit our needs. We’ve needed to rearrange the floor plan and update appliances and fixtures to fit our style preferences and be up to code according to modern construction standards. This summer, we are undertaking our largest project to date – turning our partially finished basement into a fully finished basement that will add an additional bedroom and one and a half baths to our floor plan. Once complete, our home will finally serve all our family’s needs, and most of our wants, and can truly be our forever home. As I consider the process we’ve gone through for renovating our home to suit our needs, I find myself comparing the home improvement process to suit the homeowners’ needs and tastes with the process of designing learning experiences with the end-user in mind.
The purpose of home improvement is to eventually have a home that fits the homeowners’ needs. Whether it’s the homeowners designing for themselves or contractors designing for future residents, they consider a few key questions:
- Who will be living here? – Perhaps it is a family with young children that needs multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and a play area. Or may a younger individual with a dog is buying their first home and they are prioritizing a fenced-in yard for their canine friend to roam free. Or an elderly couple is downsizing to a smaller one-story home to limit space that needs cleaning and no stairs to navigate.
- How many does the home need to house comfortably? – If we consider a newlywed couple moving into a starter home where they can bring their first child home, they need a home with at least two bedrooms. If that same couple wants space for guests to stay when they visit from out of town, they will need to consider a home with at least three bedrooms.
- What is their lifestyle? – Families that like to entertain would likely need a larger kitchen with an open floor plan with room to mingle. Alternatively, a large family, with one or more adults that work from home might prioritize a home with more than one closed-off area to promote productivity and limit disruption from the rest of the household.
There are many more questions that can be asked, but the whole point is to consider the end-user; the homeowners.
We need to do the same thing, consider the end-user, when we design learning experiences. To keep the end-user in mind, we need to ask ourselves the following questions when designing learning experiences:
- Who is our audience? – Are we designing for students, employees, organizational leaders, volunteers, professionals, or a subset of one of these categories? Are we reaching a broader audience by designing for more than one of these audiences at a time? Knowing who your audience is, allows you to cater the learning experience to suit their needs, interests, experiences, and learning styles. The more variety of learners that you need to accommodate for, the more intentional your delivery message and methods will need to be.
- What are their learning needs? – What do they need to learn and from what level are they starting? Do they have prior knowledge or skill or are they brand new to this content? Do they need to know or remember facts, comprehend or understand concepts, be able to apply new skills, be able to utilize their new knowledge to analyze or evaluate a situation, or do we need the learner to reach a stage where they are able to create their own product with their newly developed expertise? Learning development theory encourages us to begin at the lowest common denominator and build knowledge, skill, and expertise from there.
- What modes of delivery are best for the learner? – Is an asynchronous online module best? What about an in-person learning experience? Do your learners thrive in a lecture-style environment or workshop-style? Should we consider a learning experience that incorporates more than one of these over the course of a designated time frame? The age, experience, and availability of your learners will guide you toward the best delivery method. If you are reaching a broader audience and a variety of learners, it’s encouraged to utilize multiple touch points that allow learners to “choose their own adventure.” For example, a college-aged learner would likely prefer to take online modules at their own time and pace to learn content, while a middle-aged professional might prefer in-person learning experiences or live webinars with a recording option if they are not available during the scheduled live session.
- When is the best time to deliver the content and for how long? – Is it when learners begin a new role? Is it over a week, a month, year, or is continuing education best? Knowledge is retained and skill is developed when learners are exposed to content consistently and over time.
- What, if any, are our limitations? – When designing a home, your limitations are set by your budget, access to resources, and building codes. When you design learning experiences, you might find that you’re limited by finances, access to learning technology, lack of expertise, and/or lack of human capital like educators that are at max workload capacity.
In the home renovation space, you may be an avid DIYer like me or you may employ the skill and expertise of licensed contractors. Whether you enjoy and have the skill to complete some components of the construction yourself, but utilize the help of experienced contractors for other components or trust contractors with the renovations from start to finish, contractors are the experts in their field. Contractors have the credentials, knowledge, skill, and years of experience to ensure your project meets both the homeowners needs and building standards.
Similarly, Plaid can be the contractor for your learning experience build. Whether you need a consultation and recommendations for you and your team to carry out the “construction” of a learning experience or if you need support to fully develop the experience from concept to implementation, we are here to offer our broad range of knowledge, skill, and expertise.
If you’re anything like me and my husband, you like to plan out and visualize what your final product will look like. Before we could start on our basement renovation, we had to start with the planning phase. Listing out our needs and wants for the new construction and considering our limitations to prioritize what we included in the final design. With that work behind us, we worked with a licensed architect to draw up blueprints. While our hastily drawn sketch worked great for concept and ideation, the architect’s to-scale blueprints ensured that what we asked for was realistic and achievable. A great architect keeps both the homeowners’ needs and the contractors’ ability in mind in the creation of the blueprints.
Similarly, the planning phase of designing a learning experience is just as important. You would never ask a contractor to start building without a blueprint. You should also not design a learning experience without a plan in place. With the answers to the questions we asked earlier in mind, start to sketch out what your learning experience will look like. For each component, start to think about the who, what, when, where, and why and incorporate it into your plan. Who is delivering the content? What are they educating learners on? When is the content being delivered? Where is the content being delivered? And most importantly why is the content being delivered? This is your learning strategy.
To ensure the learning experience is successful and the learner achieves the objectives, we need to be clear about the purpose behind the learning experience. Think about the home improvement process for a moment. The purpose of home improvement is to design for the homeowners’ needs. Similarly, the purpose of designing learning experiences should also be to meet the learner’s needs. It’s easy to get in the headspace of “keeping up with the Jones.” However, just like trendy home designs do not fit every homeowner’s style, trendy programs also do not fit every learner’s needs.
Once your blueprint is finalized, construction begins. Every homeowner knows to plan for setbacks and unforeseen problems along the way during major construction. If you and your contractors planned properly, you’ve built in some contingency plans. The pandemic taught us both the need for alternative plans and the art of pivoting to those alternative plans seamlessly.
Don’t let the gradual progression towards the “normal” post-pandemic world stop you from continuing to consider the unpredictability of scenarios. We may not need to consider pandemic protocols as often these days, but any unforeseen circumstances, natural disaster, or tragedy could necessitate pivoting to an alternative plan for your learning experience. Your fortitude to plan ahead and consider the unforeseeable will ensure that your learners receive what they need at the end of the day.
While we are still at the beginning of the construction phase of our basement renovations, my husband and I can’t wait until we start to enjoy and begin living in our newly renovated home. That is the ultimate goal when homes are under construction – homeowners living and experiencing the finished product that from the beginning had their needs in mind.
The next time your learning experience builds are under construction, keep that final product in mind. After implementation, your learners should have both achieved the intended learning objectives and enjoyed their experience. If your learning experience is under construction and could benefit from the assistance of a contractor to build all or a portion of your learning experience or an architect to help you design a learning strategy with your end-user in mind, Plaid’s team of expert instructional designers is here to help.
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