Don’t Punish the Learner

Jane Bozarth posted a great piece on her Bozarthzone blog called Punish the Learner. Don’t worry, she isn’t advocating punishment. She speaks of the crippling power of a single bad learning experience and how it sometimes takes decades to recover. In particular, she gives the example of a six year old girl at her first piano recital. High expectations have been placed on her to perform in an unfamiliar environment with a large audience and no sheet music. The result was so devastating that she didn’t touch another musical instrument for more than 50 years.

I’m a huge fan of providing a safe place to practice new learning within the Learning experiences I design. I model this on step 4 of Raymond Woldkowsi’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Step 4 focuses on Engendering Competence. This means providing the learner a supportive environment to practice application of the new skill, receive feedback, and try again.

I think it’s also important to have performance support tools in place once the learner has walked onto the “stage” of the workplace to perform with peers and the boss watching. Some refer to this as a supportive scaffolding. I like to call it the Life Line. If you’ve ever watched the program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? you might remember the available “life lines” a contestant may use if they get stuck answering a question. The original three life lines were:

  • Fifty-Fifty–remove two incorrect answers
  • Phone-a-Friend–a thrity second phone call to a smarty pants friend for help
  • Ask the Audience–audience members use feedback remotes to tell the contestant which answer they think is correct.

What if workplace learning had life lines? What if every learner was given permission to call the instructor for help if they got stuck? What if former students joined an alumni group and answered questions from those who just completed the class and were trying things out back at their desk? What if every learner had the equivalent of sheet music to get them through the performance?

I constantly challenge myself to think of ways to support learners well after the initial Learning Event is over.

What are the most successful “Life Lines” you have provided to learners?

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One thought on “Don’t Punish the Learner

  1. I encouraged the individual who took my last job to call me whenever she had a question or couldn’t find something. She only did it once that I remember but even thought I didn’t work there any more, I was very invested in her success. She and I both worked very hard to get her ready to take over that role.

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