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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QR Codes to the Rescue

I think a lot about performance support tools and how to integrate them into the environment so that they are available at the time of need. Lately I’ve been thinking about how strategically placed QR codes could serve as a vehicle for performance support.

I discovered the perfect opportunity to test this out.

My favorite pizzeria stocks games for patrons to play. My son was attracted to the Candy Land game so we got all the pieces out to get started, but there were no instructions. This is the case with many of the games there. The instructions get lost. After searching for a while on my phone I was able to locate official rules for Candy Land so we could set up.

It occurred to me then that QR codes could be a handy performance support tool. Patrons could use their phones to scan the code and be directed to the official rules. I went home to test out my idea. I used the Kaywa QR Code generator to create this QR code:

Scan the code for official Candy Land Rules

This was the first right answer. Next I needed to challenge my idea to make sure I wasn’t just finding a use for my new toy. What were some of the other possibilities?

  1. Could we just print the instructions and tape them to the inside of the box? This could work for a while, but eventually they would tear or come out and get lost again. Printing and reprinting costs could be an issue because they have about 50 games in stock  and most instruction sheets are at least 2 pages.
  2. Could we “ruggedize” the instructions? What if we printed and laminated the instructions so they wouldn’t be accidentally thrown away or damaged? They could still get separated and would require maintenance to reunite lost instructions with the game. Lamination costs would be an issue.
Advantages of the QR Code:
  • It is relatively small and can be securely fixed to the game box with packing tape, making it low maintenance and sustainable.
  • You can fit about 6-8 QR codes to each printed page, reducing printing costs by about 93%.
  • The code can take the user to a page with rules in English and Spanish.
  • The pizzeria uses a QR code-based loyalty program called Punchd, so most patrons will already have experience scanning QR codes.
Disadvantages of the QR Code:
  • The urls for the web-based instructions could change unexpectedly.
  • Not everyone has a smart phone.
  • Some patrons might not have experience scanning QR codes.

My feeling at this point was that the QR codes were the way to go. The next step was to approach the owner of the shop and volunteer to code a few of the most popular games as a pilot to see if patrons used them and appreciated them.

The owners loved the idea! We now have codes in place for Candy Land, Monopoly, and Connect Four. We’ll be adding a few at a time until all of the games are coded. I’ll post updates as the feedback comes in.

Has anyone else found a way to use QR codes to support performance? I’d love to hear how you used them.