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Readiness to Learn

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I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
Winston Churchill

Churchill’s quip reminds us that the work of teaching and learning is a little like a dance, subtly drawing together the capabilities, curiosities, and purposes of both teachers and learners. Pausing to explore this metaphor a bit further, we might say that if teaching and learning is like a dance, then course design is the work of selecting the venue, preparing the music, and setting the mood.

So, how then do we set the mood for learning in online course design? 

One of the primary ways we set the mood for learning is by attending to our students’ readiness to learn. A survey of the research on learning readiness reflects a wide array of subtleties hinted at in our metaphor, all of which can affect the willingness and capacity of a student to engage in the learning task. In examining this subject, we find it helpful to do so through the lenses of adult learning, cultural differences, and learner experience (LX).  

Adult Learning

As noted in the link above, adult learners’ competence and margin directly affect their readiness to learn. These categories suggest designers attend to learners’ capacities to achieve the learning goals alongside the time and energy they have to devote themselves to the learning process. Thinking first about competence, we would encourage you to evaluate your learners in respect to their educational and their learning readiness.

  • Educational readiness describes a learner’s prior orientation and preparation to successfully achieve the learning expectations within the learning systems you are using to accomplish your goals. Learners need to understand how to navigate and use your learning management system, as well as what your expectations are related to learning habits, workload, grading, credentialing, timely completion of learning requirements, and how to successfully complete the program of study. 
  • Learning readiness, on the other hand, reflects the nature of the learners’ prior learning, their motivations to participate, and their capacities to successfully engage in the learning process. Diagnostic assessments can help teachers and learners attend to positive and negative learning experiences from the past and the learners’ reasons for participating. In addition, assessing learning readiness enables designers to align and distribute the learning goals within a course and across the program, as well as create mechanisms that help faculty to scaffold the learning experience enhancing learner motivation.  

Turning to margin, we recognize that adult learners are busy people, typically working outside of their coursework and often carrying significant family responsibilities. What this means is that designers should seek to accommodate adult learners by building flexibility into the learning process. 

Cultural Differences

It is important to recognize that adult learners reflect cultural differences that affect their readiness to learn. By culture, we mean shared ways of meaning making, communication, and praxis that vary by nationality, age, and gender in relation to social, economic and ethnic perspectives and which thereby impact the nature and success of learning. Thus, in addition to identifying your learners’ typical starting points when they enter your course, it is also beneficial to identify ranges of difference, especially as it relates to cultural perspectives. At Horizon, we find it helpful to understand cultural differences as spectrums. Two useful paradigms are Geert Hofstede’s seminal ideas on culture and Erin Meyer’s culture mapping. Identifying cultural priorities as spectrums allows designers to recognize areas of potential misunderstanding and miscommunication that can negatively impact a learner’s readiness to learn. 

Learner Experience (LX)

Finally, we would encourage you to look for ways to connect your learning goals, activities and assessments to the goals, interests, and motivations of your learners. In this respect, the growing field of LX offers a fruitful space to explore how learner motivations affect their readiness to learn. As the link above highlights, Horizon organizes its design principles around three primary LX qualities in the learning experience, namely, learning that is usableuseful, and desirable in the mind of the learner.

  • Usability seeks to guarantee that learning expectations are clear in the mind of the learner, easy to locate and engage, and accessible when the learner has margin to engage in the learning process. We would argue that usability is an entry level LX quality that is necessary if a learner is going to participate and engage in learning tasks. 
  • Usefulness describes learning that is understood by learners to be relevant to and applicable within their real-world settings. Horizon would encourage you to consider how you might connect your learning goals and activities to the interests, aspirations, and experiences of your learners.  
  • Desirability reflects a design quality that awakens an emotional or affective response in the learner. Horizon organizes this LX principle around the ancient values of goodness, truth, and beauty. As you design your course, consider the intersection of its subjects with areas of ethics and justice (the good), the veracity and credibility of knowledge within your discipline (the true), and the artistry or aesthetics of your design (the beautiful).


Multiple Intelligences
Learner Experience (LX)