How to Make Learners Happy

Use Charlie Mingus’ Law in Your Learning Design.

Bassist Charlie Mingus once said “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

What Mingus said is what I call his Law of Creative Simplicity. Look at a few examples.

  • Stuffing a sentence’s worth of thought  with a paragraph’s worth of abstract, redundant gobbledygook is commonplace. Translating a convoluted paragraph of jargon-dense engineer-speak into a simple sentence of clear English is creativity.
  • Kicking Humpty Dumpty off the wall to become a complex pile of rubble—that’s child’s play. Restoring complex Humpty Dumpty rubble to simple Humpty Dumpty wholeness is a task too creative for all the king’s horses and men.

Creative Simplicity in Learning Design

In his keynote speech for the 2011 Lectora User Conference in Cincinnati, Elliott Masie illustrated creative simplicity like this [bracketed comments are mine]:

We are doing too much re-teaching when people already know the skills. Let’s not re-teach. Make sure that you are not packaging something old as new and overly inventing language that is brand-new to teach it. [That’s commonplace-JH].

Let’s figure out what learners need to know, how to map learner instincts and experience with new knowledge and …create the ability for learners to watch and listen to stories. We can take complex things and present them in very unique sequences via stories. [That’s creativity-JH]

Masie also outlined several emerging trends that define the fluid 21st-century learning workplace environment:

  • Consistently high performers tend to seek out learning opportunities on their own, when they need them.
  • Learner understanding and retention improve when learning occurs through peer collaboration.
  • Inexpensive video is ubiquitous and a game-changer; it lets us tell a story live.
  • Learners have become accustomed to outsourcing memorization requirements to “second-screen” devices (like smartphones and tablets)  that are always present and always on.

The 21st-Century Learning Environment

How do expanded learner demands and wide availability of technical options for connectivity and collaboration  affect the way we design learning? They push us toward synthesis and simplicity: the core principles of the Mingus Law.  21st-century learners expect their on-the-job learning opportunities to:

  1. Be accessible: targeted for their job needs, easy to find, and available when they need them (and not before).
  2. Help them collaborate by providing access to a forum, a wiki, or social media site where they can share experiences, generate ideas, and discuss best practices with colleagues.
  3. Help them remember by providing well-designed checklists they can use to improve performance.
  4. Not be confined by a corporate firewall. Even though “second-screen” devices can’t be controlled, their use can be leveraged to broaden learner capabilities.

How do you meet these expectations?

Stay tuned for articles about affordable technology, tools, and techniques you can use to bring each of these four expectations to reality in your course and curriculum design.