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The road less travelled: making the elearning journey matter

This post was written by Nikki Ashley and first appeared on the Epic blog on 24th March 2014.

As I walk to the station in the morning, I sometimes overtake children on their way to school. For a short while, we tread the same path. But we tread in very different ways. Like most of my fellow commuters, I have my headphones plugged in, head down, walking briskly to make my train. In contrast, the schoolchildren chat, laugh, race, scoot, play… There is one brave commuter who scoots – he does look more like an office worker than an athlete, but good for him! However, most of us put our heads down and see our journey as the part to be endured in order to reach our destination.

Now we commuters are walking beside strangers, converging only by a shared transport method, true. But I don’t think that’s what differentiates our journey. Nor do I think children are by nature more carefree on their daily ‘commute’ to school – most schoolchildren dislike school just as much as most of us did when we were kids. No, they are simply enjoying the journey.

In learning, if our destination is our learning outcomes, are we more likely to stride through the steps we need to follow to get there, or could we make more of the journey itself? There is often a reticence to employ more creative learning strategies through a perception that they are irrelevant or a fear that they might be perceived as such by stakeholders.

The benefits of an enjoyable journey

So is the energy the school children expend pure fun or is it in any way useful? Well, (speaking as a mother) benefits can be:

  • excess energy used on the journey allows for greater concentration in class
  • social interaction builds skills that contribute towards confident communication in the classroom
  • simply arriving in a happier frame of mind (than their counterparts driven by stressed parents) makes the child more receptive to the day’s activities.

Could more creative, fun learning techniques actually have benefits for adult learners? Could an unusual learning experience make learners more receptive to the content they need to learn? Could an enjoyable learning experience lead to more offline discussion of the learning? Could something different be more memorable?

Engaging learners with the unexpected

I have never heard learner feedback which used phrases like ‘just as I expected’ and ‘more of the same’ in a positive tone! Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Could another path reach the same destination?

Conversely I have heard a lot of positive feedback around the unexpected. I’m not advocating the unexpected as an isolated characteristic. Indeed that would contradict the coherence principle of relevance in learning. But if we have clearly identified our destination – our learning outcomes – can we not look at alternative routes? How great it is when learners achieved the required outcomes and have fun doing it!