Friday, 22 June 2012

Push Me Pull You

So this comes up all the time in the elearning world.  You hear about us so-called experts (note, nobody actually referred to me as an expert, that was a hypothetical) telling you about using pull learning techniques rather than push.  I was speaking to a client a couple of days ago and it occurred to me half way through the conversation that they hadn't actually grasped what the difference was.  Experience tells us that problems are rarely unique and I suspect there's some of you out there who (very quietly of course) don't know the difference between push and pull in elearning.  Of course, maybe everyone already does, in which case I found this interesting piece on Wikipedia about teaching granny to suck eggs..
Push elearning was once what nearly everyone produced without really knowing any better.  I guess it's the Foie Gras of the elearning world where we take our learners and we keep stuffing them full of information (although hopefully the analogy stops there!).  The problem with push learning most of the time is that it makes a huge assumption about the learners before the piece begins.  Often the normal is to play it safe and assume that your learners no nothing at all and then tell them everything whether they not it or not (granny, time to shell some more eggs).
I mentioned some of this last time with the ideas around video and how forcing your learners to watch long videos is tantamount to torture in some cultures, none more so than when they already know everything that is in the video.  To keep granny happy we can let her decide when she needs to know more.  This is the concept behind pull learning rather than push.  It also automatically makes our learning more interactive and puts the onus back on the learner to decide what they need to know to progress.  In the video example we may have a screen asking the learner a question about something.  If they know the answer then they put it in and move on.  Why ask them to learn something they already know.. makes sense right?

The reason a pull course is more interactive is that the learner is forced into choosing from the menu about what information they want.  It also caters for a far wider range of learners and different ways that learners learn.  For example you may have pull resources like audio bites, video, animation, text and even drag and drop activities that can all be used if the learner doesn't get the message we're trying to get across.  It's also much more akin to real life outside of the schooling system.  If I want to learn about something I go to the internet or I ask someone or find someone virtual or otherwise that knows more about it than me; but the way I do that may be very different from you and that's just fine.  If you want to learn then you need to find something out; and surely that's the key to learning; making the learner actually want to learn and motivated to find something out.
The hard part for us as instructional designers or elearning developers (yes, there's a difference) is that it means much of our hard work goes unappreciated.  It seems harsh that you spent hours making a really cool animation that is only going to be seen by 10% of the learners, but this is far better than forcing 90% of people to do something they don't need to do - after all their job is not to marvel at your skills in animation but to subtly appreciate your skills in designing effective learning.

I like Tom Kuhlman's approach to elearning with Articulate and now Storyline:  read this article if you want to know a bit more about this approach :)

If you haven't started designing pull training yet, give it a go.  It works great in your face to face sessions too if you know how to apply the same principles and takes a great deal of pressure off you the instructor/trainer/teacher.  If you need some help in working out what to do with this and where to start then drop me a line.. we can talk about the best tools and how to actually start designing this way.

As usual the opinions in my blog are always my own and if they happen to be correct that in itself is probably more by luck than judgement.  You can find me on LinkedIn or @NigelKineo on Twitter or by email: