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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Providing Meaningful Benefit to Learning Topics

two girls at studyWhen designing your courses provide a meaningful benefit for each topic, in the form of “why you should care about this” scenario.

Learning is much more effective if the learner’s brain knows why what you’re about to talk about matters. The benefit and/or reason why you should learn something needs to come before the actual content. Otherwise, the learner’s brain gets to the end of what you’re telling them and says, “Oh, NOW you tell me. If you’d said that earlier, I would have paid more attention…” This process of not-paying-attention is not completely within the learner’s conscious control so, like I said, even if the person is motivated to learn this thing, their brain can still tune out during specific parts that don’t start with a compelling benefit.


To find a “meaningful benefit”, play the “Why? Who Cares? So What?” game with someone else. Describe the thing you’re trying to explain, to which the other person asks, “Why?” Provide an answer, to which the person then asks, “Who cares?”. Provide an answer, to which the person asks, “So?” At this point, when you’re nearly ready to kill them for not getting it, you probably have the thing you should have said instead of whatever you said first (and second). The most compelling and motivating reason/benefit is almost always the thing you say only after you’ve answered at least three “Yeah, but WHY do I care?” questions.

One comment on “Providing Meaningful Benefit to Learning Topics

  1. giss29
    March 24, 2010

    Learning should always be informed at the beginning of a topic of the purpose of the topic, the benefit to the learner and the expected outcome for the learner. However, I feel, as instructional designers, we must also integrate strategies that will keep our learners engaged and attentive as much as possible throughout the course, which will help to create and maintain the environment for the learner to “get it” in the way we intend for them.

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This entry was posted on January 11, 2010 by in Techniques.

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