Leveraging your empathy for the learners

When we already know the material we're going to present, our minds become free to know the learners. We can spend time understanding them in ways they understand themselves. We can prepare to speak their minds and picture them in ways that induce more learning. This cultivated ability to empathize with the learners can be leveraged into more effective instructional designs, learner experiences and disruptive value propositions.

When I've spent time "learning the learners", here's some of what I've discovered:
  • There's a range of different expectations about what I will do for them, with them and in spite of them. Some are cynical and expecting the worst. Others are optimistic and trusting me to provide exceptional value.
  • There are lurking fears about who this may get off to a great start but end up disappointing them. Some are afraid this will be over the heads, moving too fast to keep up or too basic to be of any use.
  • There are those who want to be told the facts, methods and guiding principles. Others want to understand why this approach makes sense, how it compares to others and when it's not applicable.
  • Some learners assume classroom experiences are done to get the grade and nothing else. Others expect to apply what they learn in other classes and then later in life. Some organize their efforts to prepare for the test while the others prepare to enrich their understanding.
When we understand these kinds of variables, there are two ways to mention them to the learners. One way belittles them by saying "I know what you're thinking" and implying "How could you be so stupid?". The other opens their closed minds by saying "Some of you share these concerns" and implying "You want to get the most out of this investment you're making". The first approach is manipulative and attempts to control the learners. The second approach is empathetic and relates respectfully with the learners.

This same contrast occurs in the formulation of disruptive value propositions, innovative educations products and new business models. The first lacks empathy for the learners and pushes the product in their faces. The attempts to deliver the product backfire. The other leverages the empathy for the learners and creates demand for them to inquire into, explore further and realize for themselves the value in this offering. The effects on the learners are enduring, mutually beneficial and significant.

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