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I'm a geek working as a distance learning specialist for a large corporation.

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Re-igniting passion

Creating Passionate Users: Re-igniting passion

We can’t expect passionate users, if we ourselves can’t hold (or rediscover) the passion we felt for the work we chose.

That is an excellent point. When the world is beating down on you with a sledgehammer, it’s easy to lose sight of the passion you had when you first began in your field. And for those responsible for providing training to others, that can really hurt effectiveness.

Passion is infectious. But so are boredom and apathy. If you are a trainer, your passion can change the way a student perceives your subject. If they thought it would be stale you can convince them that it is exciting because it’s obvious that you find it interesting. Conversely, if you appear bored to tears yourself, it becomes very easy for the student to mentally check-out.

In the blog I’m quoting, Kathy refers to a book she recently read on teaching/learning: Harvard University Press: What the Best College Teachers Do.

What makes the best teachers so good?

From the Harvard Press website book summary:

The short answer is–it’s not what teachers do, it’s what they understand. Lesson plans and lecture notes matter less than the special way teachers comprehend the subject and value human learning. Whether historians or physicists, in El Paso or St. Paul, the best teachers know their subjects inside and out–but they also know how to engage and challenge students and to provoke impassioned responses. Most of all, they believe two things fervently: that teaching matters and that students can learn.

Okay, so passion is important in learning. That’s all great and inspiring for instructor-led, face-to-face training situations. But what about the corporate training world, where students/employees are geographically dispersed and getting together in person isn’t feasible? How do we apply these concepts in an environment where instructional designers are creating self-paced material that gets delivered online? How do you communicate passion through a cold, impersonal computer screen?

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have the answer.

I do, however, have some ideas. (Actually, to continue with the whole honesty thing, they aren’t really my ideas. This is more of a list of things I’ve heard and agree with.) None of these are a silver bullet. Some are just minor things; others take a lot more effort (but presumably have a larger impact). Not all are practical for every situation, nor is this an exhaustive list. But they all have the potential to communicate passion. Consider using some of these techniques in your next designs.

  • Use stories and narrative. Create a plot and draw your user in, don’t just show the screens or the process steps and move on.
  • Use pictures showing faces with strong expressions.
  • Use graphics that add excitement (but make sure they are relevant to the content! See “e-Learning and the Science of Instruction” by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer for more)
  • Don’t be afraid to show a little personality – even if it’s corny.
  • Use color.
  • Use audio. (but don’t just read the text or use irrelevant sounds — again, see “e-Learning and the Science of Instruction”)
  • Give the users a choice in the order they go through the material. If it doesn’t have to be a linear presentation, let them choose what to learn next.
  • Pepper the lesson with questions that present problems in real-life situations.
  • Write in the first person. It makes the user feel like there is someone there.
  • Use case studies from your own experience – especially failures and ‘a-ha’ moments. E.g., “When presented with both a ‘Remove’ and ‘Delete’ button, be sure you know which does what (see section 5.2). When I was first learning how to use the user administration screen, I was trying to remove a user from a test group, but accidently deleted my boss from the system!”
  • Make unexpected parallels to common non-work experiences. Compare a file management system to a toaster (yes, I did that in my first user manual).

There are plenty more possibilities. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I’ll post more ideas later. Maybe I’ll expand upon some of these. (Then again, maybe not … I’m fickle that way.)

How do you infuse your passion into your deliverables? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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