Learning Experience Design

Uncomfortable Learning

It was an early spring day in Toronto. We were lingering over a coffee in the cool afternoon sun. My friend Kunal and I met while working in marketing at General Mills. Since then we’ve both made a few career pivots to get where we are today. He’s doing really cool strategy consulting work at Brainsights, a neuroscience-driven market research startup. I’ve got the privilege of designing learning experiences for aspiring digital marketers at George Brown College. We were pretty happily sharing stories of our respective new day-to-day worlds.

As I was reflecting on the early days of being a learning designer (or professor, if you must) he interjected; “It sounds like uncomfortable learning”. The statement was so simple, yet profound. It resonated deeply with me. “That’s it”, I blurted out. “That’s theme of my first reflection article. It’s perfect!”

Learning about how to design and deliver learning (and the desire to be exceptional at it) has both excited me to the core and caused significant stress. I put a lot into what I do. I always have. When it comes to digital marketing, innovation…and now learning design, I always will.

But so far it’s been uncomfortable learning.

Here’s what the voices say. This is the uncomfortable part.

You can’t just teach the slides you’ve been given…do they even make sense. You need to break down the jargon and get them interested in it. You’re falling behind everything that’s happening in social media because you’re not as actively in it as you need to be. You must have inspiring examples to share. You can’t compromise your standards. You won’t create a crappy presentation. You have to engage and excite your learners. You want them to love marketing, don’t you? You want them think you’re a great facilitator. You must grind through it. You’re only as successful as they are.

And sometimes the voices say this. It’s the learning part.

You’re in the first full term of doing this…it’s a big change, right? You can’t actually achieve perfection. You need to iterate. You need to take a deep breath. You ARE the product…which if you realize is really amazing. You’re having fun. You’re doing something you love. You’ve heard that you’re kind of good at it. You’ve got to be patient. You will get better.

Then on a bike ride home after a class one day as my mind unwound a bit the “ah ha!” voice finally called out.

You must plan your weeks more effectively. You need to take control of your calendar. You get to manage your time now. You need to do it differently than you ever have before. Don’t worry Blair, you’ve got this.

Hmm. I might be on to something here.

This term I’ve been planning lessons and activities a couple of days before each class. In some cases it gets finished at the 11th hour. Outwardly it all comes together well. Internally is another story. I’ve used this metaphor to describe the feeling.

It’s like being the captain of an airplane flying through turbulence. You’re maintaining your calm for your passengers while trying to keep control of the airplane. You know you can land it safely, but it’s going to be a wild ride and you can’t be sure until the wheels hit the runway. (Yes, in another life if I had the applied science aptitude I might have become a pilot.)

Some of the professional development I’ve completed in outcomes-based education and designing online learning have helped me get to this realization. I’m learning how the complex process of course design to weekly planning to execution of each lesson and set of activities fits together.

When I think about it a bit more, it’s really like designing an integrated marketing campaign. I’ve done this for years. There are objectives, an audience, key message, communication tools and channels, metrics and a launch date.

So yeah, I’ve got this. It starts with being better at breaking down the steps and giving myself deadlines to work to. The launch date will be earlier than the day of the lesson.

I can get comfortable with it. Hopefully from now on it will be mainly about the learning.

Thanks for the spark of insight, Kunal. The next coffee is on me.

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