Wednesday, March 12, 2008


As it does almost every month, this month's ASTD question is something I'm currently grappling with:

What is the Scope of our Responsibility as Learning Professionals?

Let's start by clarifying the question, by asking more questions.

Do instructors need to adapt to Long Tail Learning?
What's an instructor's traditional scope of learning?
Is an instructor's ultimate role to help students or teach certain content?

I think Long Tail learning is a fact of life that cannot be ignored. We could choose to not acknowledge it but that would only serve to marginalize ourselves. The long tail is the way things work, and we must embrace it. A learners attention is split in so many different ways. Our tools now embrace this through RSS, and other cross-linking capabilities. Now our methods and approach must also embrace it. When classroom discussions go off on a tangent it might be impractical to enable it. There is material to cover in a fixed amount of time. A skilled instructor might be able to direct the discussion back on point but it’s a tight-wire act.

In an online format time is less of an issue. The same requirements on curriculum do apply but without the constraint of time we can go out on a tangent. The curriculum will still remain, the onus falls on the user to come back and finish what they’ve started. The learner remains responsible. These tangents can bring a deeper understanding of the material.

Traditionally an instructor has a given curriculum which guides lesson plans which defines materials and the discussion. That is very deep inside the box. I’ve had some great instructors that were able to take you on a journey to look at the subject from a very different angle. What appeared to be off-topic was really spinning ideas to foster learning. These are the teachers that you know have spent a great deal of time & effort crafting their message looking at things from different viewpoints to give students the best learning opportunity. When other topics appear, they let it blossom, hopeful that it will raise interest to new heights. These are the teachers that inspired you to do more, read more, maybe even pursue a career.

Ultimately I think the real role of an instructor is to provide this best opportunity for learning. We cannot force learning. We can only provide the information in the most engaging format possible to help students learn. This learning should not be just about the curriculum. It should inspire a hunger for more depth and breadth on the topic at hand. Great instructors should help students learn, and make you to want to learn.

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