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Writing Online Objectives - Make it About the Learner

Imagine this. You have a science student, an artist, and a five-year-old child and they all want to know something about the color of the sky. Would you tell the five-year-old or even the artist about the science behind why the sky is blue? Would you explain to the science student the nuance of the shades of blue that appear in the sky? Why not?

The answer is relevance. And by relevance, I mean how will the learner use the information you are offering. In an article she wrote for Psychology Teacher Network, Robin Roberson, says, “As instructors, one of the most important things we do is provide relevance for students. It gives them a context within which they can develop into engaged, motivated and self-regulated learners.”

So how to do we create relevance? Let’s examine three tips for creating relevance.

Tip #1 – Tell stories that apply the information in the learner setting.

We start by asking ourselves who our anticipated learner is, and how they will use it. Then we tell stories that relate what we want them to learn, to how they will use it. Let’s imagine for minute that our learner is an artist. We might say something like, “Did you know that, when you are painting a landscape, the color you use for the sky will determine whether the painting faces the sun or away from it? When you are facing the sun, the light weakens the blue making it brighter and lighter, whereas when you face away from the sun the sky is more grey-green than blue.”

Tip #2 – Invite learners to imagine or explore rather than tell.

Learners will create their own relevance when we invite them to explore rather than telling them. An example of this is a scenario we present before we offer the content we want them to know. We have the learners imagine, guess, or research the information. For example, we might present a science student with this scenario:

You have a white light source in a box. The box is painted black on the inside. What could you do that would cause the air in the box to look bluish?

Of course, this is a simple way of inviting learners to grasp the knowledge that small particles, bouncing around in space, refract the light from the sun so that the sky appears blue.

Tip #3 – Connect it to what the learner cares about

Finally, we can create relevance by connecting the information to things the learner values or cares about. So, to the five-year-old who wants to know why the sky is blue, we might say something like this, “You know how you just love, love, love rainbows? Well rainbow colors and the blue in the sky all come from the sunlight. Light is like your hair. It can be one thing – your hairdo, or it can separate into many different colors and so if it gets separated it turns into the colors of the rainbow that you love and also the color of the sky.”

In Summary

The next time you are creating content to share with your online learners, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is my learner?

  • How will they use this information?

  • How can I create relevance by telling a story or relating it to something they care about or by challenging them to find it out on their own?

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