What are they thinking?!?

Young woman thinking surrounded by orange thinking iconsAs I child I thought people who like strawberries must taste something different than I do when biting it; otherwise, why would they eat it? I am (at times unintentionally hilariously) literal-minded. The realization a person can experience the same action or event as I do and interpret it in an entirely different way was mindboggling.

As a learner, I saw this during a group exercise for conjugating Spanish verbs. I opened up my notebook, where I had written the conjugation verb tables. My classmate looked astonished, as if I’d unveiled a secret answer key, and asked, “Where did you get that?” I was confused and replied, “The teacher has been writing these on the board… every day.”

In web design, I saw this too. I showed a handful of people a new home page design, which included a slider at the top with three navigation dots at the bottom. I asked these very computer literate people if they knew what the dots represented. More than half didn’t know. In a meeting later that day, I asked the web developers to change the dots to numbers. One replied, “Those are pretty standard navigation elements. People know what they mean.” I said, “No. Not everyone.”

Now, in instructional design, the job is to make sure all the learners gain the intended knowledge or skills from a lesson. And, honestly, the best tool I have to make that happen is the knowledge that not everyone thinks like I do.

For a graduate school project last year, I was gathering feedback on two lessons I designed. I thought I had done so well and a reviewer for one lesson hit an obstacle on the first step.

Reviewer: Where do I get the log-in information?

Me: The first line of the instructions said it was sent to your email.

Reviewer: I don’t see it.

Me: Your work email.

Reviewer: I don’t see it.

Me: I sent it two days ago.

Reviewer: Oh.

Feedback from others is vital. It could be as simple and important as making a button bigger. Or assuming a learner knows something they don’t. If you can’t get feedback before launching a lesson, try collecting it after in a survey or some other form. Because they best way to find out what learners are thinking is simply to ask.

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About RGV Learner

I’m from the RGV, which is short for Rio Grande Valley, the four counties located in the southern tip of Texas. I’m also a lifelong learner. That’s what led to the website name RGV Learner. Before working in instructional design, I worked in the communications field, including television production, website and social media management, and news. Looking to contact me? Click here.