Learner-Centered Design Makes Lazy Learners?

UPDATE AND DISCLAIMER 4/16/2021: This article is neither a critique nor an analysis of MaryEllen Weimer’s Learner-Centered theory. So…chill

Learning and Development (L&D) seems to always be 15 to 20 years behind whatever academia has provided in research and practice. So it’s the case with learner-centered approaches to learning which seem to be derived from student-centered approaches practiced by school teachers. A learner-centered approach works great in school and academic settings because the teacher takes the time to get to know each kid and cater to their individual needs. Sadly, this it’s not the norm in those environments. Those teachers who practice it are often the ones seen winning Best Teacher of The Year awards and other accolades. However, are learner-centered approaches like Learning Experience Design (LXD) and the like making lazy learners? If everything is given to learners making the whole experience a comfortable and enjoyable ride, are people really learning? How does this apply to performance in the workplace? This article is just the beginning of that journey.

What is a lazy learner?

It’s best to deal with this now before the pitchforks come out and all the “insulted regulars” that see my posts start gathering their mobs of dissent. Contrary to popular believe, a lazy learner is a not a passive one. A lazy learner is one that has been accustomed to learn from others without seeking its own learning path. In other words, enabling lazy learning inhibits one’s ability to exercise self-directed learning and growth mindset. What are the implications of having lazy learners in the workplace? Well, these folks are the ones who’s first response when they encounter the unknown is to ask someone they think has the answer. What’s the problem with that, isn’t that collaboration? Yes, but, in most cases the person with the answer is a high performer which means that in many cases, the asking party gets used to tag others to find answers to their problems. Therefore, designing learning experiences without a certain degree of discomfort or struggle may lead to a pleasant experienced that may be or not remembered when needed. Of course, it’s not all the fault of certain educational or L&D systems. Just think of the life we live today and the behaviors the current generation seems to exhibit. We can order food from our couch, watch TV from our phones and have algorithms guess what we would like to watch next. So, how can we avoid being lazy learners?

Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is known as an attitude of resilience we develop when faced with the challenges of life. American psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset tells us that “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment (Dweck, 2015)”. Therefore, we can’t develop growth mindset if we don’t seek answers on our own and if we buckle at the first sign of difficulty. It’s okay to have the support of teachers and learning professionals, but it’s their ethical obligation to promote growth mindset on their learners.

How can we avoid enabling lazy learners?

Be a guiding light, not a tour guide. Provide people with tools and frameworks to encourage open discussions, enable conversations that require learners to take a position and defend it with resources they have found. Don’t give workers all the resources they need, but rather where to find the answers. If they never look for it, they won’t know how to be self-directed. If they are not self-directed, they won’t reach their maximum potential or master their tasks. Address the systems in which workers perform so they can adopt efficient, good habits. Don’t change systems so people can stay in their comfort zone.

Carol Dweck Revisits Growth Mindset

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