What do we mean by learning gaps? Essentially the 'gap' between a learner's current situation and where they need to be to achieve success. There are many types of learning gaps and identifying them is fundamental to designing better experiences.
In order for learners to accomplish something they require information, but simply having this information isn't enough to say they have already learned something. This accomplishment comes when a learner utilises the information to be constructive with it. It's the same principle as giving a guitar to someone who has never played an instrument - they have the equipment (information) but do they already know how to use the guitar to play a song? Not likely! They would bridge the knowledge gap by having lessons and learning chords.
Memorising information doesn't necessarily mean that a learner can use it well, as in this example, someone could memorise all possible guitar chords but that doesn't mean they can string them together and strum along at song pace!
Skills are what we develop, given the information required to accomplish something. Let's say someone wants to cycle a twenty mile ride for the first time, they have a bike, cycling clothing and gear, and they have researched the route thoroughly. Even with this information and equipment, if this person has never cycled before they probably won't make it past one mile. They should develop their skills by spending time on stationary bikes building up their stamina, and gradually working their way up to the total distance.
This is frequently a situation for learners, where they are handed the textbook but aren't given the opportunity to develop the skills out in the real world.
There is a way to decide whether something is a knowledge or a skill gap - by determining whether or not someone can be proficient in the task without practice. Here are some examples:
- Turning on a computer - knowledge
- Filling out a form - knowledge
- Playing tennis - skill
- Designing a poster - skill
This is where a learner is aware of what they need to do but they choose not to, possibly for a number of reasons. Motivation can be defined by many examples:
- A learner isn't convinced by the outcome - "That might be right but I don't think so"
- The required outcome doesn't make sense - "Is there not a quicker or easier way to do that?"
- Anxiety or concern about change - "I know I'm meant to do that but I've never done that before. It looks difficult, I should stick to what I know"
- Distractions, losing focus and lack of interest - "Do I even need to know this?"
A learner's motivation can arguably be the result of either the designer or the learner themselves. People bring their own motivation to learning which is out of the designer's control, thus meaning you cannot force a learner to be motivated. However, as designers there are ways to assist in supporting motivation in learning experiences. It all comes down to the decisions a designer makes in order to influence a learner's behaviour.
With motivating learners, you may also need to consider unlearning. This is when someone's learning process is already tainted with previous experience, this will involve changing habits which isn't easy. If someone has to adapt the way they do something when they are already proficient in it, they are going to have to make a conscious effort to not do what they already know, this is the process of unlearning. It usually takes more conscious effort to change a habit than to do something completely new, which is often discomforting for learners.
More learning gaps covered in part 2