The Golden Rule applies in learning too

Vintage engraving of an angelThere are many variations of the Golden Rule in history and philosophy. They all boil down to something like ‘treat others the way you’d like them to treat you’.

It’s something to bear in mind when you’re designing any learning experience and something you can use – if you’re careful – to protect the learner experience from over zealous subject experts or compliance governors.

I’m now no longer surprised when people who want me to build a learning experience only talk in terms of ‘what we need to give them’.  Even more so in building a website – a lot of my work in the Big Bank was building web portals and the first brief I got was always ‘we want to put this stuff on the home page’.  When I asked ‘ what would users be coming here to get?  What would they want and be looking for?’ it was met with some surprise as a novel question (although they often hid it well!).

The same goes for an elearning course. Whether it’s overloading it with content, filling pages with bullet points, using formal business-speak or locking navigation so you can’t get to the next page until you’ve clicked what Janet, John and the branch mascot all have to say.

The people asking for this are intelligent, educated people. Would they like to be talked to that way?  Would they like their viewing of the material to be constrained in that way? Would they be able to sustain their interest through page 11 of 48?  Of course you have to have a reasonable relationship with them and ask it in the right way, but often this question could be the last ditch tactic in protecting the learner’s experience.  And yes I have used it. And yes, it worked.

This is not to say that because an expert would learn a subject a certain way, a beginner should be allowed to learn it the same way. A beginner needs a more structured learning experience until she builds up the confidence to know where she needs to know more. But often these decisions aren’t made for reasons of structure but for reasons of ‘ we need to tell them this and make sure they can’t avoid it ‘.  That’s why you ask the question.

For a list of the different religions and philosophies’ versions of the Rule, and some arguments against it, see

And there’s always this version: Who has the gold makes the rules!

I’ll return to this in my next post – what do you say when someone from Compliance says ‘force them through every page’?

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