Last week, I attended my brother’s wedding at the Canyons in Park City, Utah. I was staying at the ski resort for a week so it seemed like the perfect time to try skiing for the first time. As an adult, I don’t step outside of my comfort zone as much as I used to, so I went for it. I took a one-day group lesson followed by one afternoon of independent skiing.
I’m not a natural athlete, so I knew that the instructors would earn their money that day. The three instructors began by giving general instructions to our 15-person group, and then we quickly tried what they described. Some skiers got it right away, while others did not. I’ll let you guess which group I was in. One instructor took the group of prodigies on to higher ground; while the two remaining instructors stayed with those who needed a bit more level-land practice.
They tried various instructional strategies to communicate the correct poses and positions. They used analogies “French fries, pizza”. They used modeling. They tried skiing side-by-side with us, giving corrections down the slope. At one point, an instructor even took my skis off and tried to show me which leg muscles I should be using. So what clicked for me as a learner?
For me, I really needed the big picture before practicing. I wanted to see sketches or videos of good ski technique representing the end result. I did need to know which muscles I’d be working with each movement. I enjoyed speaking with my classmates about what they were doing that worked and laughing with them when we fell. I needed a very patient instructor. I needed some time alone to get a feel for the moves without the instructor and peers beside me. I also needed ski boots that weren’t two sizes too big but that’s another story.
So, what did skiing teach me about instructional design? (As an instructional designer—I had to ask.) It reminded me that one size doesn’t fit all. Every class participant was skiing for the first time but after only an hour, many needed individual instruction. Some were ready to begin practicing right away while others weren’t comfortable practicing without more background knowledge. Instructional design isn’t a one-sized fits all approach. Give learners the big picture and let them know the tools and skills they will need to complete the program. Provide options, the ability to jump right into practice if desired and advance quickly or a more scaffolded approach. In addition, create a community of learners so that they can learn from one another as well as the experts. Learners grow by stepping outside of their comfort zones, but not too far (Zone of Proximal Development.)
Could an e-learning program teach me how to ski? In this case, it would have been nice to participate in an e-learning program with an online discussion about skiing prior to the trip. And I could have practiced skiing on Wii Ski in the comfort of my living room. But there’s no substitute for being on the side of a mountain, or actually riding a ski lift (note to self: keep poles up next time.)
My next new activity is go-cart racing, so stay tuned for tips on how to avoid spinning out in your e-learning design.