As learning professionals - what is our role? Is it not to act in the interest of learning? Being learner focused doesn't just mean learners what they want in the way they would prefer it. Our role is to increase the chance that they learn, not that they enjoy the process.
Learning requires us to change and physically changes the neurological connections in our brain. But change is often painful and everyone wants an easy life. If you ask what the learners “want”, you're more likely to get feedback on what would make it easy for them to learn.
It is a whole lot easier to sit and listen, or to read a book, compared with engaging in deep discussion where you're asked to articulate your understanding and be challenged on your views. A deeper level of learning requires a commitment to put in the effort and ultimately change in some way.
Change is painful and this commitment to chase and embrace it isn’t something we can “give people”. We cannot “design” learning any more than we can re-engineer others’ brains. What we can do is facilitate active and collaborative learning, provide learning activities and experiences (not just content) and a safe space and their conditions in which deeper learning is more likely to occur.
So we have a choice. We can give learners what they are interested in and gather smiley-sheets as a measure of satisfaction. We can settle in our roles as lecturers and content providers and it will be up to the learner (and their own intrinsic motivation and commitment) to determine the level to which they learn anything. Or, we can act in the learner's' interest and recognise that this may give us lower “satisfaction scores”, but take guidance instead from measurements we know to be closer related to the impact that learning has had. We are still at the mercy of the learners' motivation and ability to take ownership over the learning process, but recognise that this too is within our circle of influence.
Going for the second option means that our role expands to that of a facilitator, a guide, a mentor and a coach. We start worrying about the learners’ expectations before they even start on their journey. We recognise the power of knowledge sharing and look for ways to facilitate valuable interactions between the learners. We see each individual learner and look for ways to meet their unique needs.
Our role is to act in the interest of learning. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting this as an excuse - “it is meant to be hard”. We need to make it easy to access learning. We need to make it easy for learners to connect with each other and to feel safe enough to contribute. We need to fit into the learner's' schedule and make it “easy” for them to keep it top of mind despite everything else going on in their life. We need to make it easy for them to find relevant content that helps them in that moment. But we also need to make it easy for them to take on something inherently difficult - to learn and to change. Because only they can.