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The Power of Prospection: Positive Psychology Lessons for Learning Design

By Richard Mee |


What is it that draws a student into learning? Why would they invest time and resources, time away from family, mental energy, into the piece of learning that I produce? Why would they choose one course over another? We invest where we expect the greatest value. The highest return, the most hope.

The movement of prospectors marks the history and geography of many countries. Men and women set out for the promises of riches that gold, diamonds, and other minerals promise. Johannesburg and Kimberly in South Africa and California in the USA are prime examples of this. Gold and diamonds changed the future of those regions.

It was not the yellow metal or shiny stones themselves that brought people, but the possibilities they offered. People left their homes and families and traveled across the country, or worldwide. It was the anticipation of a better future, a hope, that made people take the step.


“The true origin of Homo Sapiens is the distinctive combination of an unprecedented capacity for anticipatory guidance and an unprecedented capacity to live and learn with others.” -Peter Railton



The Psychology of People


People are naturally prospectors. Martin Seligman, former President of the American Psychological Association, believes that the key difference between humans and the rest of sentient life is our ability to look toward the future and act accordingly. Human flourishing is linked to our ability to act intentionally toward the possibilities that the future offers. Rather than being driven by our past, he believes we are drawn into a future.



The Psychology of Learning

Learning itself is a process of prospecting. We sink our efforts into a course of study because they promise us something of value. We chase a dream. Just like the dreams of the gold prospectors, today's students dream of future wealth.

For some, this will be the financial rewards of new job opportunities. Others want to be able to do their current job better. Perhaps it is a desire for knowledge purely for the sake of knowledge. Maybe a desire to not let others down, or to get great results. Each student has a different reason for wanting to engage in education. Each successful student is chasing a dream.



The Psychology of Teaching


Teaching is also a process of prospecting. Each lecturer, teacher, coach, etc., have an idea of the nuggets that their specific subject matter offers to students. Many of the best educators have experienced that value of their subject and are passionate about allowing others to uncover the same value.

Wiggins and McTighe, in Understanding by Design, describe a process of becoming clear as a teacher on the value that a lesson will have and then creating an environment and process through which students discover it for themselves. Create a treasure hunt that hints at the values, connects to real life.




The Gold Rush


A learning designer is then in a really exciting position between the dreams of all the different stakeholders. This is the connecting point between the dreams of teachers and students, between the intentions of companies and their employees, or between faculty members and professionals looking to their family’s future. We sit with the opportunity to make subject matters more human as we make prospects clear and achievable and provide opportunities for people to learn together.

Creating learning content is the process of discovering the gold that each subject has to offer, figuring out the value that it has, and re-placing it into a learning journey for participants to re-uncover it for themselves. We add value to the world, allowing people to become a little bit more fully themselves.

We get to see the gold along with a faculty member or teacher and create the environment for students to participate in our modern-day gold rush. Students are searching not just for nuggets within the course, but for the possibility of achieving their hopes and dreams. Thankfully, we get to play a part in making those dreams real.

AUTHOR

Richard Mee

EMEA Head of Learning at Construct