Can the learner journey be the learning outcome?

I was listening to a Game design podcast in the car this morning, the Game Design Round Table, and something was said that challenged my thinking around learning outcomes. A question was sent in by a podcast listener about victory in games, whether there are no victory or fuzzy victory options. At a certain point in the discussion one of the speakers said something along the lines of ‘sometimes the journey can be the outcome’. Needless to say that this immediately sparked some thoughts around learning for me.

As a strong advocate of Cathy Moore’s action mapping model, where you start by identifying a measurable goal/outcome for the learning materials you are about to design, it challenged me and actually helped overcome some hurdles on a current project.

The action mapping process helps you decide whether ‘training is the solution’. However, for my current project grasping a ‘measurable goal’ or ‘problem with a solution’ seems very hard and keeps ending up as a slightly vague ‘heightened awareness’ or ‘self-knowledge’ aim. Exactly those learning objective formulations that we instructional designers roll our eyes over, right? So here it goes: what would happen if you decide that your measurable outcome is actually something vague and – contradictio in terminis – an ‘unmeasurable’ outcome because you are talking about e.g. a change in a person’s internal feelings?

As I do so often these days, I turn to games for the answer to my learning design challenges. The game design podcast members mentioned RPG’s, where people are not playing towards an end victory (even though there may be little victories along the way). They are on an ongoing journey of small achievements and changes in the playing persona, but there is no measurable end goal except the enjoyment and ‘usefulness’ of the journey for the character. Quite a lot of educational and serious games are also built on this journey as an outcome, for example Spent where your actions and decisions are leading you to awareness and understanding why people struggle financially. Brenda Romero’s TED talk Games for Understanding highlights this design approach in a very confronting way.

winter-season-83049_640So how do we design learning experiences where the outcome is not the outcome, but the journey is the outcome? Where completing activities, seeing consequences of choices in scenarios and the reflections awakened are the actual ‘goal’? It is the learning world concept that came up in one of my previous blogs, where each activity, each video, each story, … contributes to a personal learning environment where a constant increase of knowledge and awareness is the outcome. Step away from slide-based thinking, modules, and LMS-based solutions. The learner moves around in a world of well-chosen and well-designed learning moments that will never be a complete solution because it is serving an unmeasurable goal. Learning worlds are the ‘solution’ to an internal learning process that can not be measured by the designer or SME – they can only see particles flying. The only one who can try to measure is the learner, because only they know whether they have moved closer to reaching an internal moveable target, their unmeasurable goal. What the learning designer does is provide good mini-designs (with a mini-goal) to help them along. For what it’s worth, this little philosophical rant has helped me be less afraid of a confronting a seemingly unmeasurable goal as a learning design challenge.