Sunday, July 11, 2021

Disneyfication of learning

If online learning were streamed, it would most resemble the Disney Channel. I don’t have the Disney channel. Its target audience is the parents of young kids. It’s a stream of cartoon and animation-skewed, apple-pie, American product.It's a world where everything is controlled, safe and anodyne.

What saddens me is that this is the bar for much of what I see as online learning. Teaching largely addresses deficits in motivation and effort, learning is largely achieved by oneself but current learning design, for over 30 years, has ploughed the same presentation furrow. It is hopelessly imbalanced, assuming that presentation of media as 'experieneces' (teaching) works best, as opposed to cognitive effort (learning). I’ve just finished a book on ‘Learning eXperience Design’ that tries to lift us out of this paradigm, where evidence-based learning leads to a consideration of optimal learning experiences as a process not event, designed to facilitate learning not teaching.

This video by PweDiePie has been viewed 3.7 million times and is possibly the worst example of the Disneyfication of online learning I’ve seen, a mish-mash of cartoon graphics, awful multiple-choice questions and Pavlovian gamification.


Here are some of the symptoms of the Disneyfication of learning…


Everything needs to be ‘fun’. No it doesn’t. Learning is not a circus and we are not clowns. This relentless imposition of fun ice-breakers, jolliness and crass activities, offline and online, are mere distractions. They more often or not inhibit rather than lead to successful learning. Edutainment, as has oft been said, is more ‘tainment’ than ‘edu’. 


‘Engagement’ is the most used yet most misunderstood word in learning. Learners can be engaged but not learning, simply going through things they already know, even doing harm to learning. It’s a vague proxy that smothers other more important and well-researched areas, such as attention, motivation, practice, application and transfer.

Cartoon learning

Online learning folk seem determined to foist cartoon art direction and crude animation on learners. The use of those flat clip-art cartoon characters is genuinely out of control, with their flat=pack, paint-chart colour schemes on diversity, click to see speech bubbles and flat, 2D design. If designers really did have ‘empathy' for learners, they wouldn’t treat them like kids.


We’re not talking about the wonderful world of computer games. That’s on a different level. Most games in learning are way below par, as they’re not designed by games' players or games' designers. They’re pale shadows of what people think are good games. In most cases an emphasis on scenario-based learning and simulations would be better.


The Pavlovan gamification of learning is way worse. Here we take scores, collecting tiny cartoon reward symbols and leaderboards in a desperate attempt to solve the problem of motivation, all the time ignoring the research that shows intrinsic, not extrinsic, motivation is what really matters in the long-term. Most of this is childish and short-lived.


The badges movement has run its course. It lacks credibility, objectivity, is motivationally suspect, don’t travel, has awful design and branding. Supply is not matched by demand, as adults need less not more primitive credentialism. They've become meaningless artefacts in systems that put the artefacts of learning above actual learning. 


Too many ‘fun’ keynotes these days, from non-practitioners. American conferences are by far the worst with expensive entertainers telling us about learning. I still remember those awful moments at the Masse Conferences, when Disney characters would enter the conference hall; the sheer crassness of the experience. Or Devlearn, where the two Keynotes were a Jim Carey tribute act and entertainer from a Children’s TV show.


Then there's the content that urges us to comply to whatever faddish idea HR people have of 'correct' behaviour, from mindfulness to well-being and unconscious bias. They seem to see learners as having some sort of mental deficit, which need re-education.


You know those round-table sessions, questions are put to groups sitting at round tables, we choose a ‘chair', chew the cud, feedback on big bits of Flipchart paper. It passes the time but it ain’t learning. That’s what passes for collaborative learning in a lot of classroom training. It’s straight out of the infants’ school. playbook The Disneyfication of learning is the online equivalent. This has led to 2D multimedia production, where the cognitive effort is largely hopelessly inadequate multiple-choice questions, drag and drop or simple, remedial branching. We have low quality tools that are largely about ‘presentation’. These tools now use designers, as opposed to designers using the tools. They force us into designing media not learning. Time for a change.

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