Creating Compelling Learning Value Propositions
The Quest for Learner “Engagement”
When educators think about their aspirations for the students who enroll in their classes, a common desire is for students to be “engaged.” The goal of creating engagement is widely discussed in transformative teaching and learning literature, conferences, and publications; however, for many educators this can remain a more theoretical and illusive inquiry.
Engagement can mean many different things to educators and students. For some, it may be as simple as intently listening to a presentation. For others, the expectations are more related to participation in active learning methods and processes. For educators who use transformative learning approaches, this can include deep reflection from experiences. Yet, for many educators and students, they may not have a clear definition or criteria in mind related to engagement.
In this post, I explore the quest for learner engagement from the standpoint of the value propositions of the learning environments we, as educators, design and facilitate. Learning environments are often designed with a certain value proposition in mind. In other words, a value proposition contains what value the learning environment creates for the learner, the educators, and even society. I’ll explore how educators can pursue increased learner (and educator) “engagement” by first enhancing the value propositions of the spaces and places where people learn.
Beyond the Learning Objectives
Many learning environments are driven by the creation and alignment of learning objectives and outcomes to curriculum and assessment strategies. While outcome and alignment processes are critical to designing successful learning environments, I suggest an even more fundamental component is the value proposition that emerges from the learning environment.
Learning environments, regardless of modality, are shaped by a certain theory of practice. For example, the way a class is organized and designed is done so because the person or people designing the class believe that is the most effective way to teach a certain subject. The value proposition that runs through this process is the value that is created through the learning experience. The overall success of the learning experience at this level is less driven by what the learning objectives are, and more driven by how well the learning environment supports a particular value proposition.
The Elements of a Value Proposition
The concept of a value proposition is most commonly explored from the standpoint of business strategy and consumer behaviors. While there are elements from these discussions that can inform value propositions from a learning standpoint, designing compelling learning value propositions requires drawing from additional knowledge bases, particularly for how learning environments are designed to advance value propositions.
In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Almquist, Senior, and Bloch, articulated a framework for identifying the elements of value. They organized specific value propositions based on their functional, emotional, life changing, and social impact. Learning environments can relate to these same value elements. The challenge for educators is designing learning environments so they intentionally advance a strategic value proposition.
Process for Designing Value Propositions for Learning Environments
Designing learning environments to support value propositions adds a level of complexity over designing based on learning objectives or outcomes. A value proposition can result in a network of cognitive, social, affective, behavioral, and experiential results. For example, a course that teaches learners to use vintage photography equipment may seek a learning value proposition of developing a set of skills while also creating a sense of nostalgia. In this example the value proposition has multiple dimensions.
The Learning Value Proposition Map is a visual planning and collaboration tool for designing value propositions for learning environments. The tool is centered around the audience(s) for the learning environment and aligns the value created, drivers, and offerings within the learning environment.
The following diagram is an example of the Learning Value Proposition Map for an online course. To use the tool, begin by identifying the people who are the center of the value proposition. In this example, this is adult learners. Next, identify the intended value to be created through the learning environment. This example lists career advancement as the primary value created for the learner. Next, identify the offering(s) or strategies used to create the value for the learner in the environment. This example lists step-by-step applied learning exercises as that primary offering. Finally, consider the driver(s) influencing the learning environment. In this example, the driver is efficiency to degree completion.
The combined map helps to design and refine the value proposition created through a learning environment. For example, if the primary value exchanged is career advancement and the course is largely theory-based with little application opportunities, this may weaken the overall value proposition of the learning environment. Examining the value proposition for the learning environment in a holistic way helps to strengthen the value created for learners.
The Value Proposition of Transformative Learning
A learning value proposition does not specify the content or objectives contained in a learning environment; however, it does identify the value that is created and the drivers and strategies that support this process. A strong value proposition is a necessary core element of transformative learning. Exploring the value created through transformative learning experiences is can have important implications on how learners experience the learning environment and learning results at cognitive, social, affective, behavioral, and experiential levels.
The interesting dimension of transformative learning experiences is the value proposition may also be dynamic over time. For example, an initial value proposition for a learner may be to successfully complete a grade to continue in their degree progress. Over time, this value proposition may take on many other dimensions as developed through reflection or engagement in other learning experiences. For this reason, transformative learning value propositions should be thought of as dynamic over time.
This post explored the concept of value propositions as they relate to learning environments and experiences. Strong value propositions are at the core of transformative learning as an element the draws the experience back to the learner and the meaning and value created. The Learning Value Proposition Map provides a simple tool educators can use to analyze and strengthen the value propositions in the learning environments they design.
Almquist, E., Senior, J., & Block, N. (2016) The elements of value. Harvard Business Review, September 2016 issue, pp. 46-53. Accessed at https://hbr.org/2016/09/the-elements-of-value.