Can elearning developers learn something from guitar lessons?

Imagine the following scenario:

For your birthday, you are given a guitar and two coupons for guitar lessons. The lessons are on separate days and taught by two different teachers. The first lesson is taught by Mr. Jones. You show up for class, brand new guitar in hand.  As you walk into the classroom, Mr. Jones asks you to leave your guitar outside; he says you won’t be needing it. You think it’s strange, but you comply. You spend the next eight hours listening to Mr. Jones tell you how to play the guitar. You also get to watch him play. You are able to ask as many questions as you like, but you never once touch a guitar. The next day you pick up your guitar and try to remember what you were taught in class. You fumble around for a few minutes and realize you don’t remember much, if anything, from the previous day. In frustration, you put down the guitar and walk away.

The second lesson is taught by Mrs. Alvarez. She calls you the day before class and reminds you to bring your guitar. You walk into class expecting to sit and listen to her talk. Instead, she immediately instructs you to pick up your guitar and practice strumming. The next seven hours consist of her playing chords and scales while you follow along on your own guitar. At certain points, she instructs you to play while she watches you, correcting your finger position at times. At the end of class, she provides you with a packet full of lessons and practice songs. When you get home, you can’t contain your excitement and you pick up your guitar and lesson book, and practice all night long.

By now I hope you see where I’m going with this. The class that called for active participation had a drastically different impact than class which treated the learners as mere observers. We learn a task by performing it, not by watching it being performed.

Elearning is no different in this aspect. Students learn much more when they actively participate in elearning rather than when they simply click through screens and answer a few random True/False questions.  If your course is a software simulation, don’t just show the learners how to perform a task. Let them try it themselves. Let them make mistakes and feel a little frustration. This is the only way to truly teach them. And if your course is teaching soft skills, allow them to participate in the decision process by providing them with simulations that immerse them in the content.

Remember, the key phrase is active participation. When we eliminate participation from our elearning courses, our students are learning to play the guitar without the guitar.

For more information about adult learning, instructional design or elearning, visit


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