How the Japanese KonMari method can improve your learning design

In two previous blog posts, we looked into how the human brain learns and what cognitive overload is. Over the next eight weeks, we are going to explore some of the principles and techniques that can be employed to reduce extraneous processing through smart learning design; manage essential processing also through smart design, and engaging training delivery; and foster generative processing by presenting scenarios, requiring learner input, and providing feedback.

In this post, we will start with a principle known as Coherence.

To help explain what this is, let me introduce you to Marie Kondo.

 Source: Web Summit - Sportsfile (Web Summit), CC BY 2.0 Source: Web Summit – Sportsfile (Web Summit), CC BY 2.0

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant, author, and entrepreneur.

She developed a method of organizing, known as the KonMari Method, that is taking the world by storm. It is more a state of mind than a method for organizing. It involves gathering all of your possessions and physically handling each and every object you own and asking yourself if it “sparks joy.” If it does, you find a dedicated place to keep it, and if not, you discard it, allowing someone else to find joy in it. She published her ideas in two books that have sold over seven million copies in forty countries.

The result of implementing her incredibly simple, but powerful, method is a decluttering of your home, and by extension your life.

This is at the heart of the learning design principle of Coherence,  which can help us reduce extraneous processing.

A learning designer applying this principle is focused on weeding out words, graphics, animations, and sounds that are not central to the learning outcomes (Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. 2011).

Think about the last work complex task you had to complete. Did you have all the necessary answers in your memory, or did you have to look a few things up? Maybe ask a colleague? You probably knew what you didn’t know, and knew where to look. This is the skill we, as learning designers, must be teaching.

Think about that for a minute. This involves:

  • a single-minded approach to crafting strong learning outcomes,
  • keeping them in the forefront as you develop the lesson to meet this outcome,
  • focusing on only the most essential information needed to achieve this outcome,
  • pointing the learner to where they can find additional information when the time comes to apply it in their jobs.

This can sometimes be in direct conflict with the typical Subject Matter Expert (SME) tendency to treat all information as essential. But a learner simply cannot absorb all the information that is necessary to achieve a certain learning outcome – not into short-term memory, which is where it goes first and which has a limited capacity.

Managing the expectations of SMEs is an important skill for learning designers to have, and the topic for another blog post. But next time you’re in discussion with an SME, try asking them for the 3 most essential concepts the learner should know. Then ask them what resources a learner should be aware of, and make sure the training points them there.

Asking them to remember any more than that results in a clutter of the mind, and certainly no sparks of joy.

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