The Learning Zone: Stepping Away from the Comfort Zone

learning zone comfort zone

Have you ever been “in the zone”? As an instructional designer have you ever considered your job to be getting people OUT of their comfort zone? This is, as they say, where the magic happens…in the Learning Zone!

The Learning Zone rests between the Comfort Zone and the Chaos Zone

The comfort zone is an interesting place.  Most people hang out in their own version of the comfort zone. They enjoy it because it’s safe and predictable leading to low levels of anxiety on a regular basis. This is where work that we already know how to do gets done.  It’s the work we’ve done a million times, and we could do it blind folded…with very little anxiety.

Punch line: Learning doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.

One step outside of your comfort zone and you begin to feel UN-comfortable.  You are doing something different. You’ve broken out of the safe and predictable routine. You are taking a risk. But too many steps outside of your comfort zone and you land in the chaos zone.

Punch line: Learning doesn’t happen in the chaos zone either.

That wonderful place resting just outside the comfort zone, but not quite into the chaos zone, is the learning zone. This is the only place where long term change can effectively occur. So, how do you keep your learners in that place?

Game Designers Understand the Learning Zone

Good game designers figured it out.  The ideal game puts the gamer into the learning zone continuously. If the game gets too hard, too fast, players quit.  And if the game is too easy players are also likely to quit. The mechanics of game design automatically forces players into new, increasingly more difficult, tasks as a way of constantly keeping players in the learning zone.

Forcing your learners to be UN-comfortable is not an intuitive solution for most designers.  We’ve been trained over the years to give people exactly what they need, IMMEDIATELY, in order for them to learn and just move on…and get back to work.  Could this explain why quick fix learning solutions often show poor long term learning results?

So what do we know?

We know that learning is a process. So, unless you have many quick fixes, delivered over time, continually pushing learners out of their comfort zone, the quick fix idea is most likely not going to be effective. And, like all training, it depends on the content and who needs to learn it. But generally speaking, we’ve learned over the decades that most of what used to pass as eLearning simply does not work.

I’d like to know your thoughts on keeping your learners in the learning zone. Share them in the comments or tweet about it to @Litmos and/or @bschlenker.