Q: WHAT RIVER, THE LONGEST IN ITALY, SHARES ITS NAME WITH A TELETUBBY?
Think you know it? You can find the answer to this question at the bottom of this post.
Now, while you think about that, let me tell you something about me. I love trivia. Trivia is one of my greatest passions, ranking somewhere above great literature, and somewhere below several varieties of stuffed pizza. And I love that we often get to work with trivia here, whether it's part of a mini-game, a rapid learning module, or another fun, user-friendly way to present and explore new information.
Here's why I like the river question: it's got two ends. If you're a geography buff, you can start going through river names, checking each one for its plausibility as a Teletubby name. (Bacchiglione? Possibly...) Or maybe you're an inadvertent aficionado of children's television after the 15th consecutive viewing of every DVD in your house. Either way, you can start with what you know, use your reasoning skills, and figure it out. When you're done, you'll know both the longest river in Italy and at least 25% of the Teletubbies.
One of the things I love about trivia is that it's all about little pieces of knowledge. No one individual fact makes that much of a difference, but taken as a whole, they represent this grand tapestry of all the world's information. Knowing a little bit about a lot of things is a pretty powerful thing. And not just because it helps you fake your way through a lot of small talk.
Trivia also means you have all these tiny little specks of expertise in your head. They're like toeholds into larger concepts. Often, when you learn some tiny, discrete piece of information, it actually unlocks more information you didn't know you were missing. Have you ever learned something, like a new word, or the name of a celebrity, and then randomly happened upon that word or person the very next day? There's a name for this kind of thing: the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It always kind of freaks us out, because it seems like some cosmic coincidence. Really, though, it's been around us the entire time. But because we've actually learned something we didn't know, we're primed to take notice and process that information in a new light the next time we see it.
This is the stuff trivia is made of. A great trivia question sheds a little sliver of light on something you didn't know you didn't know. A frustrating trivia question might ask you about some obscure, immaterial detail you'll never remember. Or it might rely solely on your ability to recall some fact by rote. But a great trivia question doesn't do that. It builds on what you know and gives you something more.
At its highest level, great trivia is based on the principle of cross-pollination. When we learn in a silo, there's a limit on how much we can learn and what we can do with that knowledge. You might know every single thing about a concept, backwards and forwards, but if you can't understand how it relates to other big concepts, you're limiting yourself. Cross-pollination is about demolishing the walls between those information silos and helping to spread knowledge across disciplines.
SHOW YOUR LEARNERS THE MESS OF IT ALL
There are a lot of reasons this is important in e-learning. You may be talking to a wide audience and trying to communicate in a way that's universal and role-agnostic. You may be reaching out to specific audiences and teaching them exactly what they need to know about how they'll interact with other departments or sectors in their work. You may just be looking to help cement a learner's understanding of how key concepts are tied together, looking for ways to really drive engagement.
That's where viewing the work with a focus on cross-pollination can make a tremendous difference. Put yourself in your learners' shoes. Why do you want them to learn this? What should they do with this information? Why should they care?
Take advantage of the innate, interdisciplinary connections of information in the real world. Don't be afraid to dive into the complexities with a sure hand. Show your learners the mess of it all, the way that two distinct pieces of information that don't seem like much can actually add up to a whole lot more when they click into place.
It's there when we really learn. When we see why it matters, when we understand how one thing is connected to the next, when we really, truly get how each individual strand adds up to the big ball of yarn. We learn information better that way, and it sticks a lot harder.
So whether it's something as big as a complex, immersive business simulation or as small as a single trivia question, think about how you can use cross-pollination to your advantage. You'll get a lot more out of your e-learning, and so will your learners.
(If there's a river in Italy named Tinky-Winky, it hasn't made the maps yet.)