Adapting to learners


Modularity enables a program to deploy content more easily to specific learners with specific goals. Split your lectures and workshops into short 20-30 minute sections, each with a clear learning goal and outcome. That way, you can pick and choose from them based on learners' requests.


Running surveys about learning goals, progress, and challenges helps plan and adjust which topics to cover, skip or emphasise.  Self-assessment questions, like how proficient are you with X can sometimes spot areas where learners are frustrated.  Open-ended questions, like what would you like to learn about X and why require more work to analyse, because they reveal clearer, more effective changes to the program. When self-diagnosis is inaccurate, objective questions will reveal their stage with little inference:  What stage are you at?  How many lines of code are in your app? How many gigs have you played this year?

Feedback forms

Running feedback forms after a learning program helps gauge whether the content is contributing, as well as spot oversights. Open-ended questions  require slightly more work to analyse, but the insights gained from them save a lot of wasted effort and pay big returns in immediate improvements. What did you want to learn, and did you learn it?, What was most actionable?, What can we do to improve?


Post-ups are a way to start workshops with learner's sharing what they want to learn. They're invited to write down one or two big questions on a sticky note, which they then group with other questions on a wall.

The instructor then can see what groups of requests and questions are the most popular, and adjust accordingly. Post-ups also reveal what's on the learners' minds and expose their mental stumbling blocks up-front

Casual check-ins

The purpose of calibration is to adjust the program content to topics that learners need. Checking in regularly makes both educator and learners aware when they're stuck or spinning their wheels, and intervention is useful. This could be done over regular coffees, drinks or dinners after class, or any other social setting. It may seem like a trivial exercise, but it will easily flush up the biggest oversights in matching learning challenges with solutions.

The Sources answered the questions "best practices" couldn't.

Henri Nyakarundi is the founder of ARED, a solar kiosk platform used for product distribution network in rural and urban areas in East Africa. > One thing I new was the lack of electricity in Rwanda was a big problem. Sixty percent of population have a cellphone but less than 15% have access to electricity.

Running diagnostics

By Mentors

Mentors and coaches are often in the best position to diagnose learners.  Those assessments are useful to direct the broader program, not just for the mentor to respond themselves.  Asking mentors for simple, one-minute reports after each conversation reveals the most pressing and common learner needs. The report only needs to contain a small check-list and a few open-ended suggestions to be easily actionable.

By Peers

Peer coaching provides the similar insight to respond to learner needs. Peers can be taught to quickly diagnose each other, and while they won't have the same experience to anticipate and reveal problems, they have and advantage of deeper empathy of the learners' level, so can better reveal current perspectives.

By Experts

A great substitution for panels at conferences are expert diagnostics, like Shark Tank, but then helpful. Instead of pitches, people jump on stage to present a challenge, which is followed by the experts teaming up to diagnose it with questions.  Each session wraps up with the each expert making one short suggestion based on the group diagnostic.

With Progress Reports

When learners have their own projects, regular progress reports are a quick way to spot how you can help each individual learners best. Over time, the regular reports provide show how learners goals have evolved, or not; which struggles were solved and which were pervasive; and what the learner accomplished.

A common way of giving structure to progress reports is by dividing them into three sections plans, progress, problems (aka. PPP reports).  The reports are usually done as simple emails every 2 weeks or month, with 2-3 bullet points under each of the 3 headings. At any point in time, know the best way to help each learner reveals common challenges to address.