Do We Really Allow Learners Choices?

Brody’s trimming session got me thinking more about the choices we give our learners.

We generally know the things that we want to teach, but what do our learners want to learn?

We can ask; can you do X? The learner gets to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They get a choice. If we get a ‘no’ generally the next question is; can you do Y?” That sounds like a reasonable approach right? The horse has choices.

What if instead we ask; what do you want to do today? Now the learner really gets to have a choice and a say in their life. They have much more control, which is the best +R we can give them.

But what if our learner is either shut down (lacks the confidence, or has learned through punishment not to do anything other than what they are told to do), or an eager beaver (wants to interact with everything new in the environment)? We manage the environment to set them up for success.

For the shut down learner we can remove too many choices, but we still apply the microshaping strategy; how do I need to manage the environment so that it is easy for the learner to make a tiny effort and still get a reinforcer and its easy for me to recognise that try. And for the eager beaver, the same strategy; manage the environment so that the correct choice is easy to make, that the effort required is small to prevent the energy being out of hand, and I have slowed things down enough to enable me to me get a marker in before the learner is headed to the next thing that has caught their attention.

A great example of this is stand on a mat for horses; by placing lots of mats close together its very little effort to look to and move to the next mat. And, for the eager beaver, the next mat is so close that they can’t get a head of steam up before you can get a reinforcer in for the answer you hoped for.

Once we have those extremes interacting with their environment in a more emotionally balanced way we can start to allow more options, eventually allowing them to take full control of the training session.

Many, many layers of microshaping (the training itself, the environment, the emotions,the level of control) to get the learner from shut down/eager beaver to emotional balance and, eventually, full control of the training.

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