There's a scene in the movie Finding Nemo where seagulls repeatedly say "Mine! Mine! Mine!" as they lay claim to goodies they want to eat. While you may not be a seagull (but hey, if you are and you are reading this, let me know), you likely do have a little bit of the "Mine! Mine! Mine!" mentality. We often pay more attention, place a higher value on things we possess, and especially things that we helped to create.
There have been a lot of different studies done on this, but a couple of quick examples should do to set the stage. First let's go back in time to the 1950s, a time when there were a lot of products coming on the market to help the busy housewife. Enter Betty Crocker's cake mix. The recipe for a home-made cake was simple add water to a box of cake mix and viola you get a fresh cake. But women weren't buying it. The marketing guys had to go back to the kitchen and try again. Then they realized the problem. They had made it too easy. Women didn't feel like they were baking a cake. They had taken the "made" out of home-made. And so the recipe way changed to require adding an egg. A small change but with big results. And the rest is sort of a tasty history of lots of cakes.
The same psychology was applied later to furniture and is now known as the IKEA effect. Sure the table may not be perfect but it is yours. Really yours because you had a hand in creating it. Putting effort into something makes it more valuable to you. Putting some of yourself into something makes it important to you and you will pay more attention to it.
So why am I talking about seagulls and cakes and tables? Because you can use that same concept in your learning. Think about ways you could personalize the lesson. How could you let the students "make" it their own? Think about a lot of games. What are among the first things you often are asked to do. Select a name and/or design an avatar to represent you in the game. Immediately you and the game are getting to know each other. You are in the game. You get to make meaningful choices that direct the outcome of the game.
Of course, this doesn't mean you always have to have characters for your learner to step into. Maybe you trigger the IKEA effect by letting them customize something about the learning environment (pick a color scheme or layout). Or maybe you let them help create some of the course. You may already do things like have students find resources they share with one another. But how about going even bigger. Why not, for example, let them submit test questions they think would demonstrate mastery of the content. There are countless ways to help the learner develop some ownership of a course and give it a more personalized feel.
What are some ways you have used? Drop me a line.