I was asked the other day what influences my learning experience design process. Naturally I answered with “anything that creates and promotes a positive experience!”

Easy, right? But when you really think about it, how can we collectively create a positive experience for a large and diverse audience? I think the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes has the answer.

So much meaning in one simple moment.

Calvin and Hobbes has been a staple in my life since I was a child. I read it in the Saturday papers as a kid, in book format as a young adult, and today as a daily comic via Twitter. I now have the joy of reliving my own first experiences of this comic as I read it with my son, who is turning more into a Calvin every day. (I now relate to Calvin’s mom on a whole new level.)

For a learning designer and developer, Calvin and Hobbes is a masterclass in exceptional visual storyboarding and content writing. If we could all design and develop learning programs with the same attention to detail, sense of humour, and poignancy, we would knock it out the park every time. Yet the lesson I learned from Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson is not in the technical details, but in the comic strip’s intended purpose.

“But really, I was writing to amuse Melissa (my wife) and myself. That’s as far as I understand.”   

– Bill Watterson

The purpose of Calvin and Hobbes was not to teach, inform, instruct, or otherwise shed pearls of wisdom (though the comic does in fact do all of these things), but to create a positive and amusing experience for the creator himself and his wife around a shared life event: childhood.

In learning and development it is so easy to get caught up in models, strict hierarchies, the latest buzz words, or fads. Yes, we may be able to complete some sort of checklist to get those completion numbers, but it often leads to a terrible learning experience–and a terrible learning experience leads to poor performance.

Our learning audience may be diverse, but we are all human beings with shared experiences: bad days, that time you got sick, eating something delicious–all of which we first experienced in childhood. Bill Watterson has inspired me to find that shared experience with my learning audience and to use it as a foundation to create something meaningful and lasting.