Make Learning Stick

A few months ago I had the pleasure of facilitating the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) course, not once but twice. One of the ongoing assignments in FLO is to reflect on and share weekly learning nuggets. As we all know, teaching is the best way to learn so I had many of my own learning nuggets over the course of each FLO session.  

The Rolling Stones - Time is on my side gif

The Rolling Stones – Full video here https://youtu.be/rIE2GAqnFGw

The first nugget was that you can’t actually make time. Seems we all get about 24 hours per day and all we can do is try to manage that time as wisely as possible. This is one of those lessons I seem to have to re-learn every few years.

The second learning nugget was about diversity and choice. I don’t want to edge into the learning styles debate but I think it’s safe to say that folks like to consume educational content in a variety of ways.  

Several of the FLO participants indicated a preference for reading content in paper form. FLO is a Moodle course and many of the assigned resources in FLO are provided via the Moodle books option. Moodle books are easy to view online and to save to pdf or to print for offline viewing. In this particular course the books also included several short videos – a nod to honouring diverse ways of learning by differentiating content. But, with no transcripts available for those who prefer to read, or read along, some participants felt that the videos took too much time to review. Other participants loved the videos. This got me thinking about how content is provided.

If you provide video, you should and when possible, also provide transcripts or notes that capture the key points made in the video. Most people are able to read 2-3x faster than they can listen so transcripts save time. Adult learners are often short on time and like me they are unable to make more. Transcripts or summaries for videos would provide a choice.

The third, related nugget, was around the differences between what people prefer and what works. One thing we know for sure as educators and trainers is that when it’s too easy, learning suffers.

“Best Practice” is to present written material in a clear and easily read font with lots of white space. Cognitive load theory suggests that this reduces the amount of mental energy used so that more energy can be used for learning the content rather than struggling to read it. The problem with that is the brain doesn’t work that way. Other research suggests that fonts and layout, on paper and online, that are more difficult to read, are actually more likely to be attended to, remembered and understood.

See “If you want people to pay attention, use an ugly font like Comic Sans”  for more on this.

We are wired to pay attention to and remember things that are unique, unusual, or surprising. We also pay attention, focus more, and try harder to understand when something in the environment signals our brains that what we are doing is difficult. This relates to the idea that “we remember what we think about” not what we read, hear, or see.

If this is true, we should develop learning experiences where learners are exposed to novelty and have to think about what we are hoping they will learn. And not just in a transient thought kind of way. Learners should have to really think hard to make learning stick well. BUT, if we’re not careful this can frustrate learners and if it’s too difficult, many will just leave.

Games and other interactive content do a great job of motivating learners to think. These are the opposite of presenting content for passive consumption. The challenge is that games, branching scenarios, and other kinds of interactive learning objects can be expensive to produce. The technology for interactive learning development is becoming less expensive and more accessible but the cost to design is still quite high. Interactive learning takes time to design and develop and time costs.

Forums, especially gamified forums (points for participation) that are well-facilitated and that include thought-provoking, open-ended questions, can get folks thinking, reflecting-out-loud, and participating in dialogues and discussions for a lower up front investment, compared to other kinds of interactive content. Development cost is replaced by the cost of well trained and engaging facilitators. So either way, creating engaging and made-to-stick learning experiences has a value and a cost that goes beyond the price of the content itself. 

This brings me back to FLO. One way to reduce the costs of well-facilitated online learning is to train staff to facilitate. FLO is a great option for this so  be sure to check out the Facilitating Learning Online course via BC Campus

 

What else works to increase learning engagement and participant retention?

 

 

Are you designing education or training?

Two doors that look the same

There is a difference between education and training. If you’ve  been working in the field for any length of time you probably know that. Those new to learning design may have a sense of the differences but may not have made a clear distinction between the two. As Jay Cross famously quipped:

If your sixteen year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school?

 

Education is more about the theory – the what and the why. 

Training is about the how.

Education prepares you for the future.  

Training helps you do something in the present.

Education in about understanding concepts and theories.

Training is about putting concepts and theories into use.

Isn’t that clearer now? There is a difference and understanding the differences and similarities is critical throughout the curriculum and content design process. 

Another way to think about this is to imagine a continuum with traditional education at one end and compliance training at the other. Click on the purple dots to see a few examples.

Virtually all K-12 curriculum – with the exception of some trades and elective classes – is designed as education. Likewise most college and university programs are purely education. Although with a move toward project and problem-based learning in K-12, that is shifting a bit. Compliance training is almost always at the training end. A philosophy class is at one end of the continuum and First Aid is at the other.

Some curriculum is really easy to place at either end of the continuum. Some, not so much and many professions lay in the middle. For example, physicians take years of education then additional years of training.

This means that one of the first questions you should ask when you begin to design any kind of activity that aims to produce learning is –

Are we educating or training?

If you’re doing a bit of both, where are you on the continuum?

  • At which points will you focus on the educational outcomes?
  • When will you switch the focus to training?
  • Or, will you use a spiral design and provide both education and training simultaneously?

Answering these kinds of question will help you plan the learning and create outcomes, objectives, and assessments that match your intention. That, in turn, will make it more likely that you learners will learn what you want them to.

What about professional development you ask?

Professional development is learner centric. It can be education or training or anything in between. It’s any learning activity that someone takes part in to develop their skills or to acquire new knowledge that will help them grow professionally.

What are you designing? Is it education? Or is it training?