Converting to a Distance Learning Format

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A growing consideration for many companies is to transition their traditional face-to-face training sessions into an online format. With online courses becoming such an integral part of education, in 2013, Huss, Sela & Eastep (2015) reported the total number of students in the United States taking at least one online course had risen to 7.1 million, which proportionally is 33.5% of all higher education students (Allen & Seaman, 2014). A first impulse could lead someone to see what courses could be easily converted into an online environment (Minnaar, 2013). However, before doing that, there are some strategies to consider first.

Most people that have been teaching face-to-face courses usually don’t have any formal experience in developing an online course. As a result, this can lead most to adopt a “craft approach” in their eLearning initiatives (Moller et al., 2008, p.67). Using the craft approach leads a teacher to fully design and develop an online course, along with related materials, based upon what worked for them in the traditional classroom (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). This would be a mistake as the learning management system your organization is likely to choose has features and tools that promote student interaction and communication that are different from the traditional classroom experience.

Click here to learn more…Converting to a Distance Learning Format

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses and are aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. I found interest in a site offering MOOC courses called Coursera. Coursera was founded in 2012 and as of May, 2015 had over 1000 courses from 119 institutions and over 13 million users (Coursera, 2015). I chose the course called Smartphone Emerging Technologies. I experienced no issues starting the course. As the course began, it prompted me to create an account with a user name and password and after I submitted, the course continued from where it left off. I found the video very engaging as the lesson started off with an overview of the course with the instructor presenting in frame on the left side of the green screen slide as text would populate to his right. The main page of the course listed the different sections or modules to be completed along with sub-topics for each and showed the completion progress as I went along. After the overview, the course syllabus was presented in a text format with hyperlinks for additional reading. The syllabus included prerequisites, course goals and objectives, links to course materials, the course outline, a description of the course elements such as lecture videos, in-video questions, quizzes, readings as well as information on the peer assessed capstone project. Even though the course is free to take for your own personal enrichment, if you wanted to receive credit and proof of completion for college credit or for employer purposes, a verified certificate is available for a fee. In each module I completed, there were assessment questions, a review and a list of references for further reading as an option. This self-paced asynchronous course was designed to be taken by any student, in any place pursuing education in a different-time, different-place (DT-DP) scenario as describe by Dan Coldeway from South Dakota State University (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 9). With the abundant number of institutions that are partnering with Coursera, this asynchronous course could also be a blended or hybrid course for students at the institution’s campus for supplemental learning along with the face-to-face instruction (Simonson et al., 2015, p. 106-107). What I enjoyed most about the course was seeing the instructor in the video presenting. Keegan (1996) noted that distance education must offer “the provision of two-way communication so that the student may benefit from or even initiate dialog” (p. 44). This gave me more of a “connected” feeling to the information being presented and to the instructor that offered a means of communicating with him regarding content or advances in the field what would prompt an update to what was being presented. Overall, I enjoyed the instruction and felt it was a well-designed student-centered course.

References

Corsera. (2015). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coursera

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.)

A Collaborative Training Environment

In a real-world situation, a new automated staff information system was recently purchased by a major corporation and needs to be implemented in six regional offices. The staff is located in different offices and are unable to meet at the same time or in the same location. Simonson, Smaldino & Zvacek  stated that the keys to a successful distance education is in the design, development and delivery of instruction and is not related to geography or time (2015, p.9). As the company’s instructional designer, I will design a course using a learning management system and incorporate a means for staff to communicate with one another, share information in the form of screen captures as well as documents. To accomplish this I will consider the following web-based technology tools:

  1. Screencast-o-matic
  2. Screencastify
  3. Google Docs
  4. Google Drive
  5. Discussion board

The choice of these technology tools are taken under consideration based upon Holmberg’s theory of Interaction and Communication. Elements of his theory deals mainly with communication and the motivation the student has toward learning that is impacted by feelings of belonging (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory is a five stage model in which the third level contributes to the need of love and belongingness from relationships with friends and family that also involves social, community or religious groups (Atherton, 2013). The motivation of a student is a strong factor toward an effective outcome to the learning. The tools that I have chosen for the pending task I believe will enable the motivation a student in my course will have and promote a positive outcome to the training they will be undertaking.

Screencast-o-matic is an online tool from a website that offers a free means of recording what is on your computer’s screen, a webcam or both. The application is easy to use, allows the user to record up to 15 minutes of video in different formats for recipient compatibility and can be uploaded to YouTube for public viewing. To collaborate recordings with team members, all the viewer would need is an Internet connection and access to the YouTube site. The creator of the video would merely need to provide a link to the video they created. In the case there is a team member that does not have access to YouTube, an alternative for screen recording would be a Google extension called Screencastify. This extension is accessed through the Web Store that is found by clicking the Apps button on the Bookmarks bar located in the Chrome browser. After conducting a search for the extension, the user will add it to Chrome and it will appear to the right of the address bar and be associated with their Google account. Video files they create, up to 10 minutes in duration, can record what is on a webpage, the desktop or a webcam and will be saved inside of their Google Drive account or uploaded to YouTube where they would be able to share with other members of their team actual situations that are occurring from their own experiences with the new system. A long-standing method of categorizing the ability of media to convey information is the cone of experience introduced by Edgar Dale (1946) in which he states that real experiences are the foundation for learning (Simonson et al., 2015, p79-80) . Google Docs will be an ideal solution for the team members to use for collaboration on best practices, trouble-shooting issues or updating materials as prescribed by the framework for the approaches to education Dan Coldeway, of South Dakota’s State University indicates at the same time while in different places (ST-DP) or at different times while in different places (DT-DP) (Simonson et al., 2015, p9). The files they collaborate on can be stored inside Google Drive and made available to anyone that needs to access them with the ability to grant access level rights for editing purposes, making comments or view only access. Inside of the LMS system, there is a discussion board feature built in that can assign staff members to a group and allow them to communicate with one another on an ongoing basis. The learning management system under consideration is called Schoology and within the discussion board is the option to share files in a discussion from a third-party application such as Google Drive making it even easier to collaborate with members of the team with documents, videos and images. As an added bonus for ongoing collaboration amongst team members, Google+ also offers a means of communicating with each other while sharing information in a video call using Hangouts, the Google version of Skype. The following links provide some great examples and success stories of people that have used technology tools such as the ones described here for distance learning purposes.

Google products: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1k7yKKGZkmdDm3ouCecueIjlY7iKITYnCLo41AQgrU74/edit#slide=id.g1ed39be7_2_805

How Google Saved a School: https://youtu.be/xn9nSMypWxk

Screencast-o-matic: https://youtu.be/OvyuPYVi_08

Screencastify: http://etconnectoprf.blogspot.com/2015/04/this-is-awesome-with-amy-hill.html

References

Atherton, J. S. (2013). Learning and Teaching; Motivation [On-line: UK] Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/motivation.htm

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. 6th ed.

My Perspective on Distance Learning

My perspective of distance learning dates back over 18 years ago. As a senior Communication major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I was a student in the first distance learning class at the Downtown university campus in 1997. All of my classes previous to that were at the main campus with books, highlighters and face-to-face in a classroom with my professor. At the downtown campus, we had reading assignments and a two-way interactive video display so that we could see the lecture from the main campus and the professor could see us for attendance, answer questions and allow us to interact with the other students as needed. As a senior, I was at the cutting edge of what distance learning was for me.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, fiber-optic communication systems, considered the least expensive option for high-quality two-way audio and video, expanded and was made accessible to the field of education (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015. p.38). Based upon what I was learning about the possible future of distance learning, I saw that system as clunky and expensive, but had a lot of potential toward reaching an audience. Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek (2015) describe the four characteristics that distinguish distance education as it being carried out by an institution, but it is not self-study; there is an accessible and convenient geographical separation between students and the teacher; interactive telecommunications connects the learning group with each other and the teacher; lastly, a learning community is established that consist of students, the teacher and instructional resources.

Communicating with groups or the professor after the class during that time involved a phone call, email or chat using your “school supported” Hotmail or Instant Messenger account. Learning management systems did not exist. The formats for media and the way we use it today did not exist. This is why technology and the distance learning field is so exciting to me because it is constantly changing. Back then, what was an iPad or a tablet? AltaVista and Yahoo were the “big boy” search engines that everybody used (Wall, 2015). At home, people used a modem to connect to the Internet because access to a high speed connection was too expensive. What that meant was that downloading multimedia content, as limited as it was, took way longer than the average person was willing to wait. When I graduated from college, I did not see distance learning of any sort with the setup I saw at UTSA. Actually from that point, to this current day I have only seen a similar setup of my earlier depiction of distance learning once and it was back in 2009 when I was asked to help a teacher that wanted to set up her classroom to connect with another classroom in China. By chance I happened to be at their campus and I was able to get them connected in time for their distance learning moment.

My personal definition of distance learning from an earlier perspective entails having reading materials and other resources to learn from, access to a teacher’s lecture (pre-recorded or live) and a limited means of interaction between the student community and my teacher. Today, my thoughts about distance learning are very different compared to the way I use to think about it. I first saw a system that represented distance learning that I considered clunky and media was very limited. Therefore, the definition of distance learning constantly changes because of the advancement in technology. As technology improves, businesses and innovators are finding better ways to connect a learning community and engage them in media rich environments to maximize retention steeped in the foundations of learning theories that structure models around the different ways people learn. As the technology improves and the framework for engagement is established, professionals in the field will need to learn how to use the new system and teach others, from a user perspective, how to make it work with the subject matter of their given field. Moller, Wellesley and Huett, (2008, p.69) in their three part series regarding The Evolution of Distance Education offer three suggestions to ensure the highest level of faculty performance starting with the need for simple, highly- templated instructional models along with the tools for building learning objects; required training for faculty in the areas of instructional design, teaching and course revision before deploying the course and that faculty concerns regarding the effectiveness of the course need to be addressed. I view distance learning today as an emerging multimedia-rich supportive learning community separated, but connected with anytime/anywhere collaborative access to community members and resources.

With the changes we have seen in technology over the years, technology and the capability of learning management systems have evolved with the capability to harness media-rich features that allow for the creative engagement of a learning community. However, as we continue on a path of change, what is there to look forward to? In my distance learning future, I envision a seamless connection between mobile devices. A lecture or course could be seen on any device without regard for compatibility. Perhaps Twitter, TweetDeck and Google Maps will mash up with a video conferencing application and create a collaboration tool for education. I could FaceTime or conference in with my professor or other students in a virtual room to observe, chat, ask questions or collaborate while seeing a bio or location stamp of each person in the room so that I can know the people that I interact with better. Files can be viewed on a device of your choice, marked up with highlights and notes and be ready to view on your PC when you get home. Maybe one day, Google will re-invent the Google Glass project and take group collaboration in a virtual 3D world to the next level. These are just a few changes I see in my distance learning future that has come a long way from being confined by technology to one room with a two-way interactive video display.

References

Wall, A. (2015). History of Search Engines: From 1945 to Google Today. Retrieved from: http://www.searchenginehistory.com/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Chapter 2, “Definitions, History, and Theories of Distance Education” (pp. 31-40).

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

A Reflection on Learning Theories

As an instructional technologist in a school district huddled around a conference room table, I can recall countless planning sessions where we discussed our next redesign of training materials to introduce a new version of an application as well as how we were going to design the next online training module. These planning sessions were usually focused on what skills we felt the learner needed to know and modules were built to suit specific learning objectives. We did our job and trained them, but the nagging question has always been, did they learn anything? To help students learn, we have developed training content based upon auditory, visual and kinesthetic (McCarthy, 1981) learning styles. In reflection, I have realized that besides a person’s learning style, there is so much more to consider such as the motivation of the learner, the capability of a learner based upon their multiple intelligences, and what adult learning theory is applicable to the type of learning the student is participating in when it comes to the andragogy of adults and how we learn.

Malcolm Knowles, the father of andragogy, the art and science of helping adults learn, proposed five (5) factors involved in adult learning that include someone with an independent nature directing one’s own learning, an abundance of life experience, needs that are related to changing social roles or “climbing the corporate ladder,” a problem-centered orientation with an interest in the immediate application of new knowledge and someone driven by internal motivation factors (Merriam, 2001, p. 5).

During the course of this Learning Theories class, I had the occasion to offer training sessions to Grade Reporting Secretaries on downloading reports from eSchoolPlus and preparing the report in Microsoft Excel to be used as a source for a mail merge in Microsoft Word.  Before each class, I found myself pondering about the motivation of each person signed up to take the training and I reflected on the three models of motivation in an achievement-related setting.  The expectancy-value model is an expansion of Atkinson’s (1958) model, which defined expectancy and value as motivational constructs. The basic premise of the model is that students’ expectations of success and the value they place on success are important determinants of their motivation to engage in achievement-related behaviors (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002a, p.91). The second model, goal orientation, refers to “a set of behavioral intentions that determine how students approach and engage in learning activities” (Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle, 1988, p. 514). The third model is attribution theory that addresses individuals’ thoughts, emotions, and expectancies following an achievement-related outcome (Weiner, 1980b ) .

I have come to realize that my learning process is much more involved. I have always been a hands-on person and the kinesthetic learning style has worked for me. This course has helped me to make sense of how I process information and has offered me different approaches to the ways I may learn best whether I am preparing to facilitate a training class or one day design an online class using steps of the ARCS model of motivational design (Keller, 1987a, 1987b) that provides a systematic, seven-step approach (Keller, 1997) to designing motivational tactics into instruction. The learning style model classifies students according to where they fit on a number of scales pertaining to the way they receive and process information (Felder & Silverman, 1988, p. 3). Recently in my department, we received dual monitor, adjustable arm workstations that were going to be assembled and installed on 10 desks for trainers. Two of us were in charge of setting them up. We had talked about installing them for a while, but I was having a hard time visualizing how it was going to look at each desk. When the boxes can in, I unpacked the first workstation and layed all of the parts out. As I began to assemble the arm of the workstation that would hold the monitors, I could visualize what it was going to look like and everything started to make sense. After reading the instructions and putting together all of the parts, I handed the assembled workstation off to my partner for installation to the desk and I never needed to refer to the instructions again.

In this moment, I learned how learning styles, adult learning theories and multiple intelligences play a part in my learning process. We talked about this project on several occasions, but for me, I could not visualize what the end-product would look like. Once the workstations were delivered and I was able to start putting pieces together, it all made sense. When I look at the four (4) learning theories related to adult learning, Action and Experiential learning theories helped me in this situation. Action learning is the approach to working with and developing people, which uses work on a real project or problem as the way to learn. Participants work in small groups or teams to take action to solve their project or problem, and learn how to learn from that action (O’Neil, 2000, p.44). Experiential learning is learner-centered and operates on the premise that individuals learn best by experience. A good way to describe this theory is “learning by doing”. Experiential learning thus has the learner directly involved with the material being studied instead of just thinking and talking about that material (Conlan, Grabowski & Smith, 2003).

Everyone has potential and Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, sought to broaden the scope of human potential beyond the confines of an IQ score. He developed eight (8) intelligences to map a broad range of human abilities. During my project, I was able to call upon my logical-mathematical and spatial intelligence. Logical-mathematical includes sensitivity to logical patterns and relationships, statements and propositions (if-then, cause-effect), functions, and other related abstractions. Spatial intelligence involves sensitivity to color, line, shape, form, space, and the relationships that exist between these elements. It includes the capacity to visualize, to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas, and to orient oneself appropriately in a spatial matrix. By putting my hands on the material, I was able to link past experiences with the current project and learn what was needed by doing. Once I was able to visualize how the end product would be, I identified the logical steps needed to successfully construct the workstation. Needless to say, I was motivated to engage the project, but the reasons behind it would entail an extensive new set of theories that we will leave for another time. As I continue my career in instructional design, remembering moments like this will empower me to look at situations differently and listen to the words they use (linguistic intelligence) with more insight about how someone might learn a task or take on a project and successfully complete their goals.

In reflection of this class, I have learned that there is a method, a style, a reason and a motivation behind everything we endeavor upon. The connection between learning theories, learning styles, educational technologies and motivation is like one big puzzle. To teach a class or design online courses may take motivation and skill, but there are many more pieces that must be considered before going live or teaching that first class. Theories and styles give us a road map toward reaching our students in a way much deeper than we otherwise would have. Like the 12th century theologian and author John of Salisbury said, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants” (phrases.org, 2014). We are able to see more and do more, not because we are better than others or more superior. We can because of the roads others have traveled that allow us to apply better methods to our instruction. We are all unique and bring a distinctive style to the way we learn and the way we teach. By making the right connection between learning theories and styles as well as educational technology, with the right motivation, we can really make an impact on our student’s learning potential.

References

McCarthy, B. Educational Leadership. March, 1997. Volume 54, Number 6, “ How Children Learn,” Pg 46-51. Retrieved online: http://online.sfsu.edu/hdomizio/824/4Mat_Learners_McCarthy_97.pdf

Web Article: Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from  http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Adult_Learning

Article: Keller, J. M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (78).

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Available in the Walden Library databases. Chapter 1, “The Foundations of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences”. Chapter 2, “MI and Personal Development”

Martin, Gary (2014) The meaning and origin of the expression: Standing on the shoulders of giants Retrieved from: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/268025.html

Gredler, M. (2009). Learning and Instruction, Theory in Practice. 6th ed.

Fitting the Pieces Together

I have always considered myself an analytical person and as an instructional designer, I consistently gave a lot of thought to how I presented training material to my students in an effort to engage them and help them to learn a skill. The foundation of how I structured my approach to learners was based upon the type of learners McCarthy (1981) identified pertaining to visual, auditory and kinesthetic or seeing, hearing and doing. Over the past weeks, after being exposed to different learning theories and learning styles, I have come to realize the simplicity of my ways. I understand that in a classroom environment I may have learners that want to sit and listen as I explain how to do something, as others may want to see the task as I talk about it, while another group wants to walk through it on their computer as I explain, but this is merely the beginning.

There are learning theories that can change your approach to how the material is presented and ways you can assist the learner in remembering what you taught them.  Also the intelligence or abilities of your student, based upon the Multiple Intelligence theory (Armstrong, 2009), can help you to appeal to their potential strengths and weaknesses in learning. As a student and life-long learner myself, I realize that the type of learner I am fluctuates with the material that is being presented, but to some degree, that is expected. You can’t learn how to swim while laying on the carpet in your living room. When it comes to learning styles, one theory I can relate to is the Cognitive Learning theory which focuses on the conceptualization of students’ learning processes and addresses the issue of how information is received, organized, stored, and retrieved by the mind. Technology plays a role in my learning by helping me to organize my thoughts into chunks. I prefer thirds. Like a book that has an introduction, body and conclusion, I rank my sources in order of importance for retrieval.

References

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple intelligences in the classroom (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Available in the Walden Library databases. Chapter 1, “The Foundations of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences”, Chapter 2, “MI and Personal Development”

Gilbert, J., & Swanier, C. (2008). Learning styles: How do they fluctuate? Institute for Learning Styles Journal [Vol. l]. Retrieved from http://www.auburn.edu/~witteje/ilsrj/Journal%20Volumes/Fall%202008%20Volume%201%20PDFs/Learning%20Styles%20How%20do%20They%20Fluctuate.pdf

Connectivism – A Reflection

The resources I have chosen for my mind map have helped me tremendously in my job as a subject matter expert with technology as well as my graduate studies in Instructional Design. This network of resources offers me options, with depth, in the type of research I am conducting. If I am looking for some general information, I may start with a Search Engine that may give me ideas about how to structure the questions that I am trying to answer. To effectively use a search engine, you must understand that the Internet is a system of linked computers created for communication purposes. The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hyper texted documents accessed via the Internet (Berners-Lee, Cailliau, Groff, Pollermann, 1992). Search engines are great for searching databases of text from the web, selected from billions of web pages residing on servers. Search engine databases are selected and built by computer robot programs called spiders. They crawl the web by following links on pages they already have in their database. Then the spiders index these pages with the links so that they can be searched by keyword or other more advanced approaches such as Boolean operators. Google (http://www.google.com), Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com), Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) Ask (http://www.ask.com), and Answers (http://www.answers.com), are a few examples of search engines I use. The next are Meta-search engines that partner with various search engines to simultaneously search several individually-owned engines and their databases. Meta-search engines do not own or maintain a database of their own so the information being sent based upon the keywords you chose are being sent and maintained by the search engine company itself. Momma (http://www.momma.com), Excite (http://www.excite.com), Startpage(http://www.startpage.com), Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) and Zoo (http://www.zoo.com – formerly Metacrawler), are few examples of meta-crawlers, which by the way, have a partnership with Google and Yahoo, amongst others, to provide services. The third resource in my network is Subject Directories, also known as a “human-powered” search engine. Directories are basically a manual entry database system with the primary distinction in how the different systems obtain their data. One does it automatically (search engines) with a ranking system and the other does it manually (directories) with human intervention from credentialed experts and credible authorities in their fields and puts the results into categories. About (http://www.about.com), Yahoo Directory (https://dir.yahoo.com/), Directory Journal (http://www.dirjournal.com/) and InfoMine (http://infomine.ucr.edu/) are a few examples of subject directories.

So these are a few resources in my network that help to get me started when I need answers to questions that I ponder throughout my days. Blogs are a nice resource too for finding information. I tend to visit a variety of technology websites to keep up to date with the latest findings. Blogs help me to corral all of my favorite sites into one location. A final resource to mention that I like to use is an app on my Samsung Galaxy phone called Flipboard. Flipboard is a mobile app that collects content from social media feeds and other websites and presents it in a magazine format that I am able to customize.

Of the resources or digital tools that I utilize that has helped or changed the way that I learn, I would have to say, my go-to resources are the online engines. I am able to find just about whatever I need just by knowing which to use and how to use them effectively. And speaking of online tools, one group that I did not mention that is also very valuable to my knowledge base is the Invisible Web. The Invisible Web or Deep Web is the portion of the web that is hidden from search engines since they are unable to crawl through its pages. They require a key, subscription or a password to access a libraries’ database, like articles in Walden’s library. Over ten years ago it was estimated to contain over 7,500 terabytes or more than 550 billion individual documents. Today that number is well into the trillions and quite possibly 500 times bigger than the searchable web most people access every day (Excoffier, 2013). Deep Web (http://www.deepwebtech.com/), Lynda (http://www.lynda.com/) PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/), The WWW Virtual Library (http://vlib.org/) are a few examples of the Deep web.

My personal learning network is supported by the central tenets of connectivism in the diversity of the network, how they are connected in some way to one another and the diversity of the sources.

References

Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Jean-François Groff, Bernd Pollermann, (1992) “World Wide Web: The Information Universe”, Internet Research, Vol. 2 Iss: 1, pp.52 – 58

Excoffier, David, 2013. “The New Faces of Internet (Part 3): Internet of Contents” Retrieved from: http://labs.sogeti.com/the-new-faces-of-internet-part-3internet-of-contents/

The Brain and Learning

Our native curiosity is driven by our brain’s inherent search for the unusual in our environment. – Dr. Donald J. Ford

How long has it been since you rode a bike? What are the chances that you forgot and needed to re-learn how to do that all over again? I found two very interesting articles on the brain and learning that I would like to share. The first article is called “How the Brain Learns” by Dr. Donald J. Ford (trainingindustry.com, 2011). It talks about the cerebrum being the most important area of the brain because that is where high-ordered functions like memory and reason occur. As learning happens through a network of neurons, researchers at the University of California Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory proved that when neurons frequently interact, they form a bond that allows them to transmit more easily and accurately, but when neurons rarely interact, the transmission is often incomplete, leading to faulty memory where you seem to remember only half the story or you have no memory of the experience at all. How does this relate to you? Think about something you do all the time, which is so routine, you don’t really give much thought to it, like driving to work, going to your favorite restaurant or even the park. It is so ingrained into your memory, that the neurons that control that particular memory have formed a tight bond.

So one day, you decide to move from you current residence to a new location. Now you are taking a new path to get to your job and since this is all new, you have to pay attention and new bonds need to form with the neurons in your brain so that you can remember this new path like you did the old path.

In the second article called “How Does the Brain Learn Best? Smart Studying Strategies” by Ingfei Chen (blogs.kqed.org, 2014) it talks about how forgetting is a powerful spam filter as you try to recall a word or fact, the brain actively works at suppressing or forgetting competing information. So there you are on your new route to work that you now have memorized like the back of your hand. If you leave at a certain time it takes you exactly 12 minutes to get to work. You mention this to a co-worker one day and during your conversation someone overhearing your story chimes in and suggests you should take an alternate route that includes the highway and it would save you 2-3 minutes on your commute. As you stand there quietly acknowledging their suggestion, you know that you have looked at all the maps, did your research and found the best way that works for you. As your mind tussles with this new, competing information, what do you think happens?

The article continues and talks about how the brain is a foraging learner building knowledge continually while it keeps things that are important to you and adds to your thoughts about those items subconsciously as it tunes in to any relevant information you see or hear around you. Dr. Ford in the first article How the Brain Learns touches on this as well from a study that mentions if we both see and hear something, we are more likely to remember it than if we hear it only. If we experience an emotional reaction to something, then that emotion becomes part of the memory and strengthens it dramatically. In recalling memories, subjects who had experienced an emotional reaction were far more likely to remember the event and with higher accuracy than those who simply witnessed an event without any emotional attachment.  That explains why highly emotional events such as birth, marriage, divorce and death become unforgettable.  When it comes to learning, we need to make sure we engage all the senses and tap into the emotional side of the brain through methods like humor, storytelling, group activities and games. As an instructional designer of online courses, how could you use this new information to make your courses unforgettable?

As a way to assist the brain in remembering information while in a school environment, I conclude with four (4) examples by Ingfei Chen:

  1. Break up and space out study time over days or weeks compared to lumping everything into a single session.
  2. Study class material in a café or garden rather than in a library or try listening to background music as it can help to reinforce and sharpen your memory of what you are learning.
  3. Take breaks! If you have been working at something for a while and get stuck, the interruption can allow for flashes of insight.
  4. Quiz yourself by reciting the material out loud from memory or explaining it to a friend. This is a powerful way to master the material rather than just re-reading it over and over again.