SHIFT's eLearning Blog

The Building Blocks of Brain-friendly eLearning Courses

Posted by Karla Gutierrez on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 @ 09:23 AM

The brain is our primary tool for learning. It's seat of thought, memory, consciousness and emotion. So it only makes sense to explore it before attempting to design instructional materials. By understanding how the learner’s brain functions, course developers are better able to create courses that work with the brain and not contradict it. Remember, you cannot argue with your brain. It follows its own rules. You can force it to do things, say reading a tedious book on a technical subject, but that’s going to be a big challenge. For optimal learning, what your learners need most is brain-friendly content..

The good news is, brain-friendly learning is no rocket science. It’s made up of building blocks that will help learners understand information deeply and retain it in their long-term memory. What’s more, you may have already encountered some brain-friendly content, those that you remember most because of its powerful images and emotive aspects.

Here are five foundational elements of brain-friendly eLearning courses:

1. Emotion

emotions in eLearningLearners are not merely rational animals. They’re emotional beings too. In fact, emotions make people remember deeply. Things associated with emotions such as fear, surprise, immense joy or pain are deeply etched in one’s memory. This is good news. Instructional designers can tap the emotions of students to help them learn better. Competition and reward are emotions that stimulate the production of dopamine. This has a positive effect on the learning process.

Start by provoking their interest in the introduction. Engage their emotions by sharing a story. Better yet, tell them stories about their promising future once they finish your course. Appeal to their emotions by having them put themselves in the shoes of someone making a decision, create controversy and/or build suspense. 

2. Repetition

repetition eLearningDon't expect your learners to go through content once, pass the assessment and remember it forever. Remember the rule of three? Devote your attention thrice to a subject and you’re likely going to retain more information. Repetition works that way. This has a lot to do with the Hebbian Theory, which states that “cells that fire together, wire together.” The theory explains “associative learning,” otherwise called Hebbian learning.  

Contrary to what you may think, repetition doesn't need to be tedious. You can review information through knowledge checks as a form of repetition. Using the theory, going over the same information or set of ideas, at spaced intervals, can help you create strong firing patterns in the brain and thus allow them to be saved in the student's long-term memory. 

3. Creation

Learn by doingLearning is a two-way process. For students to effectively learn, they must not only consume information but also create meaning, value and action out a given set of data. When people learn by doing, they become energized, they stick with the content, and they learn more. There are many ways for them to create. They can do some exercises on their own to better understand abstract ideas. As well, they could write an essay or work with an interactive simulation. 

4. Multi-sensory

If you want to create a vivid and lasting memory, then make sure that memory is created in a multi-faceted way. Many of us are visual learners but that doesn’t mean that senses other than our sight are less important. It’s quite the opposite. Students learn best when all their senses are engaged, when their imagination is most active.

Help them create strong and lasting memories by making them imagine colors, hear sounds, and experience emotions. Describe a face or a place in detail instead of giving them generalities.. 

Don’t forget the hierarchy of how we learn best:

  • by reading (10%)

  • by hearing (20%)

  • by seeing (30%)

  • both by seeing and hearing (50%)

  • by discussing with others (70%)

  • by experiencing directly or personally (80%)

  • by teaching someone else (95%)

5. Real context 

eLearning course developers are oftentimes guilty of not creating a link between the learning event and the real business context. In fact, studies demonstrate that less than 10% of what gets learned on most eLearning courses gets applied back in the workplace.  

Brain-friendly learning benefits both sides learners and developers alike. Students achieve personal goals and as a consequence developers get business benefits. It’s a win-win scenario. You can achieve this by paying attention to what happens before and after the learning event. Are both your goals and your learners’ goals accomplished? Then you’re likely doing the right thing.

Try them all! 

These brain principles are a great guide of what eLearning developers should keep in mind when developing their courses. 

Topics: eLearning, eLearning tips

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