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By: Karla Gutierrez

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June 15th, 2017

6 Critical Factors that Affect How People Learn

eLearning | Instructional & Graphic Design

A lot of research actually goes into a well-designed eLearning course. And like it or not, instructional designers have to dig deep into the psychology of learners, specifically how they learn and what affects their learning.

Pay attention to these factors if you want to create better eLearning courses.

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1. Meaningfulness Effect

Quite simply, the more meaningful the content, the easier it is to remember. If the content doesn't make sense or isn't relevant enough, learners will have a harder time to learn. That's why it's very important to clearly introduce the value of the course in the first few screens. Don't just tell students what you are about to teach but also emphasize the need to learn.

Here are just some principles you can use to improve retention of the material and help learners make meaning out of the material: association, organization, visual metaphors, familiarity, frequency, patterns, and acronyms.

2. Practice Effect

How does active or deliberate practice affect learning? The answer seems pretty obvious but here some of the details you should know.

Active practice or rehearsal enhances retention. But there is one type of practice that yields better learning results. It's called distributed practice, which, in contrast to massed practice, refers to regularly spaced practice exercises. Many studies have already confirmed this. In fact, the National Research Council explained that “the so-called spacing effect—that practice sessions spaced in time are superior to massed practices regarding long-term retention—is one of the most reliable phenomena in human experimental psychology. The effect is robust and appears to hold for verbal materials of all types as well as for motor skills." 

Distributed or regularly spaced practice is especially beneficial when learning unfamiliar material and during fast presentation rates. Whereas distributed practice enables learners to associate with several contexts, massed practice only allows learners to associate with a single context.

Read more: Comparing Typical (Crammed) Learning vs. Spaced Learning

3. Interference Effect 

An interference effect is always negative. It happens when a learner tries to remember an old material previously learned while learning new material. Such old material impairs the learner's speed of learning and memory performance.

The learner may, for instance, confuse both old and new material that have some similarity between each other. He or she may use "historic" interchangeably with "historical" or "inept" with "inapt." Or, put simply, have problems with distinguishing similar concepts.

This case of memory interference can cause students to forget even those items they remembered clearly for years. The good news is, there are at least ways to effectively combat this effect:

  • Avoid designs that create conflicting mental processes by adhering to the minimum information principle (avoid cognitive load).
  • Describe concepts or express statements as clearly as possible. 
  • Spaced learning is a good way to provide students with enough space between modules and activities to actually enhance the consolidation of the new to-be-learned information in long-term memory. 

4. Transfer Effect

Transfer effect takes place when prior learning or old material makes new learning easier. When old and new tasks or material have more in common, a transfer effect is likely to happen.

The effect is not always positive though. Here are three types of transfer effect you should watch out for. 

  • Positive Transfer: When prior learning or training aids in acquiring a new skill or finding a solution to a new problem, positive transfer occurs. The learner performs better than he or she would have without previous learning.
  • Negative Transfer: Negative transfer is the exact opposite of the previous item. It takes place when prior knowledge or training makes it difficult to acquire a new skill or learn new material. The learner would have learned or performed well had he or she not been exposed to the previous training.
  • Zero Transfer: This is a neutral situation where prior training neither improves nor impedes the acquisition of a new skill or learning of a new material.

Take note that combination of negative and positive transfer can take place during the process of learning. 

5. Levels-of-Processing Effect

The more deeply a learner processes the content, the better he or she will remember it. This deep level of processing also enhances memory by helping the learner create more meaningful knowledge.

This effect, which was identified by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart in 1972, illustrates how the depth of mental process falls on a shallow to a deep continuum. Shallow processing is susceptible to rapid deterioration, while deep processing leads to a more durable and stronger memory trace.

Watch this video for further explanation. 

Read more: 3 Tips To Apply The Levels Of Processing Theory In eLearning Course Design

6. Text-Organization Effect

The concept refers to the effects that the structural elements of the course have on the information learners encode and remember. This effect relies on the fact that learner comprehension is influenced by the text structure used to convey the information.  Moreover, it assumes that our brains like the organization of information, which is why chapters, outlines, and sections are highly recommended as an instructional method.

There are many other structural elements of ways of organizing text that produce such an effect: advanced organizers, logical sequencing, highlighting of main ideas, use of bullets or numbers, and summaries. All of them aid learners in chunking and retaining information. They also point learners to the most important aspects of the material.

Read more: Organize Content Effectively to Maximize Learning Opportunities

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About Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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