By: Karla Gutierrez

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September 18th, 2014

The 6 Laws of Learning No Instructional Designer Can Afford to Ignore

Instructional & Graphic Design

Today it is almost more likely to find companies pursuing eLearning than it is the traditional course in education. This makes good designers of eLearning programs a necessity. As a designer, you want to be able to stand out from the crowd and become known not as simply a good designer, but as a great one. You want your students to be able to learn and to see that they are progressing and you want to be sought out for your knowledge and skill in designing.

Educational psychologists have identified several principles of learning, also known as laws of learning. By following these tested principles, you can help your students learn more effectivelyIgnore them at your own risk! 

laws of learning applied to elearning

1) Law of Readiness

This law states that learning can only take place when a student is ready to learn. For instance, "When an individual is ready to act or to learn, he acts or learns more effectively and with greater satisfaction than when not ready." 

It is your job as a developer to design a course that helps create this readiness to learn. This can be done by making a course that keeps a student motivated, interested and wanting more. Students need to know why it is important to learn a subject and what their ultimate goal is to be.

By designing a course that is not only interesting, but gives the student a measurable sense of what can be accomplished, and why, you have followed this law.

2) Law of Exercise

This law is simple. The more a person repeats something, the better he is able to retain that knowledge.  Remember back in grade school when the teacher would have you write spelling words three times each and then use them in a sentence? She was practicing this law. Part two of this law states that knowledge not used becomes weakened and disappears from memory. "Use it or lose it." isn't just a random saying: when it comes to learning, it is completely accurate.

As an eLearning designer, you need to provide multiple opportunities for students to go over the material. Add practice problems, mini-quizzes, knowledge checks, summaries and any other kind of review to help achieve this goal.

3) Law of Effect

In simple terms, this law states three things:

  • Learning is strengthened when associated with a pleasant or satisfying feeling. Learning is more likely to happen again in the future.
  • Learning is weakened when associated with an unpleasant feeling, becoming less likely for learning to occur again in the future. Learners will try to avoid it. 
  • Learning occurs when it results in satisfaction and the learner derives pleasure out of it.

Therefore, we can say students are more likely to learn when they are feel satisfied or are rewarded for learning, rather than punished for not learning. They need to feel good in order to retain motivation. An eLearning designer can accomplish this by creating a course that includes rewards for successfully completing portions of the course.

Here are some positive emotions you should start designing your eLearning for. 

4) Law of Primacy

Think back to the time when it was proven that the Earth was round and not flat. The concept was nearly impossible for the majority of those alive to accept.  This is because once a person learns something, it is nearly impossible to tell them that it is actually different. That is the law of primacy. It is nearly impossible to unlearn the first thing you have been taught so it is essential that an eLearning course teach the correct information. Make sure any information you include is correct, but show special care at the beginning when concepts are most likely to stick.

5) Law of Recency

This law reminds us that we remember the most recent (last) material covered. For this reason, eLearning designers should make a point of including chapter or unit reviews and building on previous knowledge. This gives a student the chance to return to earlier material that may have gotten pushed aside by information near the end of the unit. By creating a review exercise that includes both the older and newer information, it makes it more likely that all the information will be remembered.

6) Law of Intensity

The more excitement a lesson creates, the more likely it will be remembered. Creating a hands-on experience, or one that causes the student to feel strong emotion will make the lesson more easily remembered.

Develop problems that place the students in real-life situations where they can practice the material. If Accounting for a small business is the goal, create a fictional small business and allow the students to keep records for the business, including year-end reconciling. By doing the actual work, the students will see how each part of what they have learned relates to the others, and to real-life situations.

Designing with these laws in mind will make you a designer that is valued. Memorize them and include them and you can't lose.


Laws of Learning

Thorndike, E. (1932). The Fundamentals of Learning. New York: Teachers College Press.


Free eBook: A Quick Survival Guide for Modern elearning Designers  

About Karla Gutierrez

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

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