E-learning: Better understanding how we learn – Part 2 of 3

Thanks to the growth of the digital age, e-learning has gained incredible traction in the last decade with humans become much more accustomed to getting everything on THEIR time. In part 1 of our e-learning series we spent our time becoming accustomed to the general theories and philosophies used in e-learning and how they become implemented, today though were shifting our focus to one area.

The success of any e-learning product comes down to the ability to retain the information by the student. Thats where the buck ends. The way the information gets retained though is a complex process that involves the software, the student and the teacher, all of which we will be looking into below.

To begin with we really need to look at the way our memory works. Our ability to remember can be separated into three sections: The Stage Theory, Short Term Memory and Long Term Memory.

The Stage Theory:

This is the initial stage that we go through when we receive any bit of information. Its minuscule in terms of timescale, often not lasting more than 0.5 seconds and at most going up to 3 seconds. This is the time where you try and hook the user into whatever it is you are trying to convey to them. The best practice is to use the unexpected or patterns to really hook your paws into your audiences memory, because if you don’t grab them then you won’t be able to later.

Short Term Memory:

Our short term memory is also known as our conscious memory. Its memory that cycles in about 15-20 second spikes (unless repeated) at which point it has the potential to last 20 minutes. Now the key thing to know about short term memory is how to really truly grasp it in a practical sense. There is next to no point throwing anything lengthy at it nor does it make any sense throwing something at it the receiver will need to know 2 months down the line. Its memory that is prime to chunking and repetition… facts and figures that can be grouped or simplified and then repeated until they are ingrained in our psyche.

Long Term Memory: 

Our long term memory is probably the most complex of all three and is seen as our unconscious memory. The most important thing to understand about our long term memory is that we never can truly tap into all of it… more often than not its triggered by a situation, an object, a word due to the amount of information we can store without realising. Everything from learning to walk, to using a computer can be classified as long-term memory, its just memory that has become seamless thanks to constant repetition.

There are multiple ways of trying to ingrain something into our brain, from imagery, to the loci method (creating connections between concepts and objects), pegword (concepts tied to words) and rhyming but more often than not to truly tap into long-term memory takes time, repetition and engagement.

Putting the knowledge to use:

Above we’ve looked at how we actually go about remembering information but the question now is how to we put it into use, how do we utilise the way our memory functions in practical ways to make our e-learning experiences all the better?

The first is bringing in some form of review system within the learning experience that allows the student / user to re-cap what was taught in the last lesson. This is something that should be accessible at any time as well as being an introduction to a new lesson. Why? Because it triggers our long-term memory slowly sussing it out of sleep as well as engaging our repetitive need for us to better understand and remember information. The familiarity factor is also significant as it puts us at ease and engages us immediately.

Secondly, something that should be a staple of e-learning is interactivity and personalisation. One of the most significant triggers for us to hold onto our memories is personal moments we build within the specific time-frame, something that can become translated to the e:learning environment quite easily. Everything from using drag and drop interactions, to storytelling to real life scenarios will help the user to create associations between the information their learning and their significant trigger points.

Thirdly we need to look into accessibility. In many ways making a lesson accessible has very little to do with our ability to retain information when looking at it, but due to the importance of us being engaged in the lesson, and to actually take away anything from it we have to make sure its available… at any time. Imagine you missed a lesson and had no way of going back to it. Or wanting help and having no ‘live chat’ or email contact / forums to resort to. The more engaging and ‘human’ the e:learning platform appears the more accessible it will become. We have to be able to learn on OUR TIME to truly be at our capacity for learning.

We hope the above has proven useful with our insight into the way our memory works and how to truly make the best use of it.  We’ll be back with the last of the series sometime in the next two weeks.