The last semester, I attended a training session entitled “Investigating Methods of Non-traditional Teaching and Learning” by Kathryn Ricketts. One of the main themes that stuck with me is that we need to help students to “ learn how to learn,“ which means students should be motivated to drive their own learning. Students are curious, but they can get distracted and take their curiosity elsewhere. We need to meet the needs of every learner through combining different learning and pedagogy strategies coupled with the use of technology.
This week I decided to dig into this idea and was inspired by a great course from Coursera called “Learning how to learn.” In the following few lines, I will try to apply some of the instructor’s, Barbara Oakley, strategies and advises on “learning how to learn” to the Online/blended learning environment.
One of Barabra’s strategy is to form a Chunk. What is Chunk? According to Barbara “Chunking is the mental leap that helps you unite bits of information together through meaning. The new logical whole makes the chunk easier to remember, and also makes it easier to fit the chunk into the larger picture of what you’re learning”. The following video simplified this technique in a very good manner:
The working memory of a human mind can’t absorb a considerable amount of information, and it functions at its best with a finite number of items. It is recommended that we break a larger piece into small chunks that our memory can handle. Anticipating information overload in online learning is essential. One of the top tips is to break long strings of content into small chunks. Chunking the information makes it easier to remember with less mental effort.
For example, you might create several 5-10 minutes of videos instead of one long video. This would give students more time to digest the information by using their highest attention span. You can even add questions or activities in the middle of a video to increase engagement and level of retention of information. Also, break down the modules into smaller related lessons and topics is a very helpful design technique that can help students absorb information and master learning objectives and outcomes. However, we have to pay attention to the way the content is organized and displayed in a course. Multimedia, graphics, titles and headings should all help highlight key takeaways.
Giving a course overview is also vital as it helps to apply the chunking concept. Instructors who try to explain the big picture before they go into details are always successful in getting their students’ attention. Students are always curious about why they learn specific material? Why they have to read specific articles? How are they linked to the whole course content in general? If we can guide them making the connection between small pieces they are working on and the full picture, then they are able to retain the information and linking it to their existing knowledge in a much more comfortable and faster way.
Self-testing was also covered in Barbra’s “Learning how to learn” course. She stressed on the importance of self-testing ourselves every time we learn new concepts. She mentioned that recall is actually a form of mini or self-testing. The peer review assignment that we did last week immediately jumped to my mind when I heard Barbra mention that. To do the assignment, we had the need to learn the content well enough to explain it to colleagues or to give meaningful feedback. We all had to go and read about different LMS’s and how to use them and so on. Also, each one of us had to use the information he/she learned or read about for two or three different groups. This repetition helped our brain retain and recall the information in an efficient way.
The brain is powerful, but it has its own limits. We all have to think of ways to work with those limits and to push the boundaries.