An Imperative Association between Neuroscience and e-Learning

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The upsurge of e-learning technologies is evident in education all over the world. Communication and application-sharing technologies have had a great influence on formal and informal education, particularly through the use of mobile and wireless devices. E-learning eradicates the barrier of time and distance, forming a universal learning-on-demand platform.

Understanding the working of brain and how people learn will help e-learning professionals to develop a paramount training model for business environment. Applying various learning models, as well as what incentives are needed before, during, and even after the learning process, helps instructional designers deliver a great learning experience for all their students. While the content, layout and the accessibility of the e-learning course are important, determining how a learner’s brain actually acquires and retain information is an essential factor of e-learning design and development.

Understanding how the Brain Learns

David Kolb’s famous four-phase model of the learning cycle can be mapped into four major brain processes.

Concrete Experience: The information-gathering part of the cycle engages the sensory cortices through which we hear, see, touch, smell and taste. They record these concrete experiences in the brain.

Reflective Observation: All of the new data collected from the sensory cortex flow towards the association regions, where they start combining to produce a meaningful concept. If we can find meaning in the subject being learned, the information can move into the working memory. Although reflection needs time and space to happen, without these it is impossible for the learners to process, search for connections, and integrate information. That is why, it is important to carefully incorporate reflection into the e-learning materials and significantly improve reflection by inspecting the amount of information and stride of delivering such information. It should give students enough time to reflect on the material and eventually make meaning of it.

Abstract Conceptualization: This brain process occurs when the prefrontal integrative cortex is completely engaged. The learner moves past receiving and absorbing information and is now ready to create new knowledge, craft relationships and form abstractions. Thus the learner starts making meaning in his or her own way and shift from being a ‘receiver of knowledge’ to a ‘creator of knowledge’. This is the process that should be encouraged as it will result in a longer durable learning.

Active Experimentation: Trying out what you have learned involves the motor cortex. It is that part of the brain which converts abstract mental actions into physical action. After the brain has interpreted experiences through reflection and built meaning, it uses these concepts as guides for active experimentation. Active testing can exhibit in several ways such as reading another book related to the subject, explaining or discussing a previous lesson, searching topics online related to a lesson etc.

Leveraging the Understanding

You cannot argue with the brain. It follows its own rules. For effective learning, learners need brain-friendly content. Brain-friendly content is made up of fundamental notions that will help learners in understanding information deeply and retain it in the long-term memory. Let’s look at some of the fundamentals an e-learning professional can leverage to develop and design an effective e-learning model.

No multitasking: For years, multitasking has been considered as an essential skill. However, research has established that our brains do not have the power to multitask. One hemisphere concentrates on one task, while the other is focused on a completely secondary task. Thus it takes the brain twice as long to complete a task, and also the error rate goes up by 50%. This is because, we are not ‘multitasking’, we are ‘context switching’. Thus it is important when designing e-learning courses to avoid modules which ask the user to perform multiple tasks at once, as it hinders the overall learning process.

Repetition: Do not expect the learners to go through content once and remember it forever. Dedicating attention thrice to a subject will retain more information. This has a lot to do with associative learning which states that “cells that fire together, wire together”.  Repetition can be tedious, but it need not be. You can review information through knowledge checks as a form of repetition. Going over same information or ideas, at spaced intervals, can help you create a strong firing pattern in the brain and thus, allow them to be saved in the long-term memory.

Using Multimedia tools: Multimedia such as images and video, not only engage the learners but also helps them to actually remember what they have learned. Studies show that students, who use e-books and interactive learning tools, lead to improved knowledge retention.  Furthermore, students who use e-books that contained sound effects, music, audio, narration, and images were able to retain and recite more information than the ones who read traditional textbooks. Utilizing such interactive tools also led to group collaboration and interaction thus improving the overall educational experience.

Gamification: Games help exercise out mental muscles. Not only does it help in engaging learners in the e-learning process, it also serves as a remedy to boredom that so often leads to unsuccessful learning experiences. According to a research, students were more motivated to learn mathematics when presented in a gaming format. Even their attitude towards the subject changed which resulted in an improved overall success and alleviation of boredom that is often associated with repetition.

Learning is a definite, regular process that occurs inside the brain. There is nothing enigmatic about it.  Learning experience is unique to each learner, so it is important for instructional designers to know how to deliver new information so that everyone can understand and use it.