Leave Space for Learning

Looking through viewing scopeAs we’re about to launch another Facilitating Learning Online-Design workshop, I’ve been spending time preparing the course site and reflecting on online learning design.  I read an interesting article the other day that got me thinking again about the importance of leaving room for learners to “make meaning”. Leaving openings or “white space” presents the viewer/learner/user with an opportunity to interpret, understand, and expand what you share.

The article by Judith Dutill and Melissa Wehler, Pause, Play, Repeat: Using Pause Procedure in Online Microlectures was focused on how to introduce space for students to engage in the ideas presented in learning videos (you can explore more about microlecture videos at their site: The Online Lecture Toolkit)  While I didn’t find the flowchart very useful, I appreciated the emphasis on interrupting the often-unending stream of information that is presented in online teaching videos. The interactive activities they suggest could be helpful in many contexts – not just for keeping viewers awake and engaged.

The information in the article that made me pause and reflect was the examples they shared:

  • an open-ended reflective question for students to answer individually;
  • an argument to consider and defend (encouraging critical analysis); and
  • a low-risk quiz to check on short term retention of knowledge.

Drawn from excellent book by Major et al (2015) , the “pause” activities are both individual and interactive and they provide suggestions for integrating them in further activities in an online course (e.g., in discussion forums).  They made me think about what I’ve been reading about some of the neuroscience and research on how people learn.

I have also been reviewing my notes from a 2016 MOOC called Learning How to Learn, co-facilitated by Dr. Terence Sejnowski and Dr. Barbara Oakley. Some of the research they presented supports the need for “pausing” during learning – not just to reflect but also to, recall, practice, critically analyze and apply new ideas or concepts. Research on neural plasticity and the formation and erosion of synaptic connections in the brain indicate that synapses form and get stronger from repeated use. So, we know that practice helps us retain new knowledge. Practice takes time and space.

Scientists have also been publishing research about the way we use the spaces we have to practice or reflect on new or complex ideas. Studying by cramming information to “ace” an examine doesn’t lead to retention of learning; new understanding can be lost unless it is linked to existing knowledge that an individual has and recalled and applied in different situations over varying intervals. Students are now encouraged to practice “spaced practice” or “spaced repetition” (Kang, 2016) for better learning.

During the upcoming workshop, we’ll be watching how our spaces are used by a new group of learners. And hopefully finding ways to improve the frequency, spacing and value of the learning spaces we provide.

eRefs

Dutill, J. & M. Wehler (2017.10.23) Pause-Play-Repeat: Using Pause Procedure in Online Microlectures, Faculty Focus, Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/pause-play-repeat-using-pause-procedure-online-microlectures/

Kang, S.H.K. (2016) Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2016, Vol.3(1), 12-19, Retrieved from https://www.dartmouth.edu/~cogedlab/pubs/Kang(2016,PIBBS).pdf

Major, C., Harris, M. S., & Zakrajsek, T. (2015). Teaching for learning: 101 intentionally designed educational activities to put students on the path to success. Taylor and Francis, Inc.

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