Engaging Learning

What can we learn from the learning experts? Who are the learning experts? We think we found one . . .

We recently found ourselves watching a university lecture from Stanford University about Human Behavioral Biology (see the lecture below) delivered by the esteemed professor Robert Sapolsky.

He introduces the lecture with a scenario, literally in the first 10 seconds of the lecture. No talk of learning outcomes, no talk of what the lecture was about. All of this information would have been available to the students before they walked in the class. They knew why they were there and how long they were going to be there for. No taking up learning time with information that would, and should have been readily available to the students before they walked in.

He then seeks to get some ideas about the beliefs of the students, their existing experiences and how those experiences could influence how the students will continue to consume the information in the lecture.

After this, he then presents another scenario to the students, presented as a question, “what do these four things have in common?”. So the first six minutes of a sixty minute lecture is about interaction with the students, not delivering information. He is getting the students engaged immediately, getting them to think, to question and analyse.

All too often we design our learning as simply the dissemination of information, the broadcast of a message without feedback or contribution from the audience. We may sprinkle “interactivity” throughout the learning experience to keep the learner “engaged”. By “interactivity” we usually mean “click-to-reveal” such as “click each heading to reveal”. This isn’t interactivity. This is getting the learner to work for the information. There is no purpose or learning outcome apart from the revealing of information that could have quite easily been presented without the need for the learner to “work” for the information.

Tim Slade articulates this in his video about Instructional Design at the 60 second mark he talks about “clicking doesn’t always create meaningful interactivity”.
“There is a difference between interactivity that is passive vs interactivity that forces the learner to use critical thinking to make a decision.”

So in summary, meaningful and purposeful learning design should consider the following;

  • Give students information about learning outcomes, learning content and duration of learning before they dive into the learning. This can all be done in the learning platform and via communication sent to the audience beforehand.
  • Engage the learner immediately to use critical thinking to make a decision
  • Don’t, REPEAT, Don’t include passive interactivity to create so called engagement. These types of interactions have had their day and don’t provide any value to the learning. If anything, these interactions are frustrating as the learner has to click just to reveal information that could have easily been displayed without the learner needing to work for it
  • Continue to challenge the learner throughout the learning experience
  • If the learning experience simply becomes a dissemination exercise maybe it’s not meant to be a learning experience

Learning has evolved, our audience have evolved. Our learning design needs to evolve.

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