by Claire Boucher

Remember when visual/audio/kinesthetic learning was all the rage? The idea was that you either learned through seeing, listening or doing. Flash back to your high school days and I am sure you all had that one high school teacher that had everyone fill out a  questionnaire to see what kind of learner we were.

It didn’t take long for educators to quickly catch up on the fact that this three way divide never really existed. In truth, we all respond to all kinds of teaching when each is delivered in moderation. There is no one way to teach or learn, and educating is a beautifully complex task that combines many interrelated concepts.

To make it a little easier to navigate, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite tips, techniques and principles that our expert learning designers love to use when they’re designing learning experiences.

#1 - The AGES Model*

AGES stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing. It is the “four active ingredients for long-term learning”, bringing a neurological basis to the structure of learning experiences.

Attention refers to the need for balance between times of focus and times of refresh. When we are focused, the brain actively forms new connections between the neurons in our brain, which are the building blocks for memories and learning.

Generation is about how we engage with learning material. The brain stores memories in a vast web, with each memory connected to many around it. The more actively and creatively we interact with new ideas, the stronger those memories will be as they become a part of the web.

Emotion is both tricky and important to elicit from your learners. Evoking emotional responses will increase their attention to information, while simultaneously activating core parts of our brain that are responsible for choosing which memories are important and worth encoding.

Spacing builds upon the principle of Attention by focusing on time of refresh. Refresh- often in the form of reflection- is when the brain strengthens these new neural connections, turning experience into memory. Without memory, there is no learning, making spaced times of refresh just as critical as times of concentrated focus.

Want to know more? Read our blog on the AGES model.

#2 - Constructivism

Constructivism is a way of understanding how humans learn that has proved incredibly enduring. Developed and pioneered by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, constructivism posits that learning is a transformative process of actively building knowledge and understanding, instead of passively receiving information. When we encounter new ideas, we instinctively attempt to connect them to our prior experiences in two processes Piaget called Assimilation and Accommodation. If the new knowledge fits our experience of the world, we are likely to assimilate it into our web of understanding- if it doesn’t fit, we’re more likely to reject the new idea and stick with what we think we know.

Constructivism has a number of similarities to the AGES model. Both concepts conceive our brains as a web in which all our ideas and memories are connected in an infinitely complex web. Both teach that we need to purposely activate this web, whether through triggering focus or by evoking prior knowledge and experiences.

Captivated by constructivism? Learn more here.

#3 - Storytelling

Thousands of years before readings and writing became assumed skills, many cultures around the world had sophisticated oral storytelling traditions- and many still do. Stories have been used to pass on knowledge for millenia, and there’s a reason why. A recent study conducted by Northeastern University in Boston found that participants presented with detailed, suspenseful and relatable scenarios produced far more brainwave activity than those with limited characters, perspectives and decisions. Good stories and scenarios capture our attention, connect us to content and cement our learning.

HowToo recently developed a new, ready-to-go module on Equity and Diversity. The entire module consisted of a series of scenarios, with the learner asked to make a decision in each scenario. Instead of forcing the learner to read large slabs of policy text, the module uses the scenarios to guide the learner towards a new way of thinking. Incorrect decisions are treated as just as important and teachable as correct decisions.

Picture this: you reading our blog on storytelling and learning how to craft killer scenarios.

# - Microlearning

Microlearning as a concept has been around for a few years now, and refuses to disappear. In short, it describes any bite-sized piece of learning that has a single learning outcome. It often only takes 10 minutes or less to complete. Microlearning approaches can lead to higher and more consistent retention rates. Structuring learning programs around smaller modules enables the program to be more flexible, as short elements can be updated with new content much quicker.

More recently, microlearning has provided a basis for the approach of “learning in the flow of work.” This champions programs made of smaller modules that employees can access on a needs-basis. Instead of forcing them through lengthy learning programs with poor retention rates, team members are encouraged to access the modules they need when they need them. In this way, learning enters the flow of work, instead of interrupting it.

Tell me more, tell me more (about microlearning)!

#5 - Gamification

Gamification is another popular concept that has been around for a number of years. It involves incorporating elements of challenge and reward that motivate learners by making the learning feel like a game. It’s easy to see why it’s popular: 80% of workers in one study reported that gamified learning is more engaging, and companies reported a 50% increase in productivity thanks to game-based learning.

Popular game elements include: 

  • tracking progress with progress bars or pathways that unlock new content, 
  • awarding points or badges for achievements, 
  • maintaining competitive leaderboards 
  • creating ways for learners to “level-up” or earn bonuses. 

The best content authoring tools will allow you to add interactive elements that present varied challenges for the learner.

Gamification comes with an important caveat though: use it wisely. It’s easy to get caught up on exciting game elements and accidentally neglect the content itself. No amount of flashy rewards will motivate a learner to sit through poorly constructed learning.

Did you know that gaming isn’t just for fun?

Next Steps: Don’t just pick one!

In case you haven’t already realised, none of these principles are meant to act alone. In fact, you could easily apply all five to one learning module! The different ideas and techniques overlap and illuminate different areas of learning, motivation and engagement that are all important in creating a learning experience. There are times when you might lean more heavily on one than another, and that’s great too. Our list isn’t exhaustive either- no doubt we’ll be sharing more of our favourites soon.

*Davis, J., Balda, M., Rock, D., McGinniss, P., Davachi, L. (2014). The Science of Marking Learning Stick: An Update to the AGES Model (Vol. 5). https://neuroleadership.com/portfolio-items/the-science-of-making-learning-stick-an-update-to-the-ages-model/