Friday, June 12, 2020

Learning is a process, not an event... events mainly give the illusion of learning...

"Part of the problem with all this talk about 'learning experience' is it's questionable whether learning is actually experienced at all."

This brilliant quote, by Leonard Houx, skewers the recent hubris around ‘learning experiences’. Everything is an ‘experience’ and what is needed is some awareness of good and bad learning experiences. Unfortunately, all too often what we see are single event, over-engineered, media heavy, video, animation and single courses that research shows, result, not in significant learning, but… 

1) Clickthrough (click on this cartoon head, click on this to see X; click on option on MCQ) that allows the learner to skate across the surface of the content, 
2) Cognitive overload (overuse of media) 
3) Diversionary activity (infantile gamification). 

What is missing is relevant effort and cognitive effort, that makes one think, rather than click. There is rarely open input, rarely any personalised learning and rarely enough practice.
The single classroom experience, lecture or online course is seen as sufficient, when it is just the start of a process that will almost certainly fail without further effort, whether it through reinforcement, application and practice.

Media rich is not mind rich
The purveyors of ‘experience’ tend to think that we need richer single experiences but research shows that media rich is not mind rich. Mayer shows, in study after study, that redundant material is not just redundant but dangerous in that it can hinder learning. Sweller and others warn us of the danger of cognitive overload. Bjork and others shows us that learners are delusional about what is best for them in learning strategies and just pandering to what users think they want is a mistake. Less is usually more in that we need to focus on what the learner needs to ‘know’ not just  'experience'.
What is needed is a series of experiences. Video is rarely enough on its own, as your working memory lasts for around 20 seconds and can hold ¾ things in mind at a time. This means, that like a shooting star, your memories burn up behind you as you watch. The solution is to keep these videos short, and make sure there’s opportunities for effortful learning through note taking, active learning experiences, application and practice. We do this with WildFire, which grabs the narration from the video and uses AI to automatically produce active, effortful learning after you have watched the video.

Research shows process works
There are those who think that Learning and Development does not have to pay attention to this research or learning research at all. It is still all too common to sit in a room where no one has read much learning theory at all, and whose sole criterion for judgement on what makes good online learning is the ‘user experience’, without actually defining it as anything other than ‘what the user likes’. Lawyers know the law, engineers know physics and it is not really acceptable to buy into the anti-intellectual idea that knowing how people learn is irrelevant to Learning and Development. It is, in fact, the bedrock of learning design.
And research shows that it is extremely rare to learn much in a single event, what used to be called sheep-dip experiences. Effortful learning, active learning, desirable difficulties, retrieval practice, feedback, spaced-practice. The research is strong in evidence for effortful learning. Make It Stick is a good start but there’s a century and more of research that backs this up. It all points towards learning being a process not a single event.

Habits are process
Increasingly, online learning is diverging from what most people actually do and experience online. Look at the web’s most popular, habitually used services or experiences – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Whatsapp, Messenger, Amazon, Netflix. It is all either mediated by AI to give you a personalised experience that doesn’t waste your time or dialogue. Their interfaces are pared down, simple, and they make sure there’s not an ounce of fat to distract from what the user actually needs. Occam was right with his razor – design with the minimal number of entities to reach your goal. More than this, these services make it easy for you to use and continue using. It becomes habitual. 
Duolingo uses AI and notifications to do the same – to turn the learning experience into a habit. It knows who you are what you’ve done, importantly what you’ve not done. Notifications push you forward, remind and cajole you. Learning experiences on their own are failures, habitual learning experiences leads to retention and success.

Blended learning
Blended learning is so often just Blended Teaching, some classroom/lectures, supplemented by online. In truth there is unlikely to be blended ‘learning’ unless the blend is seen as a process, where retrieval, application and practice are part of the blend. You can’t just hold a Blended Learning ‘event’. Blended Teaching is an event, Blended Learning is a process.


Sure, events can act as a catalyst, motivate people, get them started but it is process that changes people. An experience can be a learning experience but all experiences are not learning experiences. Many are, inadvertently, designed to be the very opposite – experiences designed to impress or dazzle but end up as eye-candy, edu-tainment or enter-train-ment. Get this - media rich is not mind rich, clicking is not thinking, less in learning is often more. Single events, like lectures, conference talks, classroom and single online courses give the illusion of learning. Learning is a process not an event.

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