Thursday, 3 January 2008

Less Learning More Often

Back in May 2006, I was fortunate to take part in a UK government mission to the USA to explore what lay "Beyond eLearning" (click the link for the final report). Travelling to both coasts (Boston and Silicon Valley) we met a great mix of academic (MIT Medialab, Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning) and corporate organisations (Cisco, Fidelity Investments, Microsoft, IBM to name a few). We also had the chance to mingle with Linden Labs (the guys behind Second Life) and other organisations active in areas of interest to the learning community - virtual worlds, serious games, social networking and mobile.

As part of the process we also participated in two workshop exchanges where we had to summarise our areas of particular interest. For my 2 minute introduction, I summarised my thoughts in the title of this post - Less Learning More Often.

This apparently self contradictory phrase actually goes to the heart of the problems we face in designing learning experiences either in education or in the work place. Too much "learning" occurs out of context and out of sync with our ability to put that learning into practice. We bunch learning into hours, half days, days, even weeks (or years if you include school and university) without much heed to the way our brains are actually wired to learn most efficiently. Indeed, we can't help but forget most of what we are presented with.

I proposed that learning content should be designed for consumption in much smaller, engaging elements using mixed media and accessed at intervals woven into normal daily activity. The principles of interval-based reinforcement and the spacing effect are still widely ignored even though the economic landscape has changed to allow us to deliver repetition and reinforcement anytime and anywhere it is needed/requested. Will Thalheimer, a valiant defender of research-based learning design, has a great paper on this very subject which should be required reading for all learning professionals going forward.

Since then, I've reflected on this further and written and presented on this myself, most recently at Online Educa in Berlin in 2007.

As we go into 2008 the sheer ubiquity of internet access and the renewed focus on usable interfaces (at last!) for our digital devices opens up intriguing new design avenues for learning and performance support. I'll be using this blog to develop my thinking further and hopefully connect with others with a similar interest.

I look forward to it!

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