Sunday, July 28, 2013

Does Subject Matter Expertise Help Instructional Design?

Well, like most things, it is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Advantage, because if you have expertise in the content, you can focus on how to present it, rather than on understanding it. You will be more confident of creating innovative learning designs for the content. You will also be able to bring out nuances and insights that only come from content expertise.

Disadvantage, because if know a subject well, it will be difficult for you to imagine not knowing it. Since you yourself don't go through the process of understanding the content, you may not be able to visualize the learning process. It will hurt your ability to create an effective learning design.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Metaphors and Learning

Do metaphors aid understanding or hinder it? Well, metaphorically speaking, they can be a double-edged sword.

The point of a metaphor is to help us see things more clearly. For example, the phrase “time slips through our hands like sand” helps us connect something intangible and abstract, such as time, to a physical experience, such as sand trickling through our fingers.

Further, metaphors offer novel insights; they help generate creative thoughts.

On the flip side, metaphors can be traps if we end up taking them too literally; that is, if we read too much into the supposed likeness.

Sometimes they can also hide the parts of a phenomenon that don't fit into the ruling metaphor.

Thus metaphors can mislead us in two ways - by revealing what is not real or by hiding what is real.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Strive to Develop Automaticity in Learners

Automaticity can be defined as “the status of any knowledge or skill that has been used so many times that it can be activated from long-term memory and applied using minimal working memory resources.” (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller,   Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load, 2006).

Skills become automatic after repeated rehearsals of the activity. Multiple instances of performing a task helps learners develop automaticity with tasks and skills.

In other words, Drill and Practice actually works. In our world of “accelerated elearning” and “faster is better”, we often forget that it takes time, as many as two thousand times to actually “learn” to do something effectively and without thinking. So the next time you are wondering whether or not you should add a little extra practice time in your learning design…the answer is yes!

Kapp Notes (


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Name It to Tame It

If a language provides a label for a complex concept, that could make it easier to think about the concept, because the mind can handle it as a single package when juggling a set of ideas, rather than having to keep each of its components in the air separately. It can also give a concept an additional label in long-term memory, making it more easily retrivable than ineffable concepts or those with more roundabout verbal descriptions.

- Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought
Excellently put by the author what I have always believed.

Also, this underlines the advantage of academic training which provides you with so many terms/concepts that are useful for understanding, remembering and analyzing ideas.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Instructional Design is about Adapting Instruction to Brain’s Ways

The Learning Circuits Blog from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) asks “The Big Question” on a topic related to eLearning each month and invites replies from learning professionals.
The Big Question for July is:

Does the discussion of "how the brain learns" impact your elearning design?
My answer to that is an unequivocal yes. The eLearning design choices I make are definitely informed by my knowledge and experience of how the human brain learns. And I am sure this holds true for every eLearning designer.

Take the example of multimedia. eLearning is almost always designed with multimedia. This is obviously not done just for aesthetic or recreative reasons, but to support and improve learning. Research has shown that people learn better from words and pictures together than from either words or pictures alone. Multimedia enhances learning by stimulating multiple senses simultaneously. The Cue Summation Theory also states that learning increases as the number and types of cues increase.

Further, learning is enhanced when the instructional material provides or simulates real-life experience. This also is realized by making use of multimedia. Multimedia (such as 3D animations, video, graphics, etc.) removes the layers of abstraction and brings the instructional material closer to reality, thereby aiding the learning process.

Another learning theory that is relevant for eLearning design is the Cognitive Load Theory (John Sweller). The theory states that the capacity of our working memory to process information is limited. According to George Miller the working memory can hold only “seven plus or minus two chunks” of information. If the learner's working memory is bombarded with too much information, cognitive overload occurs, which hampers encoding of information and learning.
Once the learner is overloaded, frustration and demoralization inevitably set in. And people can’t learn when they’re frustrated and demoralized. One key to teaching, then, is to avoid overloading the learner’s working memory.

- Ruth C Clark and D. Taylor, The causes and cures of learner overload, Training, 1994
What implication does the Cognitive Load Theory have for eLearning design? We always design eLearning objects with small chunks of content in order to prevent cognitive overload. We also often use the “progressive disclosure” or “layered” design technique to present the content, so that the learner does not have to process a lot of information at a time.

Further, we know from experience that it is difficult to learn if one has to read text and listen to audio at the same time, as it causes cognitive overload. Therefore we design eLearning instruction keeping in mind such propensities of the human brain.

I can provide more examples, but I think the point is made. That instructional design is about adapting the instruction to brain’s ways. Ruth Clark is spot on in suggesting that Instructional Technology practitioners must incorporate an understanding of how cognitive and memory systems work during the learning process.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Conversation Matters

On the Linkedin Q&A channel, someone posed a question: How do you learn? My answer was as follows:
Nothing works better for me than conversations - face-to-face or online. They work wonders for both comprehension and retention.

Talking about the value of conversation in the learning process, learning expert Jay Cross said:
Conversation is easily the most important learning technology ever invented.

Conversation also breeds and crystallizes ideas. Charles Dudley Warner, an American novelist, wrote:
The chief effect of talk on any subject is to strengthen one's own opinions, and, in fact, one never knows exactly what he does believe until he is warmed into conviction by the heat of attack and defence.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Cutting Edge of eLearning

To have an overview of the current debate and innovation in the field of eLearning, I would make a distinction between the area of eLearning design and that of eLearning delivery and deployment, even though the two areas significantly influence each other.

In the area of design, eLearning designers are now increasingly using media such as video and 3D animations to create authentic, life-like learning experiences, called immersive learning. They are also becoming more conversant with designing learning games.

In the area of eLearning delivery and deployment, I think the following four technologies represent the state of the art:
  • Social learning (Informal learning; Learning 2.0)
  • Mobile learning
  • Embedded learning (learning embedded within applications, EPSS, job aids, process documentation, or reference)
  • Context-aware learning
It is to be noted that the above categories do overlap; for example, mobile learning or embedded learning can also be context-aware.