Not too long ago I “took” a super helpful – and free – MOOC* through the University of California – San Diego. I put air quotes around took because what taking a MOOC means when you’re not aiming for certification is basically to watch the videos, read the readings, and take the quizzes. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn anything.
The MOOC is called Learning How to Learn, so right up my alley. It was created a professor of engineering at a little school in Rochester, Michigan. (Who knew there was a Rochester in Michigan? Not me. Until now.) Anyhoo, Dr. Barbara Oakley’s research delves into neuroscience and learning – and social behavior. She’s joined by a Dr. Sejnowski, a computational neuroscience pioneer and overall Big Man in Academia. Great team.
Although the course is basically for college students trying to get through Trig and such, if you streaaatcccchhhhh it just a little bit, there were a lot of gems in there that are totally relevant to the kinds of e-courses we build for adult learners.
To save you the time going through the course on your own, I created this post based on what I learned.
And now for the 4 points that I think you’ll find most useful:
1 – Spacing
Spacing learning out has been shown to have a huge advantage over squeezing it together. I know that it does seem like setting up your course so people can binge-take it sounds efficient but really, in the end, it’s lousy for long-term recall.
So do drip out your content so people can consume parts of it at a time. And do what you can to encourage your students not to save your modules up for a future binge. How might you do that? One way is to offer a Facebook Live session or other venue for discussion of that week’s module. This way they know that if they don’t keep up, they’ll be missing out on a valuable part of the course.
2 – Reflection and Meaning-Making
Reflecting and making personal meaning of your content is important. You might try buddying up your students so that they have a small mastermind to go through the course together with. Set-up an expectation that these groups will get together on call to discuss that week’s module. (Such as “What were the key points for you?” and “How do you want to put what you learned into practice” and then in subsequent calls, “How did that go?”)
Here’s another idea. Every week, ask your students to post on Facebook (or wherever) about what they’re learning, what’s been useful, and what they’d like to apply. Yes, it’s true that you may need to cajole some folks to do this – but it’s worth it. The benefit is that not only do they get to reflect on the learning (“locking” it in, so to speak) but everyone who reads it also gets a value of the material. Remember, recall of material is how it gets into the long-term memory. Getting your students to that coveted terrain means that your course has made a difference. You’ve made it memorable.
3 – Recall of Material
Every time you need to recall material, you’re moving it into your long-term memory and boosting your learning. Try this – as your students move through the course, have each mastermind member design a quiz for the others to take. Just the act of going through the material and choosing the key points for the quiz can boost understanding.
Equally important is actually taking the quiz itself. I know they have a bad rap (who loved pop quizzes in high school? Yeah, that’s what I mean). But they really do make a difference in long-term retention. The key here is that the learner is helping themselves recall (bring back to mind) what they learned. A lot of learning happens when you’re forced to do this. So, yes, designing quizzes and taking them are actually a great way to help you learn. Who knew?!
Quiz Making Tip: Google Forms works great for creating quick quizzes with feedback.
The bonus for you is that you can collect these quizzes from your students and pick the best questions – then make a compilation so that at the end of a segment or at the end of the whole course your learners can test their understanding of the material. When they get the answer wrong, be sure that you link back to the relevant lesson. Again, super important to force yourself to recall information on an on-going basis in order to get it safely placed in your long-term memory stores.
4 – Practice Makes Perfect Learning
Another great tip I pulled from the MOOC is to provide some practice opportunities. If they’re learning HTML 5, have them code something and share it. If they’re learning how to make effective images, have them create some and share. Practice is another way to lock in the learning and make it mean something real to your learners.
Don’t worry about doing all this at once, of course. I recommend picking something to start with and adding on each piece over time.
If you’re really into this stuff, there are several other short pieces I have with techniques and approaches you can take to amp up the learning in your sources. Check them out here.
Are you kind of a teaching and learning geek? Are you a life-long learner type person? Read on!
Dr. Oakley has a new book called Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential.
And yes, she’s made it into a course!
If you want to put your learning on steroids (and help your students in the process), you’ll want to check it out.
Here’s the book description from Amazon to entice you:
Mindshift reveals how we can overcome stereotypes and preconceived ideas about what is possible for us to learn and become.
At a time when we are constantly being asked to retrain and reinvent ourselves to adapt to new technologies and changing industries, this book shows us how we can uncover and develop talents we didn’t realize we had—no matter what our age or background. We’re often told to “follow our passions.” But in Mindshift, Dr. Barbara Oakley shows us how we can broaden our passions. Drawing on the latest neuroscientific insights, Dr. Oakley shepherds us past simplistic ideas of “aptitude” and “ability,” which provide only a snapshot of who we are now—with little consideration about how we can change.
Even seemingly “bad” traits, such as a poor memory, come with hidden advantages—like increased creativity. Profiling people from around the world who have overcome learning limitations of all kinds, Dr. Oakley shows us how we can turn perceived weaknesses, such as impostor syndrome and advancing age, into strengths. People may feel like they’re at a disadvantage if they pursue a new field later in life; yet those who change careers can be fertile cross-pollinators: They bring valuable insights from one discipline to another. Dr. Oakley teaches us strategies for learning that are backed by neuroscience so that we can realize the joy and benefits of a learning lifestyle. Mindshift takes us deep inside the world of how people change and grow. Our biggest stumbling blocks can be our own preconceptions, but with the right mental insights, we can tap into hidden potential and create new opportunities.
So, take a look!
And, as always, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.
* What’s a MOOC? It’s a course designed by a university and offered free to the world. These are usually high quality courses by experts – and often academic rockstars in their field. If you’re curious, here’s a great aggregator of MOOCs called Class Central.