Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning is Wrong

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Admit it, didn’t the title of this post catch your eye? Coming back from vacation and digging into my feeds I found this interesting article from Wired – Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning is Wrong. While the title makes a sweeping statement, I found that’s not what the article is really about. Perhaps the reporter needed to relearn a thing or two and forget a few too. As an instructional designer, there is a lot of common sense in this article that I directly apply to creating learning solutions. However, there are two really interesting points that caught my attention and linked back to some ideas I had written about before (you can read those here and here).

think about how you attack a pile of study material. “People tend to try to learn in blocks,” Bjork said. “Mastering one thing before moving on to the next.” Instead of doing that Bjork recommends interleaving… “This creates a sense of difficulty,” Bjork said. “And people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”

The gamification of learning is seen as inevitable, and one part of its persuasive nature is the challenge that games offer players. Here, we see Dr. Bjork directly point to the need for mixing activities and creating a level of difficulty. Most elearning courses sorely lack this varied mix of activities and challenge. We must consider how we can add those to courseware that must cater to a wide demographic. As a designer, it’s always a challenge to design an activity that challenges learners, does not overwhelm them, but must ensure it isn’t too easy to accomplish either.

…while we count forgetting as the sworn enemy of learning, in some ways that’s wrong, too. The two live in a kind of symbiosis in which forgetting actually aids recall…

While I’ve always known that forgetting plays an important role in learning. It’d be very difficult for humans to manage if they retained everything they ever learned. Yet, we consciously do very little forgetting. We often create learning solutions that are required to learn procedures. I wonder if in addition to helping people learn, we need to include some elements that assist individuals in forgetting obsolete procedures.

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