The Psychology of Learning: Applying Cognitive Principles to eLearning DesignThe Psychology of Learning: Applying Cognitive Principles to eLearning Design

The Psychology of Learning: Applying Cognitive Principles to eLearning Design

EdgePoint Learning

🍿 5 min. read

As learning development professionals, we're in the business of crafting experiences that stick. We want our learners to walk away with more than just knowledge; we want them to gain skills that they can apply in the real world. So how do we do that? By applying cognitive principles to eLearning design. Let's explore some of these principles and discover how they can transform the way we approach eLearning.

Principles of Multimedia Learning

Multimedia learning isn't just a buzzword; it's a pivotal element in modern eLearning design, thanks to the work of educational psychologist Richard E. Mayer. His Principles of Multimedia Learning offer a set of guidelines for the effective use of text, audio, and visuals to enhance education.

Mayer's principles revolve around the idea that people learn better when information is presented in both words and pictures rather than words alone. But it's not about throwing in some graphics willy-nilly; it's about integrating visuals and text in a way that promotes deeper understanding. While all 12 of Mayer’s principles are worth examining, we feel the following are key:

  • Coherence Principle: Keep it simple. Extraneous material can distract from the learning process, so include only information that supports the learning objectives.
  • Signaling Principle: Highlight important information. Use cues to draw attention to critical elements, helping learners focus on what matters.
  • Spatial Contiguity and Temporal Principles: Place related text and images close together, and introduce them at the same time. Proximity and synchronization both help learners make connections more easily.
  • Voice Principle: Narrate with human voice rather than machine in a friendly tone. As good as AI audio has become, we feel this still holds true. Avoid the uncanny valley effect of almost-there AI audio, and hire a human.

👉Dig a Little Deeper: Much of Richard E. Mayer’s research also revolved around understanding cognitive load.

By incorporating these principles, eLearning can become a dynamic experience. Imagine an interactive timeline where learners can select events to learn more, or a simulation where they can practice skills as they acquire them. These strategies not only keep learners engaged but also cater to different learning styles, making the material accessible to a wider audience.

The Role of Motivation in Learning

What drives learners to engage with content in the first place? Motivation! It's what compels learners to log in and complete modules, and what keeps them coming back for more. But beyond “I have to take this training or I might lose my job,” what ignites this motivation? Two theories give us some insight - Self-Determination Theory and Expectancy-Value Theory.

Self-Determination Theory posits that autonomy, competence, and relatedness are key to fostering intrinsic motivation. In eLearning, we can cater to these needs by providing choice in learning paths, offering challenges that match skill levels, and creating a community through forums or group projects.

Expectancy-Value Theory proposes that if learners expect to succeed and value the outcome, they are more likely to be motivated. Clear learning objectives, relevant content, and explicit connections to real-world applications can help learners see the value in the eLearning course.

But how does motivation translate into actual design? By creating scenarios that learners find relatable and embedding elements of gamification such as badges, points, and leaderboards, we can stir up the kind of excitement that keeps learners engaged. Moreover, presenting challenges that are just beyond a learner's current level of competence can foster a state of 'flow', where they become so absorbed in the material that they lose track of time.

Retrieval Practice and Spacing Effect

Having sparked the flame of motivation, how do we now ensure that the learning sticks? We’ve all crammed for a test, only to forget everything the next week. That's because when information is crammed, it often fails to make the journey from short-term to long-term memory. Retrieval practice and the spacing effect are two cognitive strategies that combat this issue, making learning stickier.

Retrieval practice involves recalling information without having it in front of you. It’s the mental equivalent of a gym workout for the brain. In eLearning, this can be as simple as regular quizzes or as complex as simulations where learners have to apply what they've learned.

Spacing effect refers to the phenomenon where learning is more effective when it’s spread out over time. Instead of one marathon session, we design courses that learners engage with periodically in bite-sized pieces.

Implementing these strategies could involve periodic 'refresher' modules or incorporating adaptive quizzes that revisit past material at set intervals. The key is to make sure that learners are retrieving information, not just recognizing it when they see it.

Feedback and Its Importance

Now, let’s explore the final piece of the puzzle: feedback. Feedback in eLearning is like a GPS system for learners; it tells them where they are, where they need to go, and how they can get there. But not all feedback is created equal.

Feedback can be either immediate or delayed. Immediate feedback is delivered right after an activity, giving learners a chance to correct mistakes while the material is fresh. Delayed feedback involves waiting a bit before providing feedback, which can enhance long-term learning by encouraging learners to recall the answer again.

Effective feedback should be specific, timely, and constructive. For example, instead of saying "Good job!" after a quiz, eLearning platforms can provide detailed insights into which questions were missed and why. And it’s not just about pointing out mistakes—it’s about guiding learners towards a better understanding.

Wrap Up

These principles can be a game-changer in eLearning design. Designing eLearning is no small feat. It requires a blend of creativity, pedagogy, and an understanding of cognitive principles. From managing cognitive load to using multimedia effectively, from sparking motivation to making learning stick through retrieval practice, and from providing feedback to steering learners in the right direction—each element plays a vital role in creating a robust eLearning experience.

For learning development professionals, these principles are not just academic; they're practical tools that can be woven into the fabric of eLearning courses to enhance the learning journey. By applying these insights, we can create eLearning that isn't just efficient, but also enjoyable and impactful.

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We hope you'll take these cognitive principles and weave them into your next eLearning project. Here’s to designing learning experiences that are not only informative but transformative!

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