The internet makes it easy for anyone to share information with a global audience. That’s (generally) fantastic!
But…that can also be problematic when it comes to online courses, because being exposed to information is not the same as actually learning it. And the whole point of creating an online course (or taking one) is to make actual learning happen.
We all know what it’s like to be exposed to information. Because it is now so easy for anyone to share information globally, we are all exposed to far more information on a daily basis than we can process and take in.
Sometimes it can feel like a giant game of “whack-a-mole”, just trying to stay on top of all the information that pops up in our inboxes, our social media feeds, and elsewhere in the online universe.
So with all that information constantly bombarding us, how do we know what real learning is? And how can we make it happen?
Real learning requires focused time and attention that allows us to concentrate on the information we’re exposed to, long enough to fully take it in and process it.
Really learning information means not only being exposed to it, but also processing it, labelling it in meaningful ways, and storing it in long term memory.
Long term memory is like our brain's vast storage warehouse. Information needs to be stored there properly so we can retrieve it later.
So: learning information (as opposed to just being exposed to it) means taking it in, processing it, and storing it in long term memory for later retrieval.
One of the best ways to learn new information is to associate it with something we already know.
The new material:
An important best practice for multimedia learning is NOT to bombard readers with large blocks of uninterrupted text.
Another important principle is to use relevant graphics that add context and make the material easier to remember.
This hilarious post from the The Onion makes the point that large blocks of uninterrupted text are really hard to process and take in.
The same goes for long talking-heads videos.
It may feel cathartic to get everything we know about a topic out of our heads and onto the screen in one big brain dump, but it’s not easy for someone else to take all that in.
A long talking-heads style brain dump is a great first draft… but it’s not a finished product that people can easily learn from.
If you want people to really learn from the information you’re sharing, rather than just be exposed to it (and possibly swat it away like a “whack-a-mole”), then here are a few things you can do:
Get people's attention up front.
You can use an eye-catching image or a short entertaining video to appeal to the senses on multiple levels.
Get people to "raise their hands" and put their full focus on what you are sharing with them.
Another way is by only exposing readers to small chunks of information at a time.
Help people process the information and relate it to what they already know.
Keep the whole person sitting on the other side of the screen, in mind.
Speaking of which, I’d love to know if and how this information is relevant to you -- and what your reaction is.