Memory is integral to learning. However, the human brain is a lot less reliable than we like to admit. Even when learners seem engaged, they won’t remember most of what is taught in a course or even a module!
Still, there are strategies you can put in place to increase the likelihood that they will remember the most important points. But first, you need to know the factors which boost the retention of information. Then, you need to apply them to the design of your eLearning course.
1) Memory Varies Based on Interests
We all remember things that interest us and forget those which don’t. Some subjects are naturally more interesting than others, but even drier subjects can be presented in a way that makes them more exciting for learners.
All though this may sound repetitive, what you need to do is put yourself in the shoes of learners. While you need to consider the business purpose of creating the course, you also need to think about WHO the course participants are and where their interests lie. Try as much as possible to align their interests and needs with what you want them to remember.
For instance, do they like going to the beach? Try using examples and imagery to align your course to their interest.
This does not only apply to the course content. You need to find out which method of course delivery students would prefer so you make it as easy as possible for them to access the materials. In an effort to effect behavioral change, make it clear what you want learners to do differently after the course. You will need to repeat this a few times, so it sticks. You also need to make sure you give them the tools they need to modify their behavior.
2) Learners Have Lots of Things Competing for Their Attention
Students need to give the subject matter their full attention if they want to absorb as much information as possible. However, attracting and retaining their attention can be difficult these days.
The Microsoft Attention Spans Research Report found that while digital advances have made it difficult for people to focus on one task for a long period, there are actually three types of attention. eLearning course creators need to be aware of the variations in attention so they can craft their modules accordingly.
Type #1: Sustained Attention
Sustained attention allows learners to remain focused despite distracting or competing stimuli. People today have access to more information than ever, but it can be hard to actually absorb it. Multiple social networks and multiple devices often lead to information overload. This doesn’t mean you will never be able to get through to learners. Our brains are now programmed to take in information in short, high-intensity bursts.
Your course content needs to be able to capture sustained attention long enough to deliver your key points. Make your content clear, personalized, timely, modular, and deliver actionable information as quickly as possible. Using compelling photos and videos can help you to create content that’s easy to process too.
Type #2: Selective Attention
Selective attention is the ability to filter out distractions and focus even when there are competing stimuli. To capture this type of attention, keep the information as simple as possible and let readers move through it quickly. You should also avoid unnecessary graphics or stimuli, so your learners stay focused on the core points. Find ways to regain your learners’ attention when they get distracted.
Type #3: Alternating Attention
Alternating attention refers to switching your focus between different activities. Because of all the things competing for learners’ attention, they tend to go through content rapidly in an effort to find what is relevant and interesting to them. Alternating attention is really only helpful in short bursts so you need to convey useful information in a short amount of time. For instance, if you know learners are salespeople that are always on the move, you have to consider they will always have distractions competing for their attention while learning. For this, use visual elements to direct your learners to the most important points. Use language that is concise yet compelling and consider using a storytelling approach to keep course participants coming back for more. Don’t forget to include calls to action so learners remember that they need to apply what they’re learning.
3) People Remember Better What They DO
Adults learn best from experience and the application of knowledge. That’s a fact. We learn best and retain more and for longer when we discover the knowledge ourselves and apply it, rather than when somebody just “tells” us and we do nothing with that content. So make sure that you create ample opportunities for learners to explore and put into practice the content.
Public speakers and frequent presenters know this well and eLearning professionals need to keep it in mind too.
Think about it. Part of learning how to drive is to apply what you’ve learned. Part of learning a new language is constant application after the information has been given to you.
Here're some tips you can implement in your eLearning courses:
- Have learners DO things. They should be APPLYING what they learn after (or even during) the training.
- Pose open-ended questions or illustrate problems. Trying to solve the problems will help learners exercise their critical reasoning abilities. Then share the answers with others in the group.
- Expectation. Stress that they will need to use a particular piece of information in the future. This suggestion is based on research from Penn State. They found that attention alone is not enough to guarantee recall. Instead, people retain more information when they expect that they will have to recall the information later. In a corporate environment, reminding workers that they will have to apply the course content to their jobs can be effective.
- Get a deep understanding of how to minimize the forgetting curve.
- Design a follow-up schedule. Create post-training activities that will let learners apply the learning or send across refresher information nuggets to reinforce the material. Throw in a poll, an infographic, or a reflective question into the mix to keep things interesting. Read more: Decode the Science of Forgetting: How to Create Memorable eLearning
4) Students Remember the Last Thing They Learned
Retroactive interference is a phenomenon where people are more likely to remember the latest information they gained. This is because the brain can only hold so much. We need to forget certain things so we can remember others. As an eLearning course creator, you need to bear this in mind. However, don’t assume it’s a negative thing!
The aim of the training is to get participants to change their behavior. This means you need them to help them unlearn their old behavior and replace it with what they are being trained to do differently. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Show your course participants how doing things the old way would be disadvantageous or even harmful. This is more likely to get them to take notice than telling them what to do.
It is worth noting that you will constantly have to reinforce the new information. If you don’t want learners to forget, give them short bursts of content every day instead of hammering home a point over a one-hour eLearning session. You need your information to be top of mind all the time. This is how you combat retroactive interference.
5) People Learn Better When Their Senses and Emotions Are Engaged
Memories are more vivid when multiple senses are involved, but visuals are most impactful when it comes to learning. People remember what they see more vividly than what they hear. While the words you use are important, animation, photos, and videos can give you the extra edge you need. Learners can take in a lot more information in a shorter space of time when they have visual cues.
People also remember things they associate with particular emotions. Chances are your most vivid memories involve events that made you feel happy, sad, or nostalgic. If you can find ways to link your content with emotions, learners are more likely to remember it.
6) The Right Sequence of Delivery Makes a Huge Difference
In the same way that essays have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, so should a course. What you present at the beginning and end of the training is usually what people remember best. Present an overview of the key points at the beginning, elaborate, and then restate the main points. Participants may not remember much of what comes in the middle, so this type of sequence is key.
Also, group ideas into meaningful categories for the most successful eLearning. Learners store information in their long-term memory in an organized fashion that mirrors their current perception of the world.
Easy ways to organize include alphabetizing a list, using mnemonic devices, and including no more than seven items in any one grouping.
It can be difficult to ensure the success of an eLearning course. You need to tie the training to organizational goals, deliver relevant, interesting content, and ensure learning has taken place. Since memory is a key part of learning, understanding just how memories are formed can go a long way. Use the memory factors outlined in this article the next time you design or revamp a course module.