When you’re creating instructional content, it’s important to know how the brain learns. This will allow you to create more effective learning content and help your users retain the knowledge they’ve gained.
How does the brain learn?
As instructional designers, we all know how people learn, but do you know the science behind it? How can we use what we know about science to help us engage the brain and improve learning?
The brain is constantly restructuring in response to learning and the environment. This is known as plasticity. Plasticity involves creating and strengthening neural connections and weakening or removing others. Every time you learn, your brain uses plasticity to develop new neural pathways.
Repetition is key
How do we avoid losing the knowledge we want to retain? Well, the most simplistic way to put this is ‘use it’. If you don’t, you may lose neuronal pathways that haven’t been used.
So how do we avoid this? If you can, set your learners up with frequent knowledge refreshers. This could be a quiz about the information they learned, or a repetition of key information later on in the course.
How we remember
One of the most recognizable learning studies was one done by BF Skinner. In this study, he evaluated the interaction between rats and pigeons and food levers. Animals were placed in cages with levers that would release food pellets if the correct item was selected. With success, these selections gradually became more difficult. Based on this study, he concluded that complex tasks can be learned through practice and reward for behaviors.
Similarly to this study, people learn complex tasks quickly and more effectively with practice and rewards upon success. Adding practice items or badges and points to your learning materials may improve the knowledge retained by your learners.
The overload effect
Popular learning types may result in learning overload, or too much information being given for the brain to process. With a hefty amount of information, users may run into an effect called ‘cognitive overload’, which causes the brain to become overwhelmed.
To avoid this, chunk pieces of information into small sections (ideally, five minutes or less at a time) and avoid information that isn’t essential. Materials that are sectioned into separate, smaller learning sessions will allow the brain to fully process information and will avoid cognitive overload.
When you’re creating instructional content, it’s important to know how the brain learns. By keeping in mind how the brain remembers, you can create more effective learning content and help your users retain the knowledge that they’ve gained.