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Before we go any further, a big thank you to the many teachers who’ve put together content, often at a few days’ notice, to try keep learning going during these uncertain times. Over the past weeks, I’ve seen so much guilt expressed on Twitter and occasionally an attempt to do too much. This post is for you, teachers, to remind you that effective learning can be on the side of minimalism.
Tip 1: Keep it simple
Keep the design of your materials (worksheets, slide shows, videos) simple. Avoid including interesting but irrelevant content alongside intended content; it may make the slide look pretty, but it could also lead to lower learning outcomes for students. As you edit or create your slides, ask the question: Does this really need to be here? How does it add to student learning?
Research base: Interesting and irrelevant information is called seductive details. A recent summary of research suggests that including such seductive details deters from student learning. I’ve tweeted a summary of key findings. Reach out if you want to chat.
Tip 2: Keep it short.
Break down big ideas into smaller chunks. Try to keep your videos brief – one coherent idea per video. Yes, technically kids can pause, rewind and replay. More likely, they are going to zone out and keep going. Because you aren’t seeing them face-to-face in a classroom, you can’t gauge student reactions or ask impromptu questions.
Shorter videos also help learners revisit specific concepts when needed. (On that note, try asking students to build a concept map or create sketchnotes illustrating their understanding of the videos.)
Research support: Breaking down big ideas into smaller chunks is called the “segmenting principle” in the research world of multimedia learning. A recent summary of research suggests that breaking it down likely benefits learning even if it takes longer.
Tip 3: Keep it together.
Many of us have our attention split in so many directions now. Be mindful that it doesn’t seep into your online lessons. Ensure that all relevant content about a topic that a student needs to learn in one session is presented together in one file. Also, remember that while audio-video learning can help present dynamic information effectively in an engaging way, many students do not have access to high-speed internet and delays in audio-video syncing can be detrimental to learning.
Research support: Learners learn better when relevant information is placed close together in space (spatial contiguity) and time (temporal contiguity).
Tip 4: Build the base first.
Use the first minute or so of your instructional time giving students a high-level overview of what they have to learn, and if they are to learn something technical, introduce the new vocabulary they will need to follow through the lesson without interruption.
Research support: Pretraining, or familiarizing learners with what they need to know, to engage in depth helps them learn better. The learning process brings together what is known and what is being learned.
Tip 5: Leverage technology, with guidance.
There is so much to learn, so much to do. Technology can dazzle and do – as long as it doesn’t frazzle. Try using technology that your students are already used to or can quickly master. If it is their first time using the tool, do a screencast of how they are to use the tool. This can help lower the learning curve of using the tool so students can focus on the content they are to learn.
Research base: Learning takes effort. Sometimes, external components, such as the tool they use, irrelevant information, clumsy designs can make learning messy – and much harder than it needs to be. This idea is based in cognitive load theory and is popularly used to guide instructional design.
Kripa Sundar (NarayanKripa Sundararajan), Ph.D., is an independent consultant, researcher and parent working to spread the love of learning grounded in the science of learning. She is working toward launching a resource hub for parents to learn about learning called Learning Incognito. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming book How can I learn? for young kids to learn and explore how they learn, every day.