Read more Clive Shepherd
There are three vowels in
'learning' and 'i' comes last
Digital learning content comes in many forms.
Sometimes the intention is simply to provide
information at the point of need, sometimes to
stimulate reflection and discussion,
sometimes to allow a learner to explore a
subject in depth. But for many of us our bread
and butter is instruction - doing the best we
can to make sure our target audience
understands and can apply a concept, a
principle, a process, a rule or a procedure.
When this is the case, we simply have to
apply what we know about teaching and
learning carefully and systematically. In
particular, I would argue, we need the right
balance between three critical elements:
• information, in the form of our principal
• elaboration, in the form of examples and
• activities that allow learning points to be
put into practice, explored and
I'm sure we would agree that the 'i', the 'e'
and the 'a' are all important, but do we
provide these in the right proportions? I would
contend that a typical ratio in a self-study
module would be i:60, e:20, a:20. I am going
to argue for something very different.
Above all, we need to avoid information
overload. As instructional designer, Julie
Dirksen warns: 'Most learning experiences are
structured around lots of new information.
Lots and lots of new information. The problem
with this is that it's exhausting for your
learners. Do you really want to ask a new
learner to bike straight uphill for the entire
I believe that we will achieve much more by
limiting the amount of new information we
provide in any given learning module. In the
long run, it is better to teach one idea
comprehensively than ten ideas superficially.
Teaching 'comprehensively' starts with the
examples we provide. Because learning is
essentially a process of recognising patterns
and making connections, it is not possible for
new learning to occur in isolation. Learners
are not empty vessels, waiting to be filled with
new knowledge - any new learning has to
connect to something that's already there. For
this reason, it is easy to see why explanations
that make the link between new learning and
prior knowledge as obvious as possible are
going to help the learner.