Technological tails, pedagogical dogs: I’m repeating myself

I’ve read a few interesting papers recently on what makes effective elearning and if/when elearning is more effective than traditional classroom teaching and learning. The bottom line is similar to what I discussed in other posts: it is not the technology or medium of delivery in general that produces better results when it comes to learning, it is the learning methods.

It may be that online learning – from instructional design to authoring tools – facilitates utilising better learning methods. A lecture will produce similar results (typically quite poor understanding and retention) regardless of whether it is delivered in a lecture theatre or online.

Best learning methods

So what learning methods create the largest benefits? Metastudies repeatedly show that rather than relying on straight information presentation, effective learning requires the following:

Retrieval practice and spaced repetitions

Knowledge checks, asking questions, creating opportunities for decision making and other activites that require learners to remember and retrieve knowledge are very effective for long-term retention.

Structuring and guiding attention

Learning improves when we explicitly guide learners’ attention to the most important information (the learning objectives). When designing online content, we should always make clear what the main thing learners need to learn in this module/section/activity is.

Learning is also more effective when prior knowledge is explicitly activated and signposting (or ‘content organisers’) are provided.

Real-world contexts

Learners should be able to see the relevance of the content to real-world contexts. To help achieve this, content delivery should focus on actions and situations, rather than principles and concepts. Real-life examples also help to contextualise the content covered.

Realistic practice and decision making

To help retention and reinforce the importance of content covered, learners should have numerous opportunities for translating facts and information into actual actions and situations. Application of knowledge should be an integral part of any learning material.

Frequent feedback

Frequent feedback is necessary to clarify misunderstandings, create correct mental representations of concepts and facilitate retrieval practice.


Content should be provided in a variety of formats – othewise it gets monotonous and predictable.


Useful reading

CMALT: nailed it

Haha, look who’s been added to the CMALT Holders list! Such a relief!

The institution should now be Imperial College London, but a huge thank you is due to the amazing INSTIL team at UWL: this wouldn’t have been possible without you. And huge congratulations to former UWL colleagues who also achieved CMALT this summer – you now who you are!

Interactive teaching and active involvement in large groups

I recently ran a workshop on tools and activities for engaging students in class, and I particularly enjoyed the discussion on ways of working with large groups, i.e. moving from the traditional ‘transmissional’ mode of delivery to a more interactive student-oriented one where the main challenge is the size of the group.

Continue reading “Interactive teaching and active involvement in large groups”

Flipped Classroom: getting started

I started putting down my thoughts on the flipped classroom approach in an earlier post, inspired by a talk I attended. Talking about the concepts and its possible implementations with colleagues, it seems to me that for this method to be successful, there has to be a shift (or ‘flip’ for that matter) in the thinking about and designing teaching sessions from “this is the material I need to cover” to “this is what students need to be able to do”.  Continue reading “Flipped Classroom: getting started”

Conference report: UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

Last week I attended the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference in Birmingham. This year’s conference was focused on digital capabilities of staff in HE and FE. One of the most prominent themes was introducing change and change management. Several speakers referred to challenges surrounding introduction of new technologies, changes in relevant policies and modifying institutional cultures. Continue reading “Conference report: UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities”