The Science of Learning (FutureLearn): Week 2 Reflection

In this post I reflect on my learning from Week 2 of the FutureLearn Course “The Science of Learning.”

Week 2 introduced the topic of engagement. We touched on approach responses and avoidance responses; how reward and praise can boost learning, similarly how fear and anxiety can inhibit learning.

Novelty was also covered in week 2. The idea here is that creating an atmosphere of curiosity engages learners to want to find out more. Novelty works similarly to rewards, in that it stimulates the same part of the brain which helps to increase engagement and learning.

Creating an atmosphere of curiosity is something that I’m going to blog about at a later date. I often use curiosity as a design approach to e-learning when the learner starts a new topic or is learning about something a bit “dry.”

Collaborative learning, sharing attention and thinking together were covered, this wasn’t as interesting to me as it was more classroom focused. Talking in the classroom was one topic which touched on three different types of talk, disputational, cumulative and exploratory. This did make me chuckle a bit as my school reports as a kid would often say “Amy would do a lot better if she didn’t talk so much” which I feel is a harsh comment to put in a child’s school report (I was far from disruptive, just social, with a want to share my ideas!…just probably not at the right time…).

Avoiding anxiety

Avoiding anxiety was an interesting topic. Anxiety hinders learning as it affects the part of the brain that deals with working memory. This means that students are less likely to pay attention. We can also unconsciously communicate anxiety and fear to students, this is more relevant in the classroom, however it could affect online learning if the topic starts with “This is an extremely difficult topic to grasp.”

I experienced something similar recently. During the first week of my PhD I was asked to complete some reading which was described as being “very tricky” it came with a reassuring message “don’t worry, everyone will find this reading difficult.” The tutor asked us to find a part of the reading that was found difficult to grasp and share it on the forums. The reading was difficult, but it promoted the class to come together and share their thoughts and ideas. A feeling of comradery.

There are topics which are inherently more difficult to grasp than others; as each person’s brain is different, different people will learning these topics at different rates. I think it’s important to create prerequisites that ensure the learner is at the correct level before they start learning but to also note sections that may be trickier to grasp with encouragement, rather than dissuasion.

I think it’s a tricky balance and it definitely depends on the topic and the learners. I can see that giving students tricky tasks to tackle and getting them to work together is a good approach to encouraging constructivism, but at the same time, you don’t want to create an air of fear and anxiety that hinders learning.


If you want to learn more about this course, please visit the FutureLearn website. 

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