The Science of Learning (FutureLearn): Week 3 Reflection

In this post I reflect on my learning from Week 3 of the FutureLearn Course “The Science of Learning.”

Week 3 covered knowledge building; which requires effort concentration and conscious processing. I found that this week was very classroom-focused but I also learnt a really interesting fact. Children don’t develop parts of the pre-frontal cortex until they are late teenagers; this is the part of the brain responsible for recalling of prior knowledge. This means that children and teenagers can find it difficult to connect old knowledge with new knowledge.

The suggested solution to this is to encourage students to think about what they already know and try to help them make the connections. When developing e-learning it’s always important to try to link new topics with prior knowledge, this can be achieved with hotspots and knowledge points, as well as a formative or diagnostic assessment at the beginning of a topic. Recapping information at the beginning of the lesson can also help here.

The course touched on Millers The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, which is something I’ve blogged about on a number of occasions so won’t recap here (but here is a wikipedia link if you want to know more). Cognitive Load Theory was another topic, which again I’ve covered heavily in the past.

Different Senses and Modalities

Using multiple modalities was another topic. Again this is another topic that I’ve touched on before. Activities that use different senses stimulate different parts of the brain, so ensuring there is a good mix of modalities is really important for strengthening learning. In e-learning this could mean mixing up reading activities with audio activities. It’s just a shame that smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet! (or is it??).

It’s difficult to include physical (kinesthetic) activities in all e-learning, but not impossible. For example, perhaps the learner is watching a video on computer hardware and is following along at home building a computer. This may not always be practical, but it’s a way of trying to connect a physical task to e-learning. The same example could be achieved with recipes and cooking tutorials.

The course touched on the use of mixed-reality learning where the learner completes a simulation or virtual exercise. Unless virtual reality is being used, this doesn’t really get the body/hands involved in the task, so it may not entirely strengthen learning through different modalities, but it would be fun so learning would be encouraged through engagement here instead.

The important thing to remember here is not to overwhelm the learner – you want to provide multiple modalities, but not all at the same time! (I can hear the cognitive load alarm!).


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

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