The Science of Learning (FutureLearn): Week 4 Reflection

In this post I reflect on my learning from Week 4 of the FutureLearn Course “The Science of Learning.”

I’m a little bit behind in my blog posting right now. I should really be at week 5, but I got really busy. I’m hoping to catch up and finish the course by the end of this week.

Week 4 looked at consolidation; long term retrieval and application of knowledge, practice and sleep. Sleep and learning is actually a separate topic that I’ll be covering in yet another blog post. I’ve been listening to the audiobook “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker which has been fascinating and conversely a real eye-opener (yes, bad pun, sorry!). Sleep helps to consolidate learning by processing what we learnt and experienced during the day. When you sleep, your brain processes the events of the day and reorganises the information. I pictured the process as a library, with a librarian sifting through all the returned books and filing them neatly on a shelf.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practising helps to strengthen pathways in the brain making information easier to recall. It also helps to encourage information to be stored in long term memory. Practising can take many forms, for example simply telling someone about what you have learnt helps to reinforce the knowledge. The course gave an example here of how a teacher questioning a student can help them to evaluate what a learner knows. In e-learning, this is where assessments and quizzes can help as they can be used to question and evaluate what learners have learnt.

There was an activity in the course which asked you to take a look at a lesson or topic (it said in your scheme of work, so it was a classroom-based activity) and highlight when new information and topics were introduced. Using a second highlighter in a different colour, you were asked to highlight areas in the next lesson where students were asked to recall and apply previously learnt information. Even though this was a classroom activity, this is something that instructional designers can do with their own content. The idea here is that this activity will literally highlight areas where you are connecting previously learnt information to new information – adversely it will also show you areas lacking these opportunities.

The next section described the process and benefits of conducting a daily review. Again this was another classroom-type activity but can be easily extended to e-learning. It wasn’t mentioned, but this section did make me think about the “Forgetting Curve.” Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized that information stored in the brain is lost over time if there is no effort in retrieving it. One way of preventing the forgetting curve is to incorporate spaced learning – which I simply describe as practice on a schedule. Anyone who has taught EFL will be familiar with this method as it’s very similar to drilling.

And that was pretty much it for week 4. I’ve had a quick look at week 5, it’s the last week of the course and I think it might be a slightly short/more classroom focused week.


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

If you want to learn more about Spaced Learning, a good starting point is the atd blog Spaced Learning: An Approach to Minimize the Forgetting Curve

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