E-learning: The importance of reflection

Like many in our industry I've read fairly widely around the science of learning. It's always seemed to me that most of the theory boils down to a few very simple principles.

(Charles Berger at UC Davis has a nice term for this: irrelevant variety. "It is probably the case that relatively few variables account for most of the action" he observes, somewhat tersely.)

Indeed, it strikes me that perhaps there's only one variable that really matters: motivation.

After all, if a learner doesn't feel motivated to develop him or herself in some way, your project is dead in the water.

This leads me to the importance of providing opportunities for reflection in any learning environment. When you invite learners to think about their own attitudes and baseline knowledge you're helping them see for themselves how a change (in other words....learning something!) will benefit them.

(In tactical terms, an LMS can tell you how seriously this reflection is being taken by the student, especially through the use of free text entry. This can give you a good read on the student's potential.)

At Learn Interactive, we try to integrate reflection into all our projects. This can take many forms, and I've provided a couple of examples are below.

Here, for example, trainee care-workers are asked to respond to a fictional "incident" in a residential care facility. The learner then compares their free-text response to a model answer, and is asked to judge how their own answer compares to the model. (A full demo of this project can be found here.)

Step 1: Learner enters text

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Step 2: Learner compares their own entry with model answer

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Step 3: Learner assesses the effectiveness of their answer against the model

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There's an assessment dimension to this too: the learner's ability to judge the quality of their own answer against the model is an important leading indicators for success in the role. 

Another example is some work we're doing currently with the folks at Easy Generator. We're finding this a very straightforward and user-friendly authoring platform, and we've made some customisations to integrate reflection.

Here for example is some training for market research professionals, where learners are asked for their impressions of a focus group video.

Early in course: Learners input their initial thoughts

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Later in course: Learners look back on their initial thoughts and are asked if they want to change them

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Of course this is also a very effective way to see if your training is working. Are people finding that their perspective is deepening and their responses improving as a result of the learning content?

If the answer is "yes" then you've got an important indication both that learners are motivated and that the learning is having an impact.

Bruno Kavanagh