Do you find it easier to learn something new, from scratch, or build on existing knowledge? Most of us would find it easier to build on knowledge that we already have. This is because remembering new things is easier if we can connect it to things we already know and remember. Let’s look at his in more detail….
Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain levers four variables during the learning process. These are; attention (A), generation (G), emotion (E), and spacing (S). This is known as the AGES Model. As eLearning designers, let’s look at how we use these variables to improve learners’ attention and engagement, to generate new connections and insights, arouse emotions and motivation, and to space learning out increasing the chance of long-term memory and learning. After reading this blog, you should also be able to identify eLearning design that is not conducive to learning, according to brain science. The areas of the brain that work together to make learning happen are; the hippocampus, the neurotransmitter dopamine and the amygdala.
The hippocampus is a part in the brain that is responsible for creating memories and scans show that this area becomes active when paying attention, focusing and during the learning process.
I’m sure you already know, based on your own experience, that attention is a key variable in the learning process. The hippocampus regulates our emotions. It’s a small organ located in the front and center of the brain and connects the both sides of the brain. Our sensory nerves (from all five senses), travel into the Hippocampus. Neuroscientists have discovered that our ability to remember and recall learned information is directly linked to the level of hippocampus activity, and as we mentioned before, activity in the hippocampus, results in attention and focus.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They transmit or relay signals. They tell your heart to beat, your eyes to close, your toes to move. They affect concentration, rewards, motivation and mood among other things, but most importantly to eLearning, is that they affect the ability to learn and remember. When dopamine is released, it signals the brain to move the information from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. As designers, we therefore need to ensure that dopamine is released during the learning process. We can do this by motivating the learner and providing rewards. But how do we motivate someone? Good question, this is a whole new blog topic, however I will quickly cover the Growth vs Fixed mindset theory of Carole Dweck. A growth mindset is one that believes that learning is possible and with effort and hard work, you can improve and obtain your goals. A fixed mindset is when a person knows they are useless at playing soccer so gives up on sport all together and says ‘I’m useless at sport’. Angela Duckworth is a psychologist that conducted a study on successful people to try and identify common traits or skills of successful people from different industries. What she discovered was that, the only common denominator was what she labelled ‘grit’. Grit is someone’s desire, drive, passion to obtain their goals. She also identified Carole Dweck’s Growth Mindset as being one of the few theories that promotes grit in people, as a means for success. So basically, people need to have the right mindset to begin learning. It might be advantageous to have participants complete a growth mindset course first or incorporate an introductory subject to stimulate a growth mindset, early on in the course.
The amygdala is two almond shaped parts, attached to the hippocampus. Each side holds a specific function in how we perceive and process emotion. The right and left portions of the amygdala have independent memory systems, but work together to store, encode, and interpret emotion.
The amygdala signals the hippocampus to pay attention and remembering. So, connecting with the learner emotionally, will arouse the amygdala which will help learning happen.
So how do we accommodate the AGES model?
We need to limit distractions and ensure the learning is taking place in a safe, conducive learning environment so that the learner pays ATTENTION.
We need to try and link the new knowledge to knowledge already retained by the learner, to increase meaningful connections and GENERATION. The more connections and meaningful associations we have to memories, the more likely we are to remember. If learners can put the information into a context that is familiar to them, they are more likely to remember it. A great example of this is when we were taught fractions at school. How many of you found it difficult to work out how much ¼ of something was? But as soon as the teacher drew a pizza, we all knew exactly how much we were going to get. The concept of fractions is easier to grasp in a familiar context. Ask how questions that require looking in and reflecting on one’s self. Reflection also stimulates generation. Asking the learner to reflect on the content, in a context that is familiar to them will, stimulate insight, formulate mind maps-connecting the dots in their mind, and help them remember.
As we all know, and as mentioned previously, the right level of EMOTION will help learners pay attention. To help attain the right level, it is also useful to consider using the first, second or third person perspectives when designing material. I have written about this in a previous blog. Triggering emotions, will trigger the hippocampus to pay attention and start learning. Even negative emotions such as anxiety can be harnessed in the learning process. An example of this is asking as learner to read their work out to the group. The learner may feel nervous and anxious about doing this, but it will also inspire the learner to try harder, so that they are not embarrassed. There is of course appropriate and inappropriate times for that approach.
SPACING is about spreading the learning out over time. It is much more effective than cramming all of the information into one session. This is because part of the memory process is recall. If a learner wishes to strengthen their memory, they need to practice recalling information. It’s a process of storage and retrieval. Providing several opportunities during the course for a learner to reflect and recall information will provide better outcomes.
If you incorporate the AGES model into your design, along with other elements like the learner perspective (first, second & third person), you should find your learners more motivated and engaged.