Monday, August 1, 2011

Tip #385: What is Magic About the Number Three in Designing Curriculum for Better and More Lasting Learning?

Education is the methodical creation of the habit of thinking.” Ernest Dimnet

If training is to effectively change learner behavior, then the curriculum must be designed with learning activities that encourage and require the learners both to feel strongly and to think deeply about their conclusions. These design models and principles come in sets of three:

a. Triune Brain Model

The evolutionary Triune Brain Model (developed by Dr. Paul MacLean) identifies three major layers of the brain:

1. The Reptilian System operates relatively automatically and is concerned with safety and survival. Pre-reason and pre- language, it is over 500 million years old. This is the first brain to engage in any situation, which is why it is so important for trainers to create a comfortable learning environment.

2. The Limbic System is over 200 million years old and also pre-reason and without language. It monitors emotion and plays a significant role in remembering new information and organizing events. The memory is lodged in the emotions. The more senses and sensations engaged, the more likely a memory will be created and retained.

3. The Neocortex is only 50 million years old, but it constitutes 80% of the total human brain. This is the seat of reason and language, capable of creativity and complex analysis. It provides the ability to put feelings and thoughts into words.

The fact that the memory is lodged in the emotions means that participant-centered learning activities that engage the learners’ senses will result in longer-lasting learning.

b. Multimodal Learning

Research conducted for Cisco by the Metri Group has identified three design principles:

1. Recognize and address learner’s prior knowledge, experience and preconceptions about the topic. Positive transfer means that this information will be useful as a base on which to build any new learning. Create learning activities that will draw these from long-term memory into working memory.

Negative transfer means that this information can easily get in the way of the new learning. A good learning designer makes sure to incorporate learning activities that enable the learners to identify and build on positive transfer- and disconnect negative transfer.

2. Make learning meaningful by relating it to the learners’ experience, goals, or interests and values. Create learning activities that help the learners’ discover why a topic is relevant and meaningful.

This will result in authentic learning that has three key components:

(1) depth of learning

(2) real life relevance

(3) learner application

Learning designers need to incorporate learning activities that engage the learners both emotionally and intellectually and then give them a chance to apply what they have learned. These activities will, therefore, draw on working memory, sensory memory, and long-term memory.

3. Teach learners how to think about what they are thinking (metacognition). Create problem-solving activities that require the learners to predict outcomes and learn from their failures. This learning strategy creates germane cognitive load in working memory when learners are encouraged to give their own explanations of work examples.

c. Productive Self-Explanations

Cognitive load researchers suggest three ways to promote productive self-explanations:

1. Train learners how to give constructive explanations of their thought processes and rationale;

2. Use faded worked examples (where they have to complete portions of the example) and have the learners explain their rationale; and

3. Use worked examples (where learners have to complete the entire example) and ask questions that will stimulate self-explanations.

This three-pronged approach gives learners the knowledge of how to explain their thinking and graduated practice giving explanations of the underlying rationale for their conclusions and decisions.

d. Influence Learner Behavior

The three concentric circles of the Golden Circle (developed by Simon Sinek) explain the phenomenon that training is more likely to influence learner behavior when it starts with Why:

1. The outermost circle is What. Here, rational decisions [made in the neocortex] are justified on the basis of facts and figures. Since facts alone can be skewed, decisions made at this level generate the least amount of confidence in terms of emotional commitment.

2. The middle circle is How. Here, gut decisions [made in the limbic system] are justified on the basis of a “gut feeling.” Decisions based on feelings generate somewhat more confidence in terms of emotional commitment than fact-based decisions.

3. The center circle is Why. Why decisions [also made in the limbic system] “feel right” and can be justified with facts and figures. Both factors generate great confidence in these types of decisions, resulting in the greatest amount of emotional commitment.

This is another reason why curriculum design should begin lessons with a learning activity that enables the learners to discover why the topic is important and, thereby, make it meaningful to them.

Engaging learners on both emotional and intellectual levels generates greater commitment to new learning, increasing the probability that the learners will remember and apply it once they leave the classroom.

May your learning be sweet.


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