Preventing Mental Block For Our Learners

We all learn at different speeds. The human brain can only absorb so much information at one time. Once the mind shuts down, it’s difficult for a learner to re-ignite interest in a particular topic. This entices the user to resort to time saving tactics in order to breeze through the elearning course.

A mental block for a learner is an instructional designer’s nightmare. Whether there is too much information on the screen at one time or animations and transitions are causing a distraction, there are a variety of counter productive factors that may contribute to a degree of cognitive block for learners. This could impact negatively on a learner’s ability to absorb information.

So, here are 5 important factors to think about when attempting to avoid the doomed state of a cognitive block.


         1)  Text Overload

There have been numerous occasions in the past when I have received pre-written scripts and storyboards from clients with a desire from the client to combine several pieces of information on one slide of elearning. Whilst integral and cannot be totally avoided, text exists in elearning and it is our job as instructional designers to determine the most learner friendly solution to several paragraphs of written material.

There will be occasions when a piece of text cannot be amended. For example, a code of conduct or other formal company policies. In these circumstances, I often suggest to the client such detailed pieces of information should take the form of a downloadable resource. I simply take the content from the policy, import it into Illustrator and give the policy a catchy redesign (if required) and present it as a downloadable PDF within the elearning course.  This action alleviates the need for excessive information overload on the learner’s part by giving them the option to view the material via a download so they can view the material at their leisure.


         2)  Frequent Recaps

It is important for your elearning course to adhere to a structure that encourages learners to recap on information. Providing the user an opportunity to recap on information after each module allows the learner to process the information before moving on to a new subject. Whether this takes the form of a short quiz or a brief summary slide is up to you.  I often introduce frequent checkpoint questions at key moments during stages of the course. This encourages the learner to refresh their mind on a topic before moving onto the next subject.


         3)  Duration

The time frame in which you allow your learner to absorb information is another factor to consider.  There is currently a lot of debate concerning the appropriate length of time it should take for a learner to complete an elearning course.  At GLAD, we aim to design elearning courses that range anything from 15-25 minutes.   Anything longer, risks the chance of a learner becoming disinterested with the content and they are more likely going to try and get through the course as quickly as possible.


         4)  The Learner

It’s important that an elearning professional gets to know the type of individual the training will ultimately be delivered to.  Who are they?  What age group?  There is compelling evidence to suggest that younger learners learn at a faster rate.  They have the ability to retain a great deal more information than older learners and will therefore feel eager to learn something new. On the flip side, elder learners arguably have a harder time of transferring the information they absorb into their long term memory.  It is these types of variables that should be considered. How much information should be exposed in one go?

If your target audience is of an older demographic, perhaps they aren’t too familiar with technology or elearning for that matter. In this case, perhaps a step by step tutorial would be beneficial at the start of an elearning course to guide them through. Investigating and researching your audience enables you to customize the elearning experience and encourage maximum focus and knowledge retention.


         5) Distractions

I recently wrote a blog detailing the advantages of using the animations and transitions effects built in Storyline 2.  Although these features (if used in the right way) can prove to be useful, it is important not to use them in a way that hinder’s a learner’s chance to absorb important information.  Your animations and transitions should add subtlety to your project and not take centre stage. The content is the integral feature. Any added effects should serve as a method of highlighting key pieces of information.


Tags: Articulate Storyline 2, Checkpoint Questions, Duration, eLearning, Learners, Text

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