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6 Neuroscience tips for better online course design

Just do it! was a remarkably successful advertising slogan but it doesn’t quite apply to a situation where you want to create and market a new product online. There are a number of things you have to consider before designing and selling your online course. You need to do some market research to see what is in demand, find relevant data about your target audience and figure out what your differentiator is going to be.

Read more: Exploring your options in terms of pre-selling your online course

Yet if you want your course to be truly successful and leave participants with as much valuable information as possible while at the same time offering an overall good learning experience you need to focus on a few aspects of neuroscience.

6 Neuroscience tips for better online course design

Far too often online course creators focus solely on the content they want learners to know. The best learning experience, however, is not just based on knowledge acquisition, but also on achieving mastery and their ability to translate knowledge into action. Understanding how the brain works and how people learn can help you design a valuable course. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s about more than learning styles

    While the theory itself still stands and makes some valid points (individuals do tend to have preferences and as a result their neurons are firing in a certain way), recent findings go beyond this simple categorization.

    One of the most groundbreaking discoveries was neuroplasticity – the brain’s amazing ability to change over time. This reorganization happens through the formation of new connections between neurons.

    For online course creators this means that any material that seeks to be making a difference should aim at repeatedly stirring up the same synapses until these become usual neuronal pathways.

  2. Different cognitive functions are assigned to different areas of the brain

    Lower, simpler functions have proved to be connected to the hippocampus. This is the region of the brain that manages memory and emotion. Obviously, the greater the learning exercise, the more neurons and cerebral pathways we use.

    Therefore you should strive to incorporate active recall into your courses. Forcing the brain to actively retrieve and apply new information improves information retention and has the power to activate various areas of the brain.

    Higher functions, such as evaluating a concept or applying information we've learned trigger different specific regions; usually those that pertain to problem-solving and knowledge association.

  3. Positive reinforcement and rewards increase engagement and information retention

    The main reason online gaming is so popular is that it offers almost instant gratification and rewards. The tasks are not easy and a lot of times players can find themselves rather frustrated but they still come back to the game and feel good when they pass a level or finish a quest.

    Neuroscientists have found that dopamine levels in our brain rise whenever a reward is involved. This neurotransmitter generates a feeling of excitement and as a result, online learners are more engaged. It also motivates active participation as they are striving to win the final ‘grand prize”.

    It goes without saying that including gamification elements into your course design can have a positive impact on the way it is perceived by your users and their learning results.

    Read more: Why you should consider gamifying your online course

  4. There are some recommended conditions for optimal learning

    Our brain has the capacity to function under stress and help us through some rather difficult situations. However, learning requires more relaxed circumstances.

    There are two specific processes that need to happen in order for information assimilation to occur. First, the brain must be able to respond to the stimuli it is presented with. Second, it must be able to generate new neuronal pathways.

    This means that you have to create the ideal learning environment – adjust the levels of challenge, use non-distracting color schemes, sounds and background graphics. The learner should find it easy to focus on what is being taught.

  5. Repetitio mater studiorum est

    This saying from ancient Rome means that repetition is the mother of learning. Centuries later, neuroscientists confirm the truth of it.

    Human memory is not unlimited. The brain only remembers what it finds relevant and tends to forget information that has not been used for some time. That’s why spaced repetition is so important for things to really stick.

    Spaced repetition is one of the most effective ways to facilitate this process in online courses. You should focus on developing bite-size units and other e-learning content modules that are spaced over a period of time.

    It’s also best to vary the presentation methods as much as possible – presentations, simulations, videos, podcasts and even engaging branching scenarios.

    Read more: Using podcasts to promote your online business

  6. When people are having fun, they understand things better

    Educators who specialize in child education know that learning through play is one of the most powerful methods of acquiring knowledge and skills. Turns out, adults also learn better when they are enjoying themselves. The brain is wired to associate information with positive emotions.

    So, it is important to know your audience before starting to design your course. Learn what they like, what interests them and most importantly, what motivates them. This information will help you create content that will meet the audience’s emotional needs and build a positive learning environment.

    Self-guided experiences in which people can learn more about themselves are also very powerful when it comes to learning and changing behavior.

Final thoughts

These are some of the useful ‘tips’ neuroscientists offer. Taking them into account when designing an online course will render the content more relevant and engaging. These clues about our fascinating brain are valuable to anyone looking to design learning in today’s awesomely distracting online environment.

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