Knowledge is in everything, and we are knowledge. From the moment we are born, we learn continuously. Seen through the eyes of a baby, the evolution we experience, the skills we learn, the abilities we develop would seem insurmountable.
And we never stop learning. But how do we learn? From a neurobiological point of view, learning triggers change in the brain. For this change to happen, the brain needs the right conditions to respond to external stimuli and create a representation of it.
This process works the same for everyone. Learning, on the other hand, is a different experience from person to person.
As course creators, we need to understand individual learners and what makes learning effective.
An efficient learning process must involve multiple brain regions, such as memory, the senses, cognition and volition, moderate levels of stress generated by unknown or unfamiliar situations, and healthy life habits.
While course creators cannot ensure learners have healthy habits that sustain learning, such as a balanced diet and enough sleep, there are some aspects that instructors can consider when creating courses to benefit the learning experience.
Read more: How to create a practical online course experience in 6 easy steps
The 7 learning pillars every knowledge entrepreneur should know
Learning is a complex process that integrates various ingredients to create a successful recipe. There are different opinions on what these ingredients are, but they don't differ greatly. Here are the most common pillars of learning:
Considering Bloom's taxonomy, cognitive functions involve only the hippocampus - the part of the brain that regulates memory and spatial awareness - like understanding and remembering concepts.
However, an efficient learning process has to activate multiple brain areas. With more complex cognitive functions, such as creating, evaluating, analyzing, and applying, a higher brain activity is stimulated, especially in the areas that control motivation, decision-making and association.
Active learning is the one that stimulates various parts of the brain simultaneously, increasing the memory capacity of the brain.
Through numerous neural networks, the messages are decoded and understood, and then stored for later access.
Memory is, thus, a three-part process focused on encoding-storage-retrieval. This process is successful if the emotional chord is stricken. When learners are interested in the subject they study, they pay attention, allowing for the concepts to settle in the brain in the long term memory.
The neural networks work properly if learners pay attention. However, the human brain can stay focused for about 20 minutes. Since our brain is not wired to be alert and attentive for long periods of time, it needs moments of rest to help it refocus. Also, the information learners try to store has to be meaningful to them; otherwise, it won't reach the long term memory.
Besides theoretical assimilation of concepts, learning includes the need for a hands-on approach. People learn better when provided with real-life tasks and settings to apply the notions they have studied. Practice-based learning helps people conceptualize and enact the contents of a course.
Learning in authentic contexts augments people’s preparation and facilitates their understanding of concepts. Moreover, practice that is relevant and applicable in real life is an adjunct to the whole learning experience.
Since the emergence of online learning, studies have shown the impact of learning communities on the overall acquisition of concepts. The emotional component activated in the learning process plays a crucial role in the level of retainment. Learners need the support of peers throughout their learning experiences, in addition to the instructor’s input.
You can create opportunities throughout a course for learners to interact and exchange perspectives on a given topic. This, in turn, helps students navigate through a course by mimicking real contexts of cooperation and collaboration. Working and learning with others generates a feeling of inclusion, of belonging to a group, a community.
Read more: 9 Tips on how to build a learning community using LMS tools
Online courses encourage learners to develop and apply the digital skills required to go through the stages of a course. These skills will be useful assets in any work field due to the current worldwide shift in mindset towards working online.
Read more: Online courses that are in high demand right now [Part 1]
Furthermore, these skills are essential in this day and age, along with creativity and critical thinking. As a course creator, you can help learners develop digital skills through the format of your course, but you can also integrate different tools and apps to enhance the skills spectrum and to foster a broader range of activities to practice them.
Learners are different, and so are their needs. When it comes to feedback, you should acknowledge its importance in the learning process. Through feedback, people fixate concepts in their long-term memory while correcting, adjusting, or augmenting some of them.
However, feedback does not work the same for everyone, as a one-size-fits-all type. You have to personalize the feedback you give to your learners to cater to their specific needs and to offer individualized solutions to the issues, setbacks, or scantiness of information they may experience.
Read more: How to give the best feedback to your online learners
“While we teach, we learn”, said Seneca, the Roman philosopher. Studies have shown that people retain up to 90% of what they teach, meaning that when we try to explain concepts to someone else, we learn and retain them better ourselves.
Through the communities created by instructors in their online courses, your learners get the chance to be a teacher for their peers, thus reinforcing their own knowledge and crystallizing their knowledge acquisition.
All in all
Learning is a powerful ability of the human brain. It never ceases to learn, and “learning never exhausts the mind” (Leonardo da Vinci). With the right ingredients, people can create their own successful learning recipe. However, as an instructor, you have to take the leading role and stage the learning experience in such a way to be able to build and develop a multitude of skills, to offer the grounds for active learning, to reinforce the importance of real-life practice, and to personalize your input.
Through online courses, you can leverage the community of learners to benefit its members by involving them in collaborative activities and fostering peer feedback. Moreover, sharing knowledge in the community facilitates retention and conceptualization, which are the desired outcomes of any online course.