12 Building Blocks to Use Learning Technologies Effectively – Building Block 3: Use Examples

The world is in the grip of the corona virus. Schools are closing (Mirjam’s children have been home since Friday and will stay home for at least 2 weeks) and people are urged to work from home if possible. Education institutions and organisations alike are trying to figure out how to help their students or workers learn while at home. At this point, they’re forced to redesign their current offerings from face-to-face to digital at a distance. Although there are many pitfalls (redesign from in-person to virtual requires a careful design process), we thought it might be helpful to give some tips & tricks. Wilfred Rubens, a friend / colleague has recently written some useful blogs in Dutch and has kindly agreed to allow us to translate them to English. They’re all based on the book ‘Wijze lessen. Twaalf bouwstenen voor effectieve didactiek’ (‘Lessons for Learning: 12 Building Blocks for Effective Teaching’ which is at this very moment being translated into English), written by Tim Surma, Kristel Vanhoyweghen, Dominique Sluijsmans, Gino Kamp, Daniel Muijs and Paul A. Kirschner.

wijze lessenIn the book, Surma and his co-authors, discuss how to teach effectively using twelve evidence-informed instruction principles. Wilfred saw an opportunity to elaborate on the building blocks by teasing out the relationship between each building block and learning technologies. He published 12 blogs – one for each building block – in which he explained how learning technologies can be used to facilitate and strengthen the relevant building block (you can find the original blogs here).[1]

This is the third one. Stay tuned for more! We (Mirjam and Paul), together with ExCEL’s – the Expertise Centre for Effective Learning (of which Paul A. Kirschner is guest professor) Tim Surma, Kristel Vanhoyweghen (researchers at ExCEL and also authors of the book), and Tine Hoof (also a researcher of ExCEL), we’re working hard to translate the next 9 building blocks, and how learning technology can strengthen them, into English.

Surma and his co-authors state:

Examples are effective as soon as learners take their first steps towards acquiring new knowledge or skills. An example can take different forms in different situations. It can be a fully worked-out assignment, an instructor/facilitator who demonstrates new skills, or a specific example to explain an abstract concept. As instructor/facilitator you shouldn’t only clarify the completed steps, you should also explain the underlying principles [us: this is called a modelling example]. This is really key when it comes to examples. Also, don’t forget to encourage learners to explain and compare examples themselves.

You can facilitate this building block with learning technologies in the following ways:

  • First, learners work out a concept, for example an analysis of a particular question or problem. Then, they submit their worked-out solution to the digital learning environment. As soon as they’ve submitted, they get access to a worked example[2]. For example, I [Wilfred Rubens] once provided learners with a podcast where I interviewed a school director and a remedial teacher on inclusive education. During the interview, I [Wilfred Rubens] explore which factors have contributed to a successful implementation of inclusive education for this particular school. Learners then need to summarise the success factors. When they hand in their summaries, they receive a detailed worked-out analysis. In a follow-up assignment, learners use the worked-out analysis as input for the new assignment. The image below shows the ‘Submit Assignment’ (Uitwerking insturen’ button [in red]). Below the button, the automatic feedback that learners receive after they’ve submitted their assignment is displayed [it says that you can now access the worked example and that you need to keep your own version as well as the worked example for the next assignment).

The format of such an assignment can of course vary. It can be a written text [such as in the interview example], but it can also be an image, audio, or video file, and so forth. Lessons for Learning, for example, includes an accounting calculation example. The authors indicate that it’s important to not just explain the steps, but also how the steps actually help you to get to the solution. This could be done through a screencast. The ‘Lessons for Learning’ authors provide a screencast example in the Straight from the Classroom section.

  • Instructors/Facilitators demonstrate how an exercise is completed or how to perform an action [us: modelling]. This can easily be done using video. One advantage of using video in this context, is that you can zoom in on important details, for example when there are ‘tactile’ actions involved, such as inserting an IV-drip.

Another benefit of using video is that you can point out details (e.g., you can use a cursor or a ‘highlight’-tool). Learners can also watch a video at their own pace, and you can integrate questions to help learners check if they have understood the demonstration correctly. Augmented reality and virtual reality offer similar opportunities. Demonstrations can also be alternated with individual practice. Examples are assembling machines or having case-history / intake conversations.

  • Give specific examples, for example to clarify an abstract term or concept. This can be done using words and images. In ‘Lessons in Learning’, the authors use the concept of ‘erosion’ as an example. They illustrate the concept using images. Animations can also play an important role in this type of context [us: they can show how erosion happens]. When designing animations, you need to take into account how memory works and how people perceive and process events.

As indicated in the first contribution: every learning technology has its strengths and weaknesses. In these blogs, I [Wilfred Rubens] only describe the possibilities.

Previous: Using Examples

Next up: Combining Words and Images

[1] Note: These blogs don’t take criteria/requirements for selection of learning technologies into consideration (including costs). It’s always wise to first consider which learning technologies your organisation already has and which are also supported. The different tools or functionalities all have strengths and weaknesses. In general, you always need to explore the properties and make a conscious choice. In any case, always take the General Data Protection Regulation into account.

[2] See our (Mirjam and Paul) blog on worked examples here.


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