12 Building Blocks to Use Learning Technologies Effectively – Building Block 12: Learn More Effectively

The world is in the grip of the corona virus. Schools have been closed 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 LAST one. 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.

Tim Surma and his co-authors summarise this building block as follows:

Instructors/facilitators can use the previous building blocks to make their teaching/training more effective, efficient, and enjoyable, but they also offer learners tools to organise and carry out their own learning processes in more effective, efficient, and enjoyable ways. Teach learners how to organise, monitor, evaluate, and adjust their own learning process (i.e., self-regulate) and which learning strategies to use when they study independently.

In this chapter the authors stress the importance of teaching learners how to self-regulate their learning as both self-regulation and applying effective learning/study strategies are vital to the learning process. As instructor/facilitator, you should know which metacognitive skills (planning, monitoring, evaluating, and regulating learning) and cognitive strategies and skills (e.g., spaced practice, self-testing, varying practice, and the other strategies and skills described in the building) learners should develop. These skills and strategies should be made explicit by you.

You can, for example, model how to implement ‘spaced retrieval practice’ and schedule spaced study sessions together with them so that they can practise this strategy independently. Then you stimulate them to reflect on ‘spaced retrieval practice’.

Learning technology

Learning technology can help learners develop metacognitive and cognitive skills. You can give advice via the online learning environment and make videos available in which you as instructor/facilitator model how to apply these skills. Obviously you can also have learners complete and then upload online assignments that enhance their self-regulation. [Note: You can also choose to space three small sessions instead of scheduling one long one.]

Learners can reflect on the study strategies that they have implemented via e-portfolios, blogs, or vlogs. You can also create online content with hints that offer learners information and tools about metacognitive and cognitive skills.

Online learning environments often allow you to monitor the learner’ progress and sometimes even to compare each individual learner to the group average. Unfortunately these monitoring tools aren’t always accessible for learners, but can be used in mentoring sessions with them. Learning analytics and artificial intelligence enable you to analyse learning patterns and to send notifications to learners that, for example, are struggling with the assignment. Remember, specific systems have specific conditions that you need to be cognisant of.

Finally, learners can also use online planning tools like My Study Life. The online learning environment of the Open University in the Netherlands, yOUlearn, includes a planning tool that allows learners to – within the deadlines of the term period – schedule their courses, depending on the time they have available. This tool also allows you, as instructor/facilitator to create an example schedule that can be turned into a learner’s personal schedule. The tool then sets deadlines for the assignments and calculates the study time per week.

Online diaries are also very useful when it comes to scheduling assignments, planning deadlines and using reminders.

Learning how to learn using learning technology

When you use learning technologies you should teach learners how to use them. Online learning requires learners to study more independently. Even though they can determine their own pace and study time, they still feel that learning online is more demanding and requires more motivation, discipline, and effort to stay focused. I [Wilfred Rubens] wrote a blog [in Dutch] on how to stay focused when learning online with the following pieces of advice:

  • Schedule your study time
  • Create a good place to study
  • Try not to procrastinate
  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Set goals that are realistic and award yourself while studying

In this blog [in Dutch] I [Wilfred] explain how you can support learners in online learning (using learning technology). I advise helping learners develop digital study skills, such as:

  • Developing information skills (like processing large chunks of information)
  • Making the distinction between reading on-screen and reading in print clear for learners
  • Making the distinction between writing by hand and typing clear for learners
  • Teaching learners how to deal with the risks of distraction
  • Teaching learners how to effectively use notifications

This blog [in Dutch] includes more information on these study skills.


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