Psychology And E-Learning, the Learning Guidelines
For training E-Learning, and the Learning to become an established practice in the company, its contents must be based on solid foundations. More than a hundred years of psychological research has provided insiders with theories capable of providing essential guidelines.
Three Learning Useful Theories
Technology makes an important contribution to the continuous improvement of eLearning. In a few years, solutions such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence have made it possible to create tailor-made content for training. All this power must be channeled to best achieve the training objectives of students and companies. As they say, power is nothing without control, and psychology offers us its help to manage this technology: learning is one of the research fields that the different schools of thought have addressed. Three of these provided important conclusions on the matter and on the solutions to be adopted to ensure satisfactory results.
If the surname Pavlov sounds familiar to you, then you have an idea of what Behaviorism is. Its underlying principles hold that:
- Behavior is learned by interacting with the environment
- The stimulus-response sequence is the key to interpreting behavior
- Behavior can be conditioned by a procedure that includes rewards or punishments
- Adequate repetition of this conditioning can permanently change behavior
In particular, it is possible to obtain:
- Positive reinforcement , rewarding positive behaviors
- A positive punishment , with negative stimuli for negative behavior
- A negative reinforcement , removing negative stimuli in the face of positive behavior
- A negative punishment , subtracting a positive stimulus in the face of negative behavior
Translated into corporate terms , the behavior desired by a collaborator can be encouraged with bonuses or permissions (positive reinforcement) or with greater decision-making autonomy (negative reinforcement); in the same way, to dissuade a behavior it is possible to adopt disciplinary measures according to the law (positive punishment) or by removing bonuses and commissions (negative punishment).
With Cognitivism we enter the black box: the focus shifts to how students build their knowledge through mental processes such as logic, reasoning and memory. We have gone from the empiricist approach of Behaviorism – experience perceived through the senses is the only source of knowledge – to a rationalist one , in which human reason can be the source of knowledge. The motivation to learn is of central importance. Learning is a student’s way of processing information through reasoning.
In the business environment, a cognitivist approach leads, for example, to considering incentives such as salary or career as stimuli for motivation.
With constructivism it is the individual who builds the tools to understand according to previous experiences. There is no single mental process common to all students: each, alone or in a group, interprets and solves a problem in their own way. In the business environment, this phenomenon can be observed when evaluating different strategic choices : if those who are confronted are informed and in good faith, the different positions can be caused by different approaches to problems that cannot be defined.
Tips for Instructional Designers & co.
Having illustrated the different approaches, it remains to understand what are their indications for eLearning courses to the following figures:
- The Course Writer (CW), the author of the course
- The Instructional Designer (ID), the architect of the course
- The Subject-Matter Expert (SME), the subject matter expert
In progressive order of specialization, the Course Writer is the author of the contents, on which he has a good preparation, without necessarily being a Subject-Matter Expert , the person with in-depth knowledge on all aspects of the subject matter. The Instructional Designer is the designer of the course, a sort of project manager whose task is to coordinate the execution of the work.
In order for these three figures to produce an effective course, their collaboration must:
- Combine research indications with the subjects taught
- Consider users’ learning styles
- Expose a method of evaluating the benefits of the course
First of all, it is important to evaluate the subject and the degree of depth you want to teach. For an introductory level , where a new subject is presented to the students, the goal is to simplify the information blocks and link them in a homogeneous path, in order to simplify general understanding and relevant details. In this case, a behavioral approach should be adopted :
- Repeated exercises
- Question and answer sessions
- Guided practice
- Scheduled review sessions
Successful performance in these activities will need to be boosted through positive reinforcement mechanisms such as praise and rewards. A limitation of this procedure is that not everything can be learned through repetition: success with well-defined tasks and notions is not sex for analytical skills or for tasks that require complex evaluations before acting.
At a more advanced level , the user is prompted to reflect on the arguments presented. Questions and exercises should be aimed at making people understand the logic of the proposed contents. The goal is to improve problem solving skills and increase the level of conscious understanding of the proposed tools. This level should be designed with reference to the dictates of cognitive theory, bearing in mind the importance of the motivation that drives the user to attend the course. Still at this level, an eLearning platform that operates with an LMS system makes it possible to propose a well-defined study path.
Finally, at an expert level , the course should bring the student back to doubt. The idea is to stimulate reflection on the limits and simplifications learned at the beginning of the courses. This transition towards a constructivist approach should take place when the user has already acquired the necessary skills to orient himself autonomously in the matter. At this stage it is important to enhance the social aspect of learning with other users. An expert user is someone who has finished the course designed for him and is able to choose the direction with good autonomy: it is the ideal level to benefit from an LXP system, in which an eLearning platform allows you to autonomously browse the contents offered. Here, too, transferred to the business environment, it is possible to understand how this level is suitable for developing problem solving skills and management of complex problems. It can also be useful at an operational level: an expert technician who was stimulated to think about the tools could find a more effective procedure for using them.
Courses should then be designed having in mind that each user has their own way of learning. The discourse does not refer only to the level of attention, but also to the way of understanding and pigeonholing the new notions in a familiar scheme and of recalling contents and procedures at the right moment.
Four different learning styles are illustrated in Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s model :
For students with an active style it is important to be involved in new experiences, they tend to favor immediate activity and usually do not prepare before the lessons or review the contents after attending them. These users are at their best when they face new problems and work in teams or in role-playing games: they are the subjects who learn to swim after diving into the high seas. Conversely, if isolated or subjected to long theoretical lessons, they struggle to absorb large amounts of data and information or to follow precise instructions to the letter. Their key word is “learning by doing”. A course designed for them should include group work , simulations and concrete examples to introduce theoretical content.
Who has a thoughtful styletends to consider a situation from different points of view and to gather comprehensive information on concepts and to review and think carefully before coming to a conclusion. These individuals perform best when they can observe others at work and can produce analyzes and reports without the pressure of a deadline. Conversely, they are not comfortable if they have to take a lead role, especially if in a simulation in front of a group of people, or if they have to perform a task without having prepared in time. A thoughtful person might observe how the whole pool swims before putting on his cap: when they manage to emulate these models, then they can also compete. Their key word is “learning by watching”.deepening .
For theoristsit is important to integrate observations into coherent theories, to formalize solutions to problems in well-defined step-by-step procedures because for them the purpose for which a problem is addressed is important. They are the guys who need to know Archimedes’ thrust and the principles of hydrodynamics before going swimming, but who then make ships float. For these people, a problem is never too complex if it is well defined and can be reduced to its simple components. They perform best when they can test their premises and their own conclusions. Conversely, they do not perform well in contexts where the human component is an important variable or where sufficient information is not provided to frame the problem or where they ignore fundamental principles or concepts. Their key word is “learning via models”.well-defined problems , even if complex, and whose results can be measured against the objectives to be maximized.
Finally, a pragmatist is someone who is focused on field testing procedures and concepts. The more concretely applicable to their work, the better. Long-winded and theoretical discussions are not for them. If they have to swim, they choose freestyle, which is the fastest and most reliable; maybe after excluding all the others. They learn best when the link between a course and their work is clear to them, when they can field test the concepts they have learned and realize the benefits. Any lesson that does not bring clear and immediate benefit is seen as a waste of time. Their key word is “learning by experimenting”. A course aimed at them should include a lot of practice in the field , perhaps with the supervision of an expert with a similar professional profile.
In reality, a student may not be aware of their learning style. And the designers of the course may not know in detail which of them it will be proposed to. The eLearning technology allows to solve this problem thanks to adaptive learning : by evaluating the user’s responses to an initial test and measuring his behavior during the course, the software can evaluate the specific learning needs and modify its interaction with the student. In this way we can get close to providing a tailor-made experience for every training need.
An organization that learns
To make eLearning training a business practice, it is not enough to understand what users need. Designing contents and methods of administration suitable for each type of use is certainly the central point, but for a company to make this practice its own, the advantage must be shared at every level. It is therefore necessary that the company transforms itself into a Learning Organization (LO), an organization that perceives itself as a set of subjects who continue to learn and adapt collective behavior – not just that of individuals – to the needs of environment.