The power of the learning narrative

It’s easy to write an online course, if your a content specialist then depositing your knowledge in the written and visual form can come easy, after all, explaining the content within a classroom requires a misunderstanding from learners, questions are asked and deeper, more detailed answers are provided. The flexibility of conversational back and forth between tutor and learner is vital, in fact it’s important to allow that discovery of information through discussion in order for connections to take place, and retention made.

However, this is not always possible with online learning, courses require way more structure, narrative or what I like to call the ‘flow’. Take a learning activity for example, the use of language is highly important. In a classroom you can describe a case study and hypothesize on details, however in an online course this causes confusion. For example, information is given to create context, set the scene before asking asking the question – at any point there is the use of ‘actionable’ phrases such as ‘identify’, ‘consider’ and ‘perform’ followed by a given answer then the learner is left wandering what they must do. A simple remedy is to offer those ‘actionable’ phrases with a description “this is an example” for example. I guess it’s making sure questions and examples are properly defined. Shine a light on ambiguity to define it, then destroy it!

So this leads me on to content structure. Quite often we’re in the classroom explaining the task ahead, then we give examples of what’s expected or context around the task. But in online learning I have found that this should be structured in reverse. Context and examples should be given first and then offer the task ahead, so this way, learners are coming into the task already informed – pre-loading the learner in this way, fires those all import neuro connections in memory formation, they’re able to recollect what they’ve read, watched, listened to and action on it – retrospective insight is a powerful tool. Structuring content in this way creates a familiar ‘to-do-list’ pattern, the ‘flow’ is clear, ‘inform + example × do something = retention’ not ‘do something + example + inform = refection’, refection needs to happen during practice not after. That’s just good use of Blooms right?

Of course it’s difficult to cater for the learner with a ‘scatter gun’ approach to absorbing content, but if the narrative is there then a defaulting to a step-by-step approach when he/ she loses their way is prevalent. Reducing the barrier to entry means we cater for all (most) learning styles and allows content to be king, it’s all in the flow!