8 neuroscientific tips for making an e-learning

Renate de Jonge

While you’re reading this blog, countless sensory neurons light up at the same time. They all try to attract your attention. This is no different for the users of the online academy. 

Paying attention and focussing are the first steps in the learning process for users. It’s thus very important that they stay focussed. Some knowledge on how our brain and attention system works, helps in achieving this.

Limited capacity

Our brains are extremely good in processing information, but they do have a limited capacity. This entails that our brain isn’t able to process all received stimuli at the same time. A selection must thus be made. 

Brains focus the easiest on a stimulus that’s directly relevant and valuable. This means that your learning content in your learning hub must be as well. The more attention the brain pays to a certain stimulus, the more elaborate the information will be coded and remembered. Better attention thus equals better learning. 

From diverse researches four cases appear repeatedly: 

  1. Users don’t pay attention when information is boring or is presented in a boring manner. 
  2. The attention starts to dwell after 10 minutes if the brain isn’t stimulated.
  3. Users of your online academy can’t multitask. They can only focus on one thing at a time.
  4. The brain focuses more on people than on things. 

Keep your brain in mind

You’ll be able to create a better learning experience when you keep the functioning of the brain in mind while creating the learning content. We give 8 tips for your e-learning, based on neurosciences, to help you with this.

#1 Start with the most important information

The order in which the users learn the subjects have a direct influence on how they process, save and recall the information. The ability to concentrate and save information is lower in the middle of the online training. Attention and retention are the highest in the beginning and the end. People often scan the first and the last items of a text. 

It’s therefore useful for you online learning hub to sort your content out in such way that the most important and general subjects are dealt with first. Substructure these concepts with supporting details and related information. 

#2 Use contrasts

How do you get as much attention as possible for the learning content ‘in the middle’ of the online training? Use contrasts. We pay more attention to cases that are noticeably different. You can style elements in the middle of your text differently from the rest of your section. A red line in a black text stands out more and gets attention.

Contrasts are also convenient to organise your screen. It helps the users to focus on the content and to separate various kinds of content from each other. You can start with the colour and the letter size. Use for example by default a different colour or a bigger letter size for headings. If you want content to stand out, you can make it bold or italic, or give it a colour. By using sufficient white spaces you’ll easily create readable text blocks. 

#3 Something new every 15 minutes

In general, it’s assumed that the attention for an e-learning is the largest during the first 10 till 15 minutes. The concentration will decline after that. However, the concentration will increase when something new is presented. Our brain is set in such way that it pays attention to what’s new or different and it will ignore what’s predictable or boring. Elements of change, preferable interactive, are thus essential in an online learning hub. Examples are recognisable anecdotes or humorous videos

 #4 Multiple senses

Our brain remembers information the best when the imagination is the most active. This is achieved by activating multiple senses. Don’t let your users only read, but let them also listen or watch, preferably in combination. Learning methods that use two or multiple senses are more effective than the ones that use merely one. Discussing learning content with others also gives the remembering a boost. Look for adding interaction to your online learning hub, for example with a chat feature.

#5 Recognise and recall

There are two forms of memory: recognition and recalling. Imagine, you’re asked how many phone providers you can list? You’ll probably reach around five names. When you’re presented the logos of the providers, you’ll probably recognise ten.

Recalling is thus more difficult than recognising. It requires full mental activity of our memory, while recognition asks for a lower level of conscious effort. 

You develop an effective online learning hub by taking this into account. Ensure the recognition, because we’re not good at remembering things. Choose for an online academy provider with a clear, recognisable and consistent interface. In this way your users won’t use more attention than necessary for navigating through the learning hub and they can focus completely on the content.

#6 Chunking

Chuncking means you divide bigger amounts of learning content into smaller pieces, so they’re understood and remembered better. Our working memory has a limited capacity for processing information. Offer the information therefore ‘bite-sized’ in your learning hub. 

Various researches state that our short-term-memory has a capacity of approximately ‘7 ± 2’ information blocks. This means that we consciously capture ‘7-plus-or-minus-two’ separate pieces of information on a certain moment. This is of course no dogma, but it’s a good guideline. Just as it’s likely you’ll drop something when you want to carry too much at the same time, it’s likely you’ll forget something when you want to understand too many concepts at the same time.    

#7 Associations

Learning is a process based on associations. Cognitive researchers proved that it’s all about connecting recognition points. Users of your learning hub organise, capture and gain content. They relate old data to new data. Creating associations between concepts can expand our ability to remember details with 40%. That’s why prior knowledge is an important element in the learning process. 

You can help users in your online learning hub to get access to their prior knowledge and you can stimulate them to use this to draw new conclusions or discover patterns or combinations. When users can link new information to information they already saved, the content will be saved easier.

#8 Repeat in a good way

Learning divided, in a few sessions, works much better than cramping the learning content all at once. Within 24 hours after your learning sessions you’ll have forgotten about 80% of your learned content. Our brain needs sufficient time to take the new facts in and comprehend them completely, before the next ‘chunk’ of information can be processed.

You can keep this in mind in your online learning hub. Make use of repetition over time. Of course you make sure that the repetition is offered in an appealing manner. Vary in the type of learning activities, in which you make use of various media: text, audio, video, images and infographics. Intermediate tests and discussions are also good methods to repeat the learning content.

The End

Very well! You kept on reading until the end. We’ve asked quite a bit of your concentration ability by now and have launched much news to you. We invite you to read the blog again sometime, so you can apply the neuro tips successfully in your online learning hub. 😉