What affects people’s learning? 8 psychology principles you should know

Published: 5th November 2020

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The human mind is a jumble of rational thoughts and irrational impulses, and it differs from person to person based on their backgrounds and experiences. Untangling the complexity of how people think and behave will let you design eLearning courses that facilitate positive mindsets and rein in negative behaviour for each type of individual.

Certain psychology principles can help you understand your learners’ thought processes and behaviours, which can be applied to your own courses:

1. Relevance Matters

Many children ask with frustration, why they have to take certain classes.The same line of questioning can be heard from adults that are asked to take eLearning courses during and outside of working hours. People want to know why they have to do all this studying on top of their demanding jobs.

It’s crucial that this basic question is answered as clearly and as early as possible. If your learners see no good reason for taking the courses you suggest, at best they’ll go in half-hearted, at worst they won’t bother at all.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Specify all the benefits of a course in its description. This includes what crucial pieces of information learners can absorb, what skills they can develop, and how it can potentially help them. Stating outright why learners should take a course is the simplest way to onboard them.

2. Uncertainty is Scary

People can be resistant to change. We develop routines to maintain a sense of stability and control in our lives. Adults especially find it hard to break their habits and rethink their beliefs. Change is something we’d rather avoid, even if it could lead to better things, as it brings uncertainty into the equation. In fact, uncertainty has been found to be more stressful than predictable negative consequences.

Employees that are suddenly told to take eLearning courses might think they have been performing poorly to warrant this new direction.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Frame your online training programme as a means to build on existing skill sets. Curb any uncertainty by making it clear how the chosen courses can be beneficial.

3. People Are Curious

There is a natural curiosity within humans that remains even as we age past the inquisitiveness of childhood. Present a novel concept that catches a person’s interest, and they’ll want to know more about it. People who display this trait are driven by intrinsic motivation. This is the case more so for some than others, and it’s a drive that ought to be nurtured when you identify it in a learner.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

If you want your learners to be intrinsically motivated, it’s important then to stimulate their curiosity to enhance their learning experience.

Start by surveying and interviewing your learners to discover what drives them. Use this information to create more free-form scenarios and interactive challenges for your courses that let learners experiment or present ideas in their own way.

4. Prior Learning is Impactful

What people have been taught and have internalised can either improve or impede their future training.

In cases where prior learning is useful, the similarities between new and old lessons make it easier to understand a concept or develop a skill. For example, learning a Romance language like Spanish can aid in learning Portuguese. This is what’s called a positive transfer.

When prior learning that shares similarities with new learning materials results in a more difficult time for learners, this is proactive interference at work. Old memories cemented in our brains can be easier to recall than newly formed memories. Think about how you are more likely to remember a phone number you’ve had for years instead of the one you just changed to.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Take note of what training you have already provided to your learners before pushing out a new set of modules to them. Clarity is key, as you need to communicate to learners when they can take advantage of what they’ve already learned and when they have to approach a topic with a fresh perspective to minimise interference.

5. Cognitive Overload is Real

As efficient as it might sound to pack as much information as possible into every eLearning course, there is a point where even the most studious learners will reach their limit. The cognitive load theory states that people have to deal with the complexity of a concept (intrinsic load) and the information that can either help them learn (germane load) or distract from the process (extraneous load). While intrinsic load can’t be avoided, minimising extraneous load is a must.

Trying to include every potentially related idea to one eLearning course only increases cognitive load.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Design your courses to be lean, focusing only on one topic at a time. If your eLearning course has to be dense with multimedia, apply cueing to reduce cognitive load (e.g. arrows, highlights, colour coding). Microlearning is also a viable strategy to implement, where you chunk a lengthy course into multiple bite-sized ones.

6. Practice Makes Perfect

We all know how repetition is integral to learning. Learners have to practice what they’ve been taught so that it becomes second nature. However, there is a more effective way to practice than just drilling a skill to exhaustion. Distributed practice spaces out practice sessions between reasonable periods of time, instead of within a lengthy and continuous period.

Long-term retention is better for distributed practice, as it works in conjunction with cognitive load theory wherein working memory is cleared in between sessions instead of pushed to the limit.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Don’t force your learners to take courses consecutively without breaks. Space out your assessments as well so as not to burn out learners from having to constantly review their courses and worry about passing or failing.

7. Structure Influences Learning

Course design is more than just having the right content. It has to be presented in a way that eases learners into the lesson. Content that is organised logically lets learners take in one idea at a time and build toward a more coherent understanding of the subject as a whole.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Segment your courses into clearly defined sections. See to it that the presentation of ideas flows naturally from one to another. Use bullet points to increase the readability of your text. You can also leave a summary at the end of a section that highlights the most significant parts.

8. Positive Reinforcement Works

There will be times when the intrinsic motivation that pushes learners runs low. Participation may start lacking and courses end up unfinished. Positive reinforcement can be just what your learners need to get inspired once again. It’s classic operant conditioning where good behaviour is rewarded so that it is repeated. In the case of eLearning, it’s completing courses.

Instant gratification can be leveraged to advance your training programme, as learners have more incentives to get on board.

eLearning Course Correction Tip

Gamification systemises positive reinforcement and it can be easily implemented with eLearning courses through a good learning management system. You can create a progression system where learners get points for finishing modules and awarded badges for scoring high on assessments. Milestones can be highlighted to showcase how much they have learned as well.

The results can be very promising, as this study on gamification in eLearning has borne out. Students that were taught with gamification tools scored higher on tests than their peers who had access to the same educational materials but did not go through a gamified system.

Apply Psychology Principles to Enhance eLearning

For how much we still need to learn about how the brain works, human behaviour can be predicted as the field of psychology shows. In the realm of eLearning, it comes down to managing the motivation and working with the limits of learners. If you can apply these core principles to your course design and creation, your learners will be more excited for the learning experience and ultimately take more from it.

Ensure these psychology principles are realised in your courses by using Wahoo Learning’s feature-rich and highly customisable LMS. We’ll support your eLearning programme development every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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The author - lloyd smith

The author - Lloyd Smith

Lloyd is the Managing Director of Wahoo Learning. He has a passion for the learning technology industry, particularly the latest innovations and technologies.

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