By Shelley A. Gable
The recency effect tells us that people are more likely to remember information from the end of a sequence. In other words, when taking an eLearning course, learners are most likely to remember how the course ended, although the stuff in the middle might blur together.
Cognitive theorists believe that as new information enters the working memory, earlier information is pushed out. Since the information entering at the end doesn't get pushed out as quickly, the brain has more time to process and remember that later information.
How can we apply this principle to improve eLearning effectiveness?
Ensure that the last moments of an eLearning course reinforce key content.
Often, courses end by restating the objectives and reminding people what they learned about (I know I’ve done this). When really, we should use that last slide or two of the course to reinforce the content itself.
What techniques can we use to reinforce key content at the end?
Here are a few ideas I’ve either tried myself or seen in others’ courses...
Visual representation. If the purpose of the lesson was to teach a process, present a simple diagram that summarizes the main steps. This allows learners to recall content at a glance. And if you have the tools to add some multimedia flare (to make it attention grabbing without distracting), that can be even more impactful. Simple, yet visually appealing, is the key.
Illustrative story. We’ve talked about using stories to convey tacit knowledge in eLearning. Similarly, a story that illustrates application of key concepts offers an effective and easy-to-remember way to summarize content. If it includes humor, even better. (click here for ways to tell stories in eLearning).
Elaboration of an earlier scenario or example. This is similar to the story idea above. If the lesson includes scenarios, pick a scenario to convert into a story to retell at the end, in a way that reminds learners how they applied the content. Similarly, if they worked through an elaborate, multipart scenario throughout the eLearning course, retelling the story can clarify how all the parts come together to result in a desired whole.
Debriefing discussion. Pose questions to prompt learners to summarize learnings from the lesson. Ask them to outline the steps in the process, list tips they would tell someone new who’s about to learn the same content, or what they plan to apply when they try the new task on the job. You can accomplish this in an instructor-led setting, a moderated setting such as a discussion board or via email, or by using open text fields in an eLearning lesson.
Development plan. Perhaps the last slide of the eLearning course takes learners to a worksheet that guides them through creating a development plan for applying new knowledge to the job. To maximize the success of this approach, ensure management engagement in helping learners solidify their plans and holding learners accountable for them.
This list is just a start. How have you ended eLearning courses to reinforce content in a memorable way?