Applying learning breaks in elearning

Posted by Greten on 03 Aug 2019 under Theories, Tips

In order to learn, a person needs to study; the learner needs to do activities such as read books, watch videos, interact with the learning modules, listen to lecturers, and practice. Do you know what else they need to do? Nothing! There should be times when they do nothing at all.

The neurons in the hippocampus cannot keep firing continuously. The learning activity cannot hold the attention of learners if it goes on for a long time; the learners can become bored, including those with a genuine interest and enthusiasm to learn.

The lack of learning breaks also explains why cramming is not a good study habit if you are aiming for high grades.

There are three types of learning break that you can include in your instructional and elearning design: breaks in learning modality, learning activity, and learning process.

Breaks in learning modality

Learning modalities refer to the different ways a lesson is presented: different in terms of the context provided or the senses used to absorb the knowledge. For example, the first section of the lesson is made of a series of slides with animations and voiceover, and the next section could be a recorded video. If this is not feasible, then you can have a variety of learning modalities within the section.

A simple way to have different modalities within a section is to set the last slide of the section to have different modality than the rest. For example, if all of the other slides of the section has animations, text, and audio narration, the last slide could be interactive, such as a non-scored exercise slide that forces the learners to recall what they just learned or an interactive concept map that summarizes the section.

Breaks in the learning modality help prevent the learners from being bored, keep their attention to the learning activity, and reinforces the newly acquired knowledge or skill inside the brain by presenting it in different ways.

Breaks in the learning activity

The learner can retain the new knowledge acquired from your elearning if they can build connections between it and their prior knowledge and experiences. A break in the learning activity means the learners are not actively doing anything (reading, watching, practicing), but learning is still taking place within their brain. This break allows the learners to reflect on what they just learned and establish its connection to their unique personal experience and in their existing network of knowledge.

Even though the learning modules can be designed such that learners can play and pause them anytime, a regular pause can provide the needed break in learning activity. For example, you can put a Continue button at the end of the section, with a text saying, "Please click Continue if you are ready to start the next section." or something along those lines. Another useful idea is to put open-ended questions on this slide that will encourage the learners to reflect. An example of this question is, "Try to recall a situation in work where you are able to resolve a conflict between your two direct subordinates." Note that these questions have no right or wrong answer that they are meant to enter, the answer is only playing in their brain.

Research in neuroscience shows that humans cannot sustain extended learning activity for more than 20 minutes. Hence, ensure that your elearning provides a break in the learning activity every 20 minutes or less.

Breaks in the learning process

The breaks in the learning process refer to the time gap in which no learning is taking place. The learner is neither actively doing anything to acquire new knowledge nor reflecting on what they just learned. These are breaks in the learning process when the student can relax, take a nap, drink coffee, socialize, and do other things that have nothing to do with what they are learning.

The learners can naturally have breaks in the learning process when the elearning lesson ends. However, since most elearning programs are self-paced, some overly enthusiastic learners may try to learn as many lessons as they can within the day, which will make their learning as good as cramming. To avoid this, advise or require your learners to study a certain number of lessons at most in a day. The maximum number of lessons in a day depends on factors such as the design of your overall elearning curriculum, the topic, and the demographics of your learners.

If you are facilitating the lecture part of blended learning and it is taking a whole day, give your learners break times when they can eat, socialize, or go outside the classroom and take a walk within the campus.

A silhouette of a head, neck and nose, with white spots for eyes, three white cogs for brain, and a rewind key at the back of the head. This image is a representation of the need to take learning breaks.Breaks in learning are also important to learn quickly and efficiently. Learning without any breaks in an attempt to learn faster usually fails. The brain also needs rest, and a well-rested brain can focus better, fires neurons better, and learn better.


Last updated on 03 Aug 2019.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning