Learning Drop Off
We’re in an age of content speed-dating and learning is the new consumable. But we know most of what we take in will drop away. It’s a simple question of cognitive load. We just can’t handle so much information blasting us like a fire hose. Cognitive theorists talk about how we need to move information from our short-term memory into long-term memory in order to make things stick. In this article, I’m going to explore how I use task-based learning to help make that shift for myself.
The short-term memory is great for recalling facts 45 minutes after an event. However, it’s in the long-term memory where we create schema. This schema is then drawn on to make sense of new information as it is added. Spaced repetition learning is based on this argument.
What Helps Me Learn?
I’ve been digging into what my processes are (and aren’t) for taking information into a deeper part of myself. As a result, I think what helps me learn is when for example, I have to seek, find, and apply new information to a problem I have. Essentially, I’m a task-based learner with a mystery to solve.
In my daily job(s), I create courses which require research and content knowledge. I create visual work to explore ideas which requires research into materials, supports, methods of presentation and communication as well as process and technique. There is also the need to solve problems with programming, databases, functions, processes, online learning technology and innovation, workflows and connections, oh and people! More reading, podcasting … etc. I need to learn a lot of things very, very quickly, in order to design and implement solutions.
Learning with Clear Objectives
All this learning makes its way into a flow where I am quickly implementing and creating from it. At some point along the way, mental play and unstructured thinking time plays its vital part. But for me, creative thought is best employed within a finite structure, or I’ll never come to a conclusion.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that creativity needs complete freedom. Sometimes total freedom leads people in circles. Great creative solutions and innovation come from being given limits, for example, materials or choices.
“Give me the freedom of a tight brief.”
– David Ogilvy, advertising designer, founder of Ogilvy & Mather
There are times when I drift. I may have no reason at all for wanting to read about Charlie Chaplin’s making of the 1921 silent film “The Kid”. It’s curiosity. It’s a perfectly sound reason. On the other hand, at other times, I need to remember WHY I’m trying to learn or investigate something. In my case, there is almost always a problem/need/issue/curiosity that needs resolving. Trying and filter the endless amounts of information and the possible tracks my mind could go on, is important to focus back on the problem. For this reason, a clearly defined problem is where we need to start and return to.
- Define the problem
- What are the requirements of a successful solution and how will I know that they have been met?
- Now design the solution.
As you may have noticed, we could be talking about a workshop, a lesson plan, a piece of automation, a course or a new invention or start-up. Because it’s all about problem solving. As teachers, we are in the business of creative problem solving alongside Steve Jobs and everyone else.
Task-Based Learning Design
The designing of the solution can be as “creative, innovative, unexpected, unpredictable, unprecedented, uncontrolled, bold, wild, out-of-the-box and out of hand and unstructured.” as you like (Eugene Ivanov 2015). To follow is a think aloud where I set myself a task and define a problem.
Case Study: The Image Conference Workshop: Drawing activities as paths for deeper perception
In Image Conference workshop in Athens (6,7th October 2018), I was asked to do something around the visual arts drawing on my practice as a visual artist. The brief was very wide. I went straight for materials and what we would be doing. It’s a workshop, so let’s do stuff!
But what is the issue/problem we’ll be working toward solving? In lesson planning we would be talking about outcomes and objectives. I have a myriad of ideas, too many. So, I’ve decided to prune heavily and to take one problem. Just one. Drawing is a method to communicate or to work things out. In this case, I am taking drawing as one way of working things out and communicating the process of it.
1. So, what is the problem?
We spend little time looking and focused because we skim the surface and take everything in with a cursory glance. This is a problem because we miss stuff!
2. What are the restrictions?
The requirements are that:
- we work with limited and simple materials that I can bring on a plane without having them confiscated for being sharp or over-sized
- materials need to be things anyone can find in a classroom
- we need to complete the workshop in 45 minutes
3. What are the tasks?
This is a workshop simply about simplicity itself, slowing down and going micro. I’ve researched to the brief I set myself and as a result, I’ll speak to my own drawing practice and show how I use drawing to observe. We’ll try different easy to set up drawing approaches that make us pay attention to what we are looking at and what our hand is doing and creating. That simple.
3. What will success look like? How will I know my criteria for success has been met?
So, the products of this activity will be possibly a quiet room with bursts of chatter and lots of drawing, as people ponder, wonder and mull over new information.
- I’ll show people how we use drawing for different situations. Also, that the process of the drawing is what is important for the drawer.
- We’ll draw with simple tools and discovered different techniques for drawing.
- We’ll will recognise that we’ve been looking at things very closely in a focused way because they will have noticed things/feelings/sensations and found them worth commenting on.
That is one problem I am looking to solve. I’m aware that anyone coming to the session will have their heads full of ideas and novelty spinning and bouncing around their heads. The later part of the session will be about taking one, just ONE of those thought threads, defining what the problem is and spending time doodling, pondering and wondering about a solution.
Emma Pratt began her ELT career in 1999. She is co-founder and director of Frameworks Education Group, the developer of the 2016 ELTons nominated TEFL Preparation Course from ELTcampus, an online platform she also co-founded and developed. She also is a teacher developer, online learning developer, writer and member of the Visual Arts Circles. She is a practicing artist with a degree in Fine Arts, a post-graduate in Museology. She has also worked in museum education and run a nationwide artists in schools project in New Zealand. She is currently a teaching artist in a project with children in a local primary school in Cambridge UK.