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Just like riding a bicycle.

As spring emerges in Michigan, I’m looking forward to many things that the season brings; one of those is dusting off my bicycle after the long winter. It’s a Trek mountain bike painted in my favorite color, green. I love to explore the neighborhood or escape on short trips and enjoy the wind in my hair.

I can remember the spring I learned to ride my first ten speed, a blue Schwinn. It had been a present under the Christmas tree and the following spring my dad and I made trips to the school parking lot across from our home until I got the hang of it. It didn’t take many bumps or bruises before I was cruising along on that thing like I’d been doing it for years.

Fortunately, I don’t have to relearn how to ride my bicycle each spring. Sure, I might not be as fast or as brave as I once was, but I’m confident that each time I hop on to ride again, I can remember just how to do it. Why is this true? It’s true because of how our brains are wired. When I learned to ride a bike for the first time, my brain created a memory for that specific skill and tucked it away for when I’d need to use it next.

That type of memory is what we hope to create when we use learning checks within our modules. By creating a point to stop and review after each major topic, we remind the learner of what they’re learning, why it’s important and how they’ll use the newly learned information.

This type of learning is an active process. ‘Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting and listening or memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.’ (Chickering, A. & Gamson, Z.F., 1987)

How do we design learning checks or interactions that cause our brains to create a memory? Think about the following while creating them:

1. Insert learning checks or interactions in the module immediately following the presentation of the new information. This provides a building block learners can relate to and allows them to practice their new skill and add it to their bag of tricks before they’re expected to learn another skill.

2. Create a way for the learner to use the new knowledge by talking about it, writing about it, relating it to something they already know, teaching it to someone else or applying it to their work.

3. Ensure that the learning check or interaction mimics the job context as closely as possible. For example, have learners fill out a sample expense report instead of playing a Jeopardy-type game where they answer questions about filling out an expense report. I’m not saying don’t make it fun. I’m saying it’ll stick better if it’s real.

So this spring, I encourage you to make a difference for your learners by creating learning checks and interactions that are active and real, causing their brains to create those mental memories, allowing for retention of the new information and the ability to recall it the next time they need it …just like riding a bicycle!

Bibliography: Chickering, A & Gamson, Z.F. (1987) Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin 39:3-7.

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