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how to student learning

How Can We Amplify Student Learning? The ANSWER from Cognitive Psychology


We know now from rigorous testing in cognitive psychology that learning styles are really learning preferences that do not correlate with achievement (An et al., 2017).

An, Donggun, and Martha Carr. “Learning styles theory fails to explain learning and achievement: Recommendations for alternative approaches.” Personality and Individual Differences 116 (2017): 410-416.

To assist time-strapped instructional faculty and staff, we offer a consolidated summary of key cognitive science principles, in the form of an easy-to-remember acronym: ANSWER.

Attention: Learning requires memory, and memory requires focused attention. Multitasking is a myth, and even the more scientifically-accurate term “task-switching” yields errors compared to focused attention. The brain is quite adept at filtering out dozens of simultaneous stimuli, as it does every second of wakefulness. Attention is a required ingredient for learning. This has ramifications for syllabus policies on the use of electronic devices for note-taking, which have been shown to be irresistible and therefore lead to distraction and lower scores (Ravizza, Uitvlugt, and Fenn). Even when students are not distracted, laptops are used primarily for dictation, which does little for long-term memory; writing by hand does more to stimulate attention and build neural networks than typing (Mueller and Oppenheimer).

Novelty: variety into lesson plans, activities, and opportunities for practice, instructors amplify potential learning for their students. Further, the use of metaphors in teaching enhances transfer, hemispheric integration, and retention, so using picture prompts and images can further solidify student learning (Sousa).

Spacing: Sometimes called “distributed practice,”the spacing effect refers to the jump in performance when students study a subject and then practice with gaps of time, ideally over one or more nights (sleep helps with memory consolidation), as compared to studying all at once, as if cramming the night before a test. Cramming, or massed practice, is successful for temporary test performance, since information is loaded into working memory. But the practices that work well for short-term memory do not work well for long-term memory. The spacing effect is particularly effective when combined with interleaving, the intentional practice of mixing in older learning tasks/skills with the new ones (Roedeiger, et al.). An ideal example of this would be regular quizzes in the semester that are cumulative (think “tiny final exams”).

Why: Memory is associative; when new memories are formed, neurons wire together (and later fire together), so the context can lead to the information, and vice versa. A teaching strategy of comprised of questions to guide lesson plans (perhaps even beginning with mystery) can pique student interest and learning potential.  If you use PowerPoint, Haiku Deck, or Prezi, do your slides consist primarily of answers or questions?

Emotions: Short-term memories are stored in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain associated with emotions; the same area where we consolidate short-term into long-term memories overnight.
As instructors, we create the conditions in which students will motivate themselves (Ryan & Deci, 2000) by infusing our interactions with the positive emptions of curiosity, discovery, and fun. Simple gamification (quizzes with immediate feedback, for instance) can help.

Repetition: The creation of a new memory really means the formation of synapses across neurons and new neural pathways. These pathways and bridges degrade over time unless the synapse fires again. Consider the days before smartphones, when the way to remember a phone number was to repeat it several times mentally. Repetition, in all its forms, enables more effective recall later. This is why quizzing, practice testing, flashcards, and instructor-driven questioning and challenges are so effective.

more on learning styles in this IMS blog

more on multitasking in this blog

for and against the use of technology in the classroom

on spaced learning in this blog

definitions online learning

Online learning here is used as a blanket term for all related terms:

  • HyFlex courses – hybrid + flexible
    “hybrid synchronous” or “blended synchronous” courses

    • Definition:
      The HyFlex model gives students the choice to attend class in person or via synchronous remote stream and to make that choice on a daily basis. In other words, unlike online and hybrid models which typically have a fixed course structure for the entire semester, the HyFlex model does not require students to make a choice at the beginning of term and then stick with it whether their choice works for them or not; rather students are able to make different choices each day depending on what works best for them on that day (hence the format is “flexible”) (Miller and Baham, 2018, to be published in the Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Teaching Statistics).
    • Definition from Horizon Report, HIgher Ed edition, 2014. p. 10 integration of Online Hybrid and Collaborative Learning
    • Definition from U of Arizona (
      Beatty (2010) defines HyFlex courses to be those that “enable a flexible participation policy for students whereby students may choose to attend face-to-face synchronous class sessions or complete course learning activities online without physically attending class”
  • Online courses
    • Definition
      Goette, W. F., Delello, J. A., Schmitt, A. L., Sullivan, J. R., & Rangel, A. (2017). Comparing Delivery Approaches to Teaching Abnormal Psychology: Investigating Student Perceptions and Learning Outcomes. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(3), 336–352.
      p.2.Online classes are a form of distance learning available completely over the Internet with no F2F interaction between an instructor and students (Helms, 2014).
      An online class is a class that is offered 100% through the Internet. Asynchronous courses require no time in a classroom. All assignments, exams, and communication are delivered using a learning management system (LMS). At Oswego, the campus is transitioning from ANGEL  to Blackboard, which will be completed by the Fall 2015 semester.  Fully online courses may also be synchronous. Synchronous online courses require student participation at a specified time using audio/visual software such as Blackboard Collaborate along with the LMS.
    • Web-enhanced courses

Web enhanced learning occurs in a traditional face-to-face (f2f) course when the instructor incorporates web resources into the design and delivery of the course to support student learning. The key difference between Web Enhanced Learning versus other forms of e-learning (online or hybrid courses) is that the internet is used to supplement and support the instruction occurring in the classroom rather than replace it.  Web Enhanced Learning may include activities such as: accessing course materials, submitting assignments, participating in discussions, taking quizzes and exams, and/or accessing grades and feedback.”

  • Blended/Hybrid Learning
    • Definition

Goette, W. F., Delello, J. A., Schmitt, A. L., Sullivan, J. R., & Rangel, A. (2017). Comparing Delivery Approaches to Teaching Abnormal Psychology: Investigating Student Perceptions and Learning Outcomes. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(3), 336–352.

Helms (2014) described blended education as incorporating both online and F2F character- istics into a single course. This definition captures an important confound to comparing course administration formats because otherwise traditional F2F courses may also incorp- orate aspects of online curriculum. Blended learning may thus encompass F2F classes in which any course content is available online (e.g., recorded lectures or PowerPoints) as well as more traditionally blended courses. Helms recommended the use of ‘‘blended’’ over ‘‘hybrid’’ because these courses combine different but complementary approaches rather than layer opposing methods and formats.

Blended learning can merge the relative strengths of F2F and online education within a flexible course delivery format. As such, this delivery form has a similar potential of online courses to reduce the cost of administration (Bowen et al., 2014) while addressing concerns of quality and achievement gaps that may come from online education. Advantages of blended courses include: convenience and efficiency for the student; promotion of active learning; more effective use of classroom space; and increased class time to spend on higher- level learning activities such as cooperative learning, working with case studies, and discuss- ing big picture concepts and ideas (Ahmed, 2010; Al-Qahtani & Higgins, 2013; Lewis & Harrison, 2012).

Although many definitions of hybrid and blended learning exist, there is a convergence upon three key points: (1) Web-based learning activities are introduced to complement face-to-face work; (2) “seat time” is reduced, though not eliminated altogether; (3) the Web-based and face-to-face components of the course are designed to interact pedagogically to take advantage of the best features of each.
The amount of in class time varies in hybrids from school to school. Some require more than 50% must be in class, others say more than 50% must be online. Others indicate that 20% – 80% must be in class (or online). There is consensus that generally the time is split 50-50, but it depends on the best pedagogy for what the instructor wants to achieve.

Backchannel and CRS (or Audience Response Systems):

More information:

Blended Synchronous Learning project (

VII.A.3. Distance Learning Courses
Distance learning courses are indicated in the schedule of classes on BU Brain with an Instructional Method of Online Asynchronous (OA), Online Synchronous (OS), Online Combined (OC), or Online Hybrid (OH). Online Asynchronous courses are those in which the instruction is recorded/stored and then accessed by the students at another time. Online Synchronous courses are those in which students are at locations remote from the instructor and viewing the instruction as it occurs. Online Combined courses are those in which there is a combination of asynchronous and synchronous instruction that occurs over the length of the course. Online Hybrid courses are those in which there is both in-person and online (asynchronous and/or synchronous) instruction that occurs over the length of the course.

brain research distance ed

The Implications of Brain Research for Distance Education

Katrina A. Meyer
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership
University of North Dakota

posted on FB in 2013

The brain is actually three brains: the ancient reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the cortical brain. This article will focus on the limbic brain, because it may be most important to successfully using interactive video or web-based video. The limbic brain monitors the external world and the internal body, taking in information through the senses as well as body temperature and blood pressure, among others. It is the limbic brain that generates and interprets facial expressions and handles emotions, while the cortical brain handles symbolic activities such as language as well as action and strategizing. The two interact when an emotion is sent from the limbic to the cortical brain and generates a conscious thought; in response to a feeling of fear (limbic), you ask, “what should I do?” (cortical).

The importance of direct eye contact and deciphering body language is also important for sending and picking up clues about social context.

The loss of social cues is important because it may affect the quality of the content of the presentation (by not allowing timely feedback or questions) but also because students may feel less engaged and become frustrated with the interaction, and subsequently lower their assessment of the class and the instructor (Reeves & Nass, 1996). Fortunately, faculty can provide such social cues verbally, once they are aware of the importance of helping students use these new media.

Attachment theory also supports the importance of physical and emotional connections.

As many a struggling teacher knows, students are often impervious to learning new concepts. They may replay the new information for a test, but after time passes, they revert to the earlier (and likely wrong) information. This is referred to as the “power of mental models.” As explained in Marchese (2000), when we view a tree, it is not as if we see the tree in our head, as in photography.

The coping strategies of the two hemispheres are fundamentally different. The left hemisphere’s job is to create a belief system or model and to fold new experiences into that belief system. If confronted with some new information that doesn’t fit the model, it relies on Freudian defense mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate – anything to preserve the status quo. The right hemisphere’s strategy is to play “Devil’s Advocate,” to question the status quo and look for global inconsistencies. When the anomalous information reaches a certain threshold, the right hemisphere decides that it is time to force a complete revision of the entire model and start from scratch (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998, p. 136).

While much hemispheric-based research has been repudiated as an oversimplification (Gackenbach, 1999), the above description of how new information eventually overwhelms an old world view may be the result of multiple brain functions – some of which work to preserve our models and others to alter – that help us both maintain and change as needed.

Self-talk is the “the root of empathy, understanding, cooperation, and rules that allow us to be successful social beings. Any sense of moral behavior requires thought before action” (Ratey, 2001, p. 255).

Healy (1999) argues that based on what we know about brain development in children, new computer media may be responsible for developing brains that are largely different from the brains of adults. This is because “many brain connections have become specialized for . . . media” (p. 133); in this view, a brain formed by language and reading is different from a brain formed by hypermedia. Different media lead to different synaptic connections being laid down and reinforced, creating different brains in youngsters raised on fast-paced, visually-stimulating computer applications and video games. “Newer technologies emphasize rapid processing of visual symbols . . . and deemphasize traditional verbal learning . . . and the linear, analytic thought process . . . [making it] more difficult to deal with abstract verbal reasoning” (Healy, 1999, p. 142).


more on distance ed in this IMS blog

apps online learning

20 essential apps to include in online courses

By Meris Stansbury June 9th, 2017

Online learning apps are broken down into specific categories to maximize production and streamline online communication..

20 essential apps to include in online courses

From attending class to talking with peers and professors, and from going to the local bookstore to having everything on a laptop in a dorm room, students on campus typically have a more “organic” learning experience than an online student who may not know how to best access these features of a higher education in an entirely mobile setting.

The essentials for getting started

Computer terms (Android) (Apple): Online learning means you’ll need to know basic computer technology terms. Both apps are free and break down terms ranging from words like “cache” to “hex code,” all in layman’s language.

Mint (Android) (Apple): Online learning students are usually financially savvy, looking for less expensive alternatives to traditional four-year tuition. This app allows students to keep careful track of personal finances and spending.

Study Tracker (Android) (Apple): These paid apps help track the time spent on courses, tasks and projects to help online students better manage their time and be able to visualize unique study patterns with the aim of ultimately improving efficiency.

Wi-Fi Finder (Android) (Apple): It’s a no-brainer: If you’re learning online and on-the-go, you’ll probably need to find a connection!

To access actual courses (LMS)

Blackboard Mobile (Android) (Apple): Access all courses that are integrated with Blackboard’s LMS.

Canvas (Android) (Apple). Access all courses integrated with Canvas by Instructure.

Moodle (Android) (Apple): Access all courses integrated with this open-source learning platform.

My note: No D2L in this list, folks; choose carefully in 2018, when MnSCU renews its D2L license

For access to files and remote annotation

Documents to Go (Android) (Apple): Students can access the full Microsoft Office suite, as well as edit and create new files without requiring a cloud app for syncing.

Dropbox (Android) (Apple): This app allows students to access any-size files from their computer anytime, anywhere. My Note: Google Drive, SCSU File space as alternatives.

iAnnotate (Android) (Apple): Read, edit and share PDFs, DOCs, PPTs, and image files.

Instapaper (Android) (Apple): Recall websites for research purposes; strip away clutter for an optimized view of content; and read anywhere, since no internet connection is needed.

Marvin (Apple): A completely customizable eBook reader that includes DRM-free books, customizable formats, layouts, and reading gestures, as well as highlighting and annotations tools. Considered one of the best replacements for the Stanza app, which is now discontinued.

Pocket (Android): An app that allows students to save websites, blog posts, videos, and other online resources to access at a later time. It also saves the information to the device, meaning no internet connection is needed.

Wolfram Alpha (Android) (Apple): Considered the scholar’s version of Google, this app is a search engine that reveals precise information for natural-language searches. For example, if you ask “What is the graduation rate for Harvard?” the engine will bring up exact numbers with citations and suggestions for similar queries.

For online communication with peers and profs

Dragon Dictation (Android) (Apple): Create text messages, social media posts, blog posts and more by using your voice (speech-to-text). According to the company, Dragon Dictation is up to five times faster than typing on the keyboard.

Evernote (Android) (Apple): Whenever you look at a list of education apps, Evernote is usually listed. This app allows students to scribble notes, capture text, send notes to computers and other users, and much more for ultimate multi-media communication.

Hangouts (Android) (Apple): Google’s social network shines for its own online video chat solution, which lets teachers, students and third-party experts easily videoconference in groups—it’s even been used to broadcast presenters live to packed auditoriums. My note: desktopsharing is THE most important part. Alternatives: SCSU subscription for Adobe Connect. Skype also has desktopsharing capabilities

Quora (Android) (Apple): Ask questions to experts including astronauts, police officers, lawyers, and much more to receive industry-insider responses.

Smartsheet (Android) (Apple): An app that allows students to create task lists and assign deadlines to share with remote group/team members.

Tom’s planner (Web): A Gantt chart-based, online planning tool that uses color-coded charts to reveal work completed and many more features for project management.

more on online learning in this IMS blog

cartoons humor learning

Creating Cartoons to Spark Engagement, Learning

my note:
Avoid using infographics for purposes, which toodoo can serve.
Infographics are for about visualization of stats, not just visualization.
By Vicki E. Phillips
As instructors, we are constantly looking for new ways to capture our students’ attention and increase their participation in our classes, especially in the online modalities. We spend countless hours crafting weekly announcements for classes and then inevitably receive multiple emails from our students asking the very same questions that we so carefully and completely answered in those very same announcements! The question remains, how do we get them to read our posts?
It was precisely that problem I was trying to solve when I came across several articles touting the benefits of comics in higher education classrooms. I knew I couldn’t create an entire comic book, but I wondered if I could create a content-related cartoon that would not only capture students’ attention and maybe make them laugh, but also interest them enough that they would read the entire announcement or post. In doing so, I would be freed from responding to dozens of emails asking the same questions outlined in the announcements and students could focus on the homework.
A quick Internet search led me to a plethora of free “click and drag” cartoon making software applications to try. I started posting my own cartoons on characters, themes, etc. on the weekly literature we were studying in my upper division American and Contemporary World Literature classes, as well as to offer reminders or a few words of encouragement. Here’s an example of one I posted during week 7 of the semester when students can become discouraged with their assignment load:
After a positive response, I decided to provide my online students the opportunity to try their hand at cartoon creation. I created a rubric and a set of instructions for an easy to use, free program that I had used, and I opened up the “cartoon challenge” to the students. The results were nothing short of amazing—what intrigued me the most was the time and effort they took with their cartoons. Not only did they create cartoons on the story we were reading, but they also wrote additional posts explaining their ideas for the creation, discussing why they chose a particular scene, and identifying those elements pertinent to the points they were making. These posts tended to receive many more substantial comments from their peers than the traditional discussion board posts, indicating they were being read more.
When students in my face-to-face course heard about the cartoons, they asked to try this approach as well. Their cartoons, shared in class via the overhead projector, led to some of the most engaging and interesting discussions I have ever had in the residential literature classes as students explained how they came up with the elements they chose, and why they picked a certain scene from the reading. The positive student feedback has been instrumental in my continuing to offer this option in both my online and face-to-face classes.
How does one get started in making these cartoons? The good news is you do not have to be an artist to make a cartoon! There are free programs with templates, clip art, and all the elements you would need to click and drag into place all those wonderful ideas you have simmering in your brain. My favorite to use is ToonDoo, available at I like it because there are literally hundreds of elements, a search bar, and it lets me customize what I want to say in the dialog bubbles. It is very user friendly, even for those of us with limited artistic ability.
The whole experience has been overwhelmingly positive for me, and judging from the feedback received, for the students as well. It has also reminded me of one of my teaching goals, which is to incorporate more activities which would fall under assimilating and creating aspects of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, 2001). If that is your goal as well, then try inserting a cartoon in those weekly announcements and ask for feedback from your students—I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Armstrong, Patricia (n.d.) Bloom’s Taxonomy, Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching. Retrieved from
Pappas, Christopher (2014) The 5 Best Free Cartoon Making Programs for Teachers. Retrieved from:
Vicki E. Phillips is an assistant professor of English and Literature at Rasmussen College, Ocala, Fla.

cartoons for historians and history teaching / learning:

more on effective presentations in this IMS blog

more on create infographics in this IMS blog:

quizzes and learning

Studying With Quizzes Helps Make Sure the Material Sticks

more on quizzes and learning and memory in this IMS blog

flexibility of distance learning

Students appreciate flexibility of distance learning

more on hybrid learning in this IMS blog:

Games and the Brain

This Is Your Brain On Games

“Action video games have a number of ingredients that are actually really powerful for brain plasticity, learning, attention, and vision,” says brain scientist Daphne Bavelier in her TED Talk on the subject.

In February, Italian researchers found that playing fast-paced video games can improve the reading skills of children with dyslexia.

In 2012, scientists at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that high school gamers who played video games two hours a day were better at performing virtual surgery than non-gaming medical residents.

How Does the Brain Learn Best? Smart Studying Strategies

How Does the Brain Learn Best? Smart Studying Strategies

Even if stated the obvious, it is good to repeat:
checking Facebook is not that bad for learning, it becomes bad when exceeds the time spent on learning…… this and more useful truisms to make the right choices with the start of a new academic year…

How BYOD Programs Can Fuel Inquiry Learning | Four Smart Ways to Use Cell Phones in Class. Backchanneling.

How BYOD Programs Can Fuel Inquiry Learning. Backchanneling.

creating a learner profile, a set of criteria the school district wanted students to learn while in school. That profile includes: seek knowledge and understanding; think critically and solve problems; listen, communicate, and interact effectively; exhibit strong personal qualities; and engage and compete in a global environment. The profile helps guide all approaches to learning in the district.

Kids already know how to use their devices, but they don’t know how to learn with their devices,” Clark said in an edWeb webinar. It’s the teacher’s role to help them discover how to connect to content, one another and learning with a device that they may have only used for texting and Facebook previously. “It’s about the kids being empowered in the classroom to make decisions about the ways that they are learning,”

Four Smart Ways to Use Cell Phones in Class


IN-CLASS BACK-CHANNELINGBackchanneling refers to the use of networks & social media to maintain an online, real-time conversation alongside spoken remarks.

IN-CLASS READINGS AND HANDOUTS. Smartphones can also be used productively in the classroom as eReaders for books and handouts. You can place all student handouts into DropBox folders (see “Dropbox A Multi-Tool for Educators”).


Using Google Docs for backchanneling with students:

10 ways to employ backchanneling in  classroom instruction.

  1. Poll students on a particular classroom event or on a decision regarding their learning
  2. Crowdsource feedback on learning activities and use this input to inform your future instructional strategies.
  3. Backchanneling empowers students voice and make them feel they are real participants in the knowledge building taking place in the class.
  4. Conduct informat assessments .
  5. Assess students prior knowledge about a given topic.
  6. Brainstorm ideas for a writing project.
  7. Encourage students to ask questions about anything they did not understand.
  8. Hold synchronous discussions of video content shared in class
  9. Organize real time discussions in class.
  10. Backchanneling is a good way to engage introverts and shy students in classroom conversations.

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