How the Science of Learning Can Help You Create Meaningful Content People Can Comprehend And Retain

March 1, 2018

How the Science of Learning Can Help You Create Meaningful Content

All eLearning professionals have a shared goal: to create meaningful content that people comprehend and retain.

However, that’s easier said than done:

  • We have our preferred learning styles, for example, you may prefer to watch a video; your colleague may prefer to read a document.
  • We learn at different paces.
  • We have varying background knowledge of the topic.

What does that mean for your eLearning services? Simple: If you want people to comprehend and retain your content, cookie-cutter approaches won’t cut it.


Instead, eLearning professionals must understand the science behind how people learn.

As CoreAxis, a corporate training consulting firm, phrases it: “eLearning professionals must use a science-based approach to evaluate each learning and development program, and build custom solutions that are designed from the ground up to maximize retention, and drive lasting change.”

The approach doesn’t give you a list of concrete strategies that you can apply to ensure your learners comprehend and retain your content. Instead, it helps you build empathy for your learners – their different learning styles, paces, and backgrounds – to make your content more accessible.

From the neuroplasticity of the brain to the various emotions of the heart, we’ve pulled from CoreAxis’s analysis to explain the five must-know elements behind the science of how your learners learn, plus strategies to ensure your content aligns with the science.

Learners’ Brains Change

When humans learn something new, their brains create a connection to help the information stick. It’s called neuroplasticity: the change that occurs in the human brain as it reorganizes itself by forming new connections between brain cells.

But there’s a catch: not all connections are equal and their effectiveness greatly varies by the time someone spends learning the new information.

Let’s use learning a new instrument – where connections occur in several areas of the brain – as an example. Studies have shown that the amount of time someone spends learning the new instrument determines how many connections occur in those same areas: professional musicians have more connections in those same areas than intermediate musicians.

That means your learners’ likely have varying levels of understanding of new information and therefore, unless assessed, some may be behind compared to their peers.

To ensure your learners have a comparable understanding of new information, we recommend you assess their understanding of the new information with quizzes.

Quizzes will improve your learners’ retention, and more importantly, set a standard for the level of understanding your learners should have before moving on to new information.

Learners’ Emotions Dictate Retention

For years, studies have shown that emotions can dictate how well learners are able to learn new information. However, those studies have largely focused on anxiety – not the rest of humans’ emotions.

No more: more studies are showing that positive emotions, such as joy, hope, and pride, positively correlate with learners’ academic self-efficacy, academic interest and effort, and overall achievement.

So how can eLearning professionals instill these emotions in learners as their learning new information?

We recommend you apply microlearning to your eLearning: a methodology where information is presented in small, digestible chunks, as opposed to in bulk.

When the content is in small chunks, it becomes more accessible for learners and easier to learn. The result: recurring moments of accomplishment, which can help learners feel the positive emotions that improve their ability to learn new information.

Examples of microlearning include short, content-rich videos that focus on one topic, or on-page guides, such as tooltips, that give a hint or description of a topic.

Learning is a Social Activity

Several studies have shown that social elements in learning, such as group projects, contribute to learners’ learning experience and retention.

When learners are learning new information together, they can gain much more information compared to if they were alone, for example:

  • Discuss and compare each other’s understanding of the information.
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Give and receive feedback on each other’s insights.

Using social elements is a great opportunity for eLearning professionals to improve the learning experience and retention of their learners.

But there’s an obstacle: Because eLearning happens on a screen – as opposed to in a physical classroom, where elements such as group projects shine – how can eLearning professionals apply social elements to their eLearning strategies?

We recommend the following strategies:


  • Move group discussions from your learning management platform to a social media site, such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • Encourage learners to share helpful links on social media sites related to the information they’re learning.
  • Have learners use social media sites to give feedback on each other’s insights.

The recurring theme: a central hub – such as a wiki, Intranet page, or WordPress site – where all of your learners can share their insights and give feedback to each other.

With a central hub for social learning, learners can interact with each other, thus, improve their learning experience and retention.

Learners Need Blended Learning Experiences

Blended learning experiences is a popular term in the eLearning industry where eLearning and traditional classroom methodologies are combined to create a new, hybrid teaching methodology.

The blended learning methodology generally consists of three components:

  • In-person activities led by an instructor.
  • Online learning materials, such as pre-recorded lectures and self-guided modules.
  • Independent study time guided by the supplementary material from a lecture.

If you share a geography with your learners, there are several ways you can add blended learning to your eLearning services. A popular type of blended learning is the “flipped” classroom: learners are expected to watch lectures at home, and do homework while they are in class.

The greatest benefit of blended learning such as “flipped” classrooms: it can help meet learners’ different learning styles, such as physical, verbal, and visual, as opposed to one style of learning.

However, we understand that not all eLearning professionals have the luxury of sharing a geography with their learners. Nonetheless, there are still ways you can add blended learning to your eLearning services: For example, you can host a live webinar where learners must attend and respond to questions.

While in-person lectures are generally an essential element to blended learning, we encourage you to explore additional ways to add your own versions of blended learning.

Learners Learn Well from Games

Think about the games you’ve played growing up.

There were generally three elements:

  • A problem that you must solve.
  • A feedback loop that told you if you correctly solved the problem.
  • An accomplishment that brought you to the next task.

These are all elements of a successful eLearning service as well: your content includes assessments that challenge learners to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic; you give feedback on their knowledge to help the learners progress; you “pass” learners to allow them to move on to the next task.

Traditional teaching strategies share a similar methodology to games, thus, allow eLearning professionals to use entertainment in their eLearning services.

The most effective eLearning games include the three elements – a problem, a challenge, and an accomplishment – plus the following strategies to ensure your learners retain the information (while having fun):

  • Put the learner first (not the content) so the learners are required to take action.
  • Personalize the challenges to give learners a purpose.
  • Reinforce learners throughout the game to boost their morale.

Games, with the right elements and strategies, are a great way to help your learners retain new information.

You now have a solid understanding of how learners’ brains best comprehend and retain information.

It can be overwhelming: you must anticipate a range of emotions; use different mediums to ensure your meet the different learning styles of your learners.

But don’t fear: Because you understand the five must-know elements behind the science of how your learners learn, you’ll be able to create meaningful content that your learners comprehend and retain.

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