Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Learning Simulations, Retention and Neuroscience


One of the most important things when teaching or training someone or learning something for yourself must be whether you are going to remember it; otherwise, what would be the point?  To retain taught knowledge makes the time, energy and money spent learning the materials worthwhile – Return on Investment.

A learning simulation is essentially a reproduction of a situation or event, which can allow people to learn by doing (see our post on Games Based Situated Learning).  For example, one of our simulations focuses on the running of a town.  The delegates are split into teams that must work together to build a sustainable community.  In this scenario, the learning game simulates a town and the resource management necessary to ensure its success.  For more information click here.

The Learning Pyramid (Mororola University, 1996) shows how learning simulations can greatly enhance long-term knowledge retention.  It explains how participatory learning such as practising by doing (learning simulations) and teaching others are far superior to passive learning such as lecturing or reading.  In fact, practising by doing is fifteen times more effective, in terms of retention, than lecturing.  The research suggests that people retain 75% of what they are taught when practising by doing.  Similar figures are present for studies looking at experiential learning, learning by doing and so on.

Adapted from the original 1996 Learning Pyramid.

This article titled ‘Learning and Memory: How do we remember and why do we often forget?’ explains how we learn and remember at a neurological level.  If this area interests you, you might want to read our blog post, ‘Neuroscience, Stress and Games Based Learning’.  Kenneth explains how learning from passive methods such as lectures and reading is often ineffective, not because we forget the information, but because it was never deemed important enough to encode in the first place.  He explains how emotions play an important part in us encoding information and explains that “Learning experiences become more memorable when social-emotional memories are part of the learning event, which is why cooperative learning is such a powerful memory-enhancer in schools”.  Learning simulations are not always played collaboratively, but many are and especially those used for training and teaching.  This is one of the reasons that makes the information retainable.

Kenneth also quotes Stanford Ericksen in saying, “Students learn what they care about and remember what they understand.”  Kenneth explains that to successfully encode information, people must see how it is useful, or why would they bother storing it?  They must also properly understand the information to begin with.  Therefore, for information to be stored and later retrieved, it must have long-term value to the person remembering it and they must be able to understand the information to begin with.  Learning simulations provide a very comprehensive way of disseminating information and due to the emotional and often collaborative nature of playing games, the information is likely to be remembered.

Kenneth explains that “Reading does not necessarily lead to learning. Doing, engaging in two-way discourse and thinking will aid learning and memory; however, when students are doing, playing with objects, exploring, experimenting, talking, drawing, writing, listening, reading, speaking, applying and reflecting on all of these, neural pathways for learning develop inside the brain”.  This sums up why learning simulations work so well.  They make use of most of these categories and if they sit in a wider course or lesson teaching the same materials, all of the categories are likely to be touched upon.  Basically, another reason why learning simulations aid retention is because they allow people to encode the material in different ways.  This is especially helpful for people with different learning styles (see ‘Games based learning supports multiple learning styles’).

The article also explains how people may remember learning facts and lists at school.  Kenneth argues that this emphasis on remembering facts rather that how to use the information usefully and intelligently is not adequate.  He argues we need to make greater use of 21st Century Learning.  Have a read of our article: ‘21st Century Skills and Games Based Learning’.  The 21st Century presents us with different challenges to the past and the focus on the service and technology industries as well as the need for some sort of environmental saviour means people need 21st Century Skills.  People having been brought up in this era also think in fundamentally different ways, therefore learning by lectures and reading will become less and less adequate and methods such as learning simulations and games based learning are likely to become more prevalent.

Essentially, it boils down to the Chinese proverb of Confucius:
"I hear and I forget.
I read and I remember.
I do and I understand.”

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