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Interactivity and knowledge retrieval

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This smallish article I wrote 2 years back, things changed – my ideas evolved, but till date I strongly believe in some portions of this article.

Interactivity and knowledge retrieval
From the pedagogical ivory tower the oracle has announced – LEARNING OBJECTS SHOULD BE INTERACTIVE. Use 3D games to teach how to write effective business letter, use virtual environment-based role-play to teach table manners! That’s interactive – cool, learnable and sexy. Did we mention costly too?

The key is to understand the human cognitive system and how it contributes to on-the-job performance. Memory retrieval is facilitated when cues are laid out in perform on-the-job performance situations. Every situation invokes a different type of memory retrieval.

Interactivity is undoubtedly important. Interactivity is a requisite for sustaining learner attention. However, undue focus on interactivity for the sake of attentiveness can jeopardize the whole learning outcome. Incorporating frivolous drag-and-drop animation and games, and MCQ or True-false evaluation modules for the sake of enforcing creativity but without any clear learning objectives (what the learner needs to retrieve and apply) and focus on instructional design might not be a good idea. All the more so when we aim to achieve upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. The focus on authentic learning activities is absolutely essential, especially in corporate and tertiary learning, where the primary objective is synthesis of complex knowledge at the application level.

The target of good learning design is the retrieval of appropriate knowledge from memory. For instance, while using Microsoft Word, learning cues on-screen should initiate the retrieval of knowledge on how to cut and paste, insert tables, and access the header and footer menus.

Consider a non-example – a learning object that teaches how to insert a signature in Outlook. A few screen-capture sequences, the learner attempts an MCQ like this:
The Insert Signature option is under menu option:

1. Edit
2. View
3. Insert
4. Tools

How does the “interactivity” element above contribute to performance improvement of the learner as opposed to learning outcomes? How does this “learning activity” help the learner’s memory retrieval process when he seeks to apply his newly acquired knowledge in an actual performance environment (in this case working with Outlook)?

[ Recognition Over Recall from Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

People are better at recognizing things they have previously experienced than recalling those things from memory. It is easier to recognize things than recall them because recognition tasks provide memory cues that facilitate searching through memory.

Recognition memory is much easier to develop than recall memory. Recognition memory is attained through exposure, and does not necessarily involve any memory about origin, context or relevance. It is simply memory that something (sight, smell, touch) has been experienced before. Recall memory is attained through learning usually involving some combination of memorizing, practice, and application. Recognition memory is also retained for longer period of time than recall.

Early computers used command-line interface, which used recall memory for hundreds of commands. GUI eliminated the need to recall the commands by presenting them in menus.]

That is not to undermine MCQs, True/False questions, etc. These are effective for evaluation, articulation and even knowledge retrieval when used properly within the proper context.

The ideal way to ensure retrieval of learned information from memory in an on-the-job situation is to prompt learners to practice retrieving that information during the learning event. It is not the interactivity that facilitates learning – it is the retrieval practice.

This explains why questions about non-essential information actually hinder learning. They provide practice for retrieving the wrong information!

By putting the emphasis on proper retrieval practice, we can correct the dangers of utilizing interactivity just for the sake of it. We can stop asking trivial questions on meaningless material. We can avoid detracting the attention of our learners from the central concepts. We can end the practice of creating frivolous games that divert the learner’s focus from key learning points.

By not focusing on interactivity, we can create meaningful interactions that will carry over to the learners’ real-world performance contexts. We can focus our simulations on situations that have realistic analogy, thus creating authentic instruction.

Written by anol

October 11th, 2004 at 11:23 pm

One Response to 'Interactivity and knowledge retrieval'

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  1. I think the essence of what you say in this piece remains true. You put clearly and succinctly what I recently have been trying to convey to associates and writers. Thanks

    David Coppell

    David Coppell

    24 Nov 05 at 1:48 am

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