3 tips to foster reflection and mental engagement in digital learning

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Amid all the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about the growing importance of being able to adapt to new situations quickly.

To build the required mental and emotional resilience we have to get better at engaging in dialogue with information, with ourselves and with others on deeper levels.

Thus, as a learning designer, one of my main goals is to foster reflective thinking and to invite learners to question and engage with the material presented to them. I have found the following strategies particularly helpful:

1: Ask questions instead of giving answers right away.

In a recent blog post on making remote education more effective, Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab encouraged educators to not talk too much and leave time for asking authentic questions – questions that have no simple answer. I find that the same principle is even more crucial for e-learning modules that have no instructor or video content. Without asking learners engaging questions that challenge them to shape their own answers and make connections between the learning material and their own lives, such modules can very easily end up being mindlessly clicked through. Quizzing before presenting relevant content is a powerful tool for concrete information as well: in chapter 4 of Range, David Epstein presents evidence that asking questions from students ahead of study time primes them for learning.

2. Challenge learners to express themselves.

Formulating your own thoughts, explaining concepts to peers and applying knowledge in real life are powerful tools for effective and lasting learning. By challenging learners to reflect on or summarize their learning in a video message, a one-page written piece or through artwork, you give them ownership over their journey and communicate that their unique voice has a place in the conversation. However, this only works if timely human feedback is available and it is reasonable to expect completion and the required time commitment. If this is not possible, you can also challenge learners to interact with each other, for example by setting up a jigsaw activity and asking them to report back into the LMS.

3. Model the attitudes that you are hoping to foster.

My creative and professional confidence started growing exponentially through working with respected scholars and leaders who showed no fear of asking naive questions, took all of our ideas seriously and were at peace with not having absolute answers. While I had been keenly aware of the importance of these skills, I only started applying them when I was immersed in an environment where people I look up to actively modelled them. Phrasing content in a way that invites questioning and that acknowledges ambiguity when appropriate can be a powerful tool to engage learners and equip them with agency in their learning journey and beyond. Including videos or quotes of respected experts doing the same is a great way to help accept and adapt to the fluidity of our world regardless of content area.

What strategies do you use to encourage reflection and deep mental engagement in digital learning?  Send us your thoughts using the form below!

Written by Eszter Mészáros, Learning Designer