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Developing Effective Digital Learning Content: Text OR Speech, Not Both at Same Time


Also: Write OR Listen, not Both (re: Note-taking)

This weekend I listened to Vicki Davis‘ podcast with Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath, “Neuroscience Research: 5 Ways To Superior Teaching”. I agree with Vicki (a.k.a. Cool Cat Teacher) – this is essential listening for every teacher (and it's only about 15 minutes long).

The second of five insights Dr. Horvath gets into focuses on the challenge of learning while trying to read and listen at the same time. Horvath explains, “spoken words and written text do not mix”. When you read words, your brain is basically speaking them to you. So if someone else is also speaking to you at the same time, you can't process both voices.

Too often teachers and presenters make this mistake. The classic presenter error of reading text directly off of a digital slide (which I find not only annoying but insulting) is one form of this. But another form of this is having a bunch of text on the screen, maybe a list of bullet points, and speaking over them. I have to confess that I have done this often. It seems that a better approach would be to either ask the students to read the text to themselves, then discuss it, or reveal one bullet point at a time, giving them a moment to read it over and think about it, then dive into the discussion. After discussing that topic, reveal the next bullet point, and so on.

If you are displaying a dense set of text, just let your students read it. After they have had a few minutes to read it, then you can discuss it.

This aligns with Mayer's 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning, which I continue to try and get better at incorporating when I create teaching and presentation materials.

Note-taking: Students can Write OR Listen, and Will Learn Better if They Don't Try to Both at the Same Time

A similar point that Dr. Horvath made is that our minds struggle if we try to listen and write at the same time. But wait, that's how students have been taking notes in lectures forever! And it is not as effective as separating listening from note-taking.

This was a real eye-opener. So if taking notes the ‘good old fashioned way' is not optimal, what should teachers do? Well this is certainly one case where flipped and blended learning can help. If teachers record lecture material in short videos, students will have the opportunity to review them repeatedly and pause them to take notes.

If you're not up for making videos, be sure to allow time after short periods of lecturing for students to reflect and take notes. You can also provides notes, so that students can focus on the lecture and dialogue.




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