HeadRush’s Creating Passionate Users’s post on “Crash course in learning theory” is a great Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of a variety of learning theories.
Learning theories are methods and techniques of teaching others how to learn. While you might think that this is only important to instructors and teachers, it is critical to anyone, including bloggers, journalists, and writers, anyone whose work it is to convey a message, make a point, and help people learn.
I thought these particular excerpts are of real value to bloggers:
Talk to the brain first, mind second. Even if a learner is personally motivated to learn a topic, if the learning content itself isn’t motivating, the learner’s brain will do everything possible to look for something more interesting…Remember, you can’t do anything until you get past the brain’s crap filter! And to the brain, a dry, dull, academic explanation is definitely CRAP (regardless of how much your mind cares about the topic)…
Learning is not a one-way “push” model. Learners are not “empty vessels” waiting to be filled with content pushed into it by an expert, blogger, author, etc. Learning is something that happens between the learner’s ears–it’s a form of co-creation between the learner and the learning experience. You can’t create new pathways in someone’s head… your job is to create an environment where the chances of the learner “getting it” in the way that you intend are as high as possible…
Provide a meaningful benefit for each topic, in the form of “why you should care about this” scenario. Learning is much more effective if the learner’s brain knows why what you’re about to talk about matters. The benefit and/or reason why you should learn something needs to come before the actual content. Otherwise, the learner’s brain gets to the end of what you’re telling them and says, “Oh, NOW you tell me. If you’d said that earlier, I would have paid more attention…”
And if you want to really make a difference with your blogging, then consider this approach:
Use mistakes, failures, and counter-intuitive WTF? People usually learn much more from failures than from being shown everything working correctly or as expected. The most memorable learning experiences are usually those where things are going along fine, making sense, etc. when you suddenly slam into something that goes terribly wrong. Describing the things that do NOT work is often more effective than showing how things DO work. (We call this the “WTF learning principle”).
But showing is even better than describing. And even better than showing is letting the learner experience. Take the learner down a garden path where everything makes perfect sense until it explodes. They are far more likely to remember than if you simply say, “Oh, and be sure you do it such and such a way.”
It’s tempting to want to protect the learners from the bumps and scrapes experienced in the real world, but in many cases (with many topics) you aren’t doing the learner any favors.
Some of my most popular blog posts are not the ones that say, “Here is something exciting for you to learn.” They are the ones that say “Hey, if you broke it, here is how to fix it.” The how-to, fix it, figure out how you broke it, and how to keep from breaking it topics run very high in reader demand.
I’ve also found that showing people how to do something is good, but there are times when too much showing makes the reader feel stupid, so it’s a narrow path to walk. Screenshots are excellent for really showing how things work, but too much step-by-step instructions with few graphics tend to overwhelm most people. Too many graphics with too few instructions make following the graphics difficult. It’s a balancing act to find enough words and the right images to guide the user through the process.
Want to improve your blogging and writing as well as teaching techniques, then give this your close attention.