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Learner-centric learning and effectiveness of e-learning

Three weeks ago I sat a 3 hour written exam.

Over the course of the previous month I learnt five anagrams or mnemonics for EACH of the three blocks to be assessed (most of this I left to the last few days).

Prompted by serendipity (I was browsing the website of international e-learning agency Brightwave) into the work Ebbinghaus I have just attempted the ‘brain dump’ I did in the first ten minutes of the exam.

I gave each block a mnemonic: Block 1:’POVCC; Block 2: MHIVE; Block 3: MDMAP.

From the first block I could recall three mnemonics but complete none of them; same for Block 2; whereas with Block 3 I cannot remember a single one of the five mnemonics each of which would have given me a long list of factoids to exploit.

These anagrams were never meant to stick beyond the exam, but I wonder how much else I could recall in the appropriate context on differences in national management styles, what makes a creative organisation, the ‘Buffalo System’

for running a creative problem solving (CPS) workshop of the 12 precepts of CPS. (I could get 11/12 only because I also used a visualisation technique that I do recall, tripping up towards the end).

What is meant by learner–centric learning?

‘If we were to attempt a definition of the concept, obviously the interests, needs, abilities and preferred learning style(s) of the student would be pre-eminent’. James. Cory–Wright, February 2011.

‘Being learner-centric for its own sake without being relevant to desired business outcomes is mere indulgence’. James Cory–Wright, February 2011

A number of great thinkers ‘gurus’ of self-regulated education have pointed out the shortcomings of formal education


After some number of repetitions, Ebbinghaus would attempt to recall the items on the list. It turned out that his ability to recall the items improved as the number of repetitions went up, rapidly at first and then more slowly, until finally the list was mastered. This was the world’s first learning curve.

The effect of over learning is to make the information more resistant to disruption or loss.

For example, the forgetting curve for over learned material is shallower, requiring more time to forget a given amount of the material.

I relate to this and having taken many exams in my life it is useful at last to have some terms to refer to it all. The only exam I have ever had to resit should have been the easiest, not the finals of a BA (Hons) as an Oxford Undergraduate (or the entrance exam which was tough enough), but a Level II Teaching Swimming Multi-choice paper that took an hour. I simply hadn’t put in the time, say six hours over as many days, repeating by writing it out and testing myself.

Whilst in an exam the student may forget, there are exams where you want them to retain the information: junior doctors, health & safety in a nuclear power plant, or one I was involved with ‘the packing and storage of uranium trioxide‘.

Savings is the most sensitive test of memory, as it will indicate some residual effect of previous learning even when recall and recognition do not.

Which is what I just did, three weeks after the event.

If I go to the website where I stored the original mind–maps and lists I know that I could quickly re–engage with the material. Like riding a bike, windsurfing or skiing? Though not recalling the lines of Mercutio from Romeo & Juliette which I performed in my late teens. I can however recite some Macbeth, but only because I have repeatedly tested myself on the lines since my mid–teens).

Ivan Illich

Illich claimed:

  • Most learning happens informally.
  • Institutionalized schooling hinders true learning.

The ideal education “system” allows people to choose what they learn and when they learn.

Informal Learning

Illich is quick to point out that people learn more from their day-to-day experiences than they learn from sitting inside a classroom.

‘Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction’.

Illich believes that people of all ages should be able to choose what they learn and when they learn it and proposes that informal education can be supported through four services:

  • Libraries that store the materials needed for learning
  • Skills-based exchanges where people can develop specific abilities,
  • Peer-matching that allows learners to meet others interested in studying the same subject,
  • A database of educators available for assistance.


From Wikipedia: Programmed Learning or Programmed Instruction is a learning methodology or technique first proposed by the behaviourist B. F. Skinner in 1958.

According to Skinner, the purpose of programmed learning is to “manage human learning under controlled conditions”.

Programmed learning has three elements:

  • it delivers information in small bites,
  • it is self-paced by the learner,
  • it provides immediate feedback, both positive and negative, to the learner.

It was popular in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, but pedagogical interest was lost in the early 1980s as it was difficult to implement and its limitations were not well understood by practitioners.

It was revived in the 1990s in the computerized Integrated Learning System (ILS) approach, primarily in the business and managerial context.

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