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How E-learning Works

The Psychology of Learning

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Let's begin with what goes on in a person's head when they're learning. First, learning requires attention. Effective training grabs attention and holds it. Unfortunately, the neural systems in the brain that control attention and store information as memory get tired very quickly (in minutes). They need to rest every three to five minutes, or else they become much less responsive. They recover pretty quickly, but training has to work with this quick fatigue/boredom pattern for the person to learn efficiently.

Training that is patterned to move from one set to another provides the most effective learning model. The patterns those neural sets respond best to involve interweaving different types of information and using different areas of the brain. For example:


  1. Listening to a fact e.g. Flour, when mixed with eggs, can be kneaded into a dough and cut into shapes for pasta.
  2. Relating a concept to that fact e.g. Foods high in carbohydrates help the body generate energy.
  3. Visualizing the two together e.g. Sports teams need quick energy that can be provided by carbohydrates, so they often have a meal of pasta prior to games.

These systems are interrelated and work together to form memory (i.e. learning). The goal is to form memory in each neural system. Information designed in a way that moves from neural system to neural system creates more effective learning.

E-learning and Retention

Besides catering to these neural systems' needs, training should also incorporate other elements such as interaction, imagery and feedback.

E-learning can incorporate many elements that make learning new material, a new process or a new program more fun. Making learning more fun -- or interesting -- is what makes it more effective. Obviously, every type of training can't be turned into e-training, but many can with excellent results. The keys to successful e-learning include:

  • Varying the types of content -- Images, sounds and text work together to build memory in the brain and result in better retention of the material.
  • Creating interaction that engages the attention -- Games, quizzes and even manipulation of something on the screen creates more interest, which in turn builds better retention.
  • Providing immediate feedback -- E-learning courses can build in immediate feedback to correct misunderstood material. The more immediate the feedback the better, because each step of learning builds upon the previous step. If no feedback is given, then the next step may be building upon an incorrect interpretation.
  • Encouraging interaction with other e-learners and an e-instructor -- Chat rooms, discussion boards, instant messaging and e-mail all offer effective interaction for e-learners and do a good job of replacing classroom discussions. Building an online community significantly influences the success of online programs.

To incorporate these elements into training, Trainersoft developed simple tools that allow you to drop in animations, video or other media, and set special attributes for them such as:

  • Hot spots that link to another file or image
  • Transition effects
  • Pop-up questions
  • Audio responses to questions
  • Flash and Shockwave files
  • Javascripts
  • CGI (common gateway interface) scripts
  • Other effects that make objects react to the user's actions


E-learning lets you go through the course at your own pace. This helps avoid missed information in situations where you have to leave the course or you just don't catch what the instructor said.

E-learning courses offer user-controlled elements that aren't feasible in regular training classes. For example, differentiating the sound of an irregular heart beat from that of a regular heart beat by clicking on screen icons allows the learner to listen at their own pace and replay the sound as often as they like. This self-paced element helps make e-learning effective.

On the next page, we'll talk more about the interactive features of e-learning.