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5 Ways to Inject Magic into Digital Learning

May 8, 2014

By Tess Robinson, Director, LearningAge Solutions

My favourite teacher from my high school days, Mr ‘Geography’ Jones, died recently. I remember his enthusiastic anMagicd, at times dramatic teaching style as if it were yesterday. He brought Geography alive for us and his theatrical demonstrations of a glacier powering through a valley have stayed with all of us – we will forever know our terminal from our lateral moraine. I’ve pondered on what made him such a great teacher and after watching a TED talk by self-styled Education Pioneer, Christopher Emdin, recently, have come to the conclusion that it was the magic that he injected into lessons. He employed subtle but effective techniques to keep us awake, listening and most importantly engaged. He made us feel excited about Geography – no mean feat when dealing with a bunch of teenagers.

Christopher Emdin argues that educators are not taught to ‘perform’ in a way that will really engage their audience. Instead, he suggests that they should learn from watching hip hop or going to, what he terms, a ‘black church’. The magic for him is all about body language, inflection and participation. It’s certainly true that many of the most memorable performances I have seen have, the ones you could truly call magical, have not been in school or in a training session, but when some of the techniques Christopher mentions are employed in those settings, they can be very powerful and can stay with you for 20 years or more.

What has all this got to do with digital learning? Clearly, with digital learning you rarely have a ‘trainer’ or ‘teacher’ standing in front of an audience, unless you are doing something like a webinar, so how can we inject the magic into online learning?

  1. It is worth investing in beautiful graphics. As humans we are a superficial bunch and we will automatically make assumptions about content as a result of how it looks. A well designed piece that looks fantastic and resonates well with the audience will automatically be better received.
  2. Be playful. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun. Fun can be extremely memorable. Mr Jones once delivered a whole lesson on how they were breeding multi-coloured sheep in New Zealand without any of us batting an eyelid. He even had photos and graphics. His (very well made) point was to encourage us to question things, to develop critical thinking and not to take things at face value.
  3. Encourage participation. This might be through networks, wikis, peer support or through asking questions or contributing ideas during a webinar. It’s the equivalent to Christopher Emdin’s preacher asking for an ‘Amen’ now and then in terms of waking the audience up. It also has the added benefit of making them feel that their opinions are valued and that they have something worthwhile to contribute.
  4. Mix up the learning. For example, have your high impact ‘arm-waving’ scenario-based learning but combine it with the ‘hushed voice’ of resources.
  5. Include the WOW factor. Don’t be afraid of being creative with your learning design. As long as you include users from the beginning and make sure you build user testing into your project plan, you can ensure that it will be well received.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 9:50 am

    Great points, Rob. I would add something that runs through them, though: the activity has to be authentic. That’s crucial. I was recently on a webinar where the speaker had great graphics and great content and did indeed ask questions, but the questions were only slightly to do with his content, and he paid only passing reference to the answers he received. In contrast I bet that Mr Jones listen carefully to his students and responded thoughtfully. It sounds like he was a great teacher.

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