As learning professionals, we are always looking for new ways to make our learning solutions more effective in order to meet expected learning outcomes. As the industry changes and new trends emerge, we often find ourselves so focused on specific methodologies and theories that we forget the basics.
If you’re like me, then you’re a 1970s kid and remember how Schoolhouse Rock! (a children’s TV program on ABC) actually taught you lessons in fun, memorable ways. Not only did you learn basic grammar and math, but you also learned history, science, and financial education. Some topics were more complex than others, but the show did a great job of using learning strategies that make sticky learning. Because of Schoolhouse Rock!, I can still recite (in song) the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution and can explain how a Bill of Rights becomes a law.
Let me break down five effective learning strategies that Schoolhouse Rock! used and that you should be incorporating into your own solutions:
Let’s start with the first and most obvious learning strategy, the use of video. There was no such thing as eLearning in the 70s (or even the 80s and 90s for that matter). The creators of Schoolhouse Rock! used the most effective media of the day—video.
Video has come a long way since the 70s. Today we have the ability to create videos on the fly using inexpensive equipment that almost everyone has in their back pocket—smartphones. Video editing software has also evolved, allowing us to turn our videos from monologues to dialogues by adding interactions such as, hotspots, polls, and quizzes.
Using short 30-second to 1-minute video clips in your learning solution can add interest and engagement while making complex topics easier to understand.
2. High Graphics/Low Text
If you look back at some of the Schoolhouse Rock! videos on YouTube, you’ll be reminded of the fact that their videos were graphic heavy and very low on text. Any text that appeared on screen was actual word art. A large body of research indicates that visual learning helps us recall and remember information more effectively. Studies have shown that when a combination of visual and narration is used, learner recall is at about 65% three days after completing a course, as shown in the following table.
The show creators were master storytellers. They built short stories around each topic they presented to help the learning stick and create knowledge triggers. They took complex topics like budgeting, electricity, and politics and weaved stories to explain these topics in easy-to-understand terms.
Almost all Learning Professionals are faced with creating eLearning about very complex, and many times, dry topics. But, just because a topic is complex or dry doesn’t mean that it needs to stay that way. Building a story that learners find relatable can help to make the learning easy to digest and recall.
We are natural storytellers; whether we share stories of events in our lives or stories of other people in our lives, we tend to do it with candor and lots of animation. Tricks to transfer your storytelling abilities to your course development include the following:
- Set the scenario.
- Develop characters.
- Define a conflict or problem.
- Describe how the conflict or problem was solved.
Repetition is one of the most intuitive principles of learning, and Schoolhouse Rock! used this effectively in all their videos by presenting the concept once and then repeating it in sequence. If you’ve ever tried to remember a phone number or a list of items you need to pick up from the store, you may have used repetition, for example, “a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.”
You can employ the use of repetition in your courses without having to repeat concepts verbatim. Present your concepts and then pepper them throughout your course reminding learners that the concept was already presented and you’re just refreshing their brains.
I left this concept for last because many may still see it as a trend. Each Schoolhouse Rock! video was only three minutes long; in L&D, we now refer to that method of delivering content as micro-learning. Learning was delivered through micro-chunks that didn’t overwhelm the brain. Each clip was laser focused on one topic; this ensured that as learners we understood what was being presented. Even without quizzes or assessments following the videos, we were able to demonstrate proficiency by reciting or discussing the various topics presented.
You can employ this same technique in your courses. For example, if you have a complex course that you would turn into a long one-hour eLearning course, consider breaking it down into focused topics and delivering each topic as its own course. This technique can improve the quality of the content you deliver to facilitate learner knowledge retention.
Schoolhouse Rock! was definitely the Trojan horse of sticky learning. You can use these five learning strategies as stand-alone solutions or combined for added learning power to craft learning solutions that drive knowledge retention and ultimately enhance each learner’s performance.
 Dale, E. (1969). Cone of experience, in Educational Media: Theory into Practice. Wiman RV (ed). Charles Merrill: Columbus, Ohio.
Meier, D. (2000). The accelerated learning handbook. NY: McGraw-Hill.
 Simon, Jim (animator). (1970). EKA Episode 0420 [Television series episode]. Sesame Street [Television series]. New York, NY.
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