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Immediate Feedback and Trying Again in an eLearning Course

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When it comes to eLearning one of its best features is that there is no time limit.  Unlike in a traditional school setting, or a conference or meeting, in an eLearning course, if you don’t understand something you can go over it again and again and again.  It’s as simple as replaying the video, or trying the interaction a second time. Many courses might even offer you a second chance automatically if you don’t get a question correct.

This sort of instantaneous feedback is one of the hallmarks of eLearning.  Let me give you an example.  When I was in high school, my math teacher wanted to test out a rudimentary eLearning program on us.  The idea was to help all of us improve our mental math skills and do so with all of us receiving immediate feedback, and working at our own pace independently.  

Each of us sat down in front of a laptop that had what looked like a giant pdf document open on it.  The document was filled with math problems.  Most of them pretty simple, but some more complex, and clearly more than you could ever hope to answer in a single sitting.  Our teacher told us to turn the sound up really loud on the computers and then to work to finish as many problems as we could.  

If you’re wondering why we had to turn the sound up really loud, so were we, but the answer quickly surfaced.  From somewhere in the class we heard an unmistakable sound coming from one of the computers.  Perhaps the most famous single syllable in the english language: Homer Simpson’s “D’OH!”  echoed through the classroom.  What had caused it became obvious all too quickly.  The computer program had been set up to reward each wrong answer entered with a loud and obvious “D’OH!” for all the class to hear.  Correct answers by contrast were rewarded by being allowed to move on to the next math question.

In the end the results of that particular experiment were mixed.  Some students took to it immediately and began solving problems as quickly as their brains could solve them.  Others quickly buckled under the public scorn and shame brought on by the repeated sounds of “D’OH!” coming from their computer and refused to continue.  Still others began using the sound effect to compose little musical vignettes composed entirely of the single syllable.  

While the results may not have been wholly satisfactory, the principles were sound.  If you don’t get the correct answer you need to try again, and keep working until you figure out where you went wrong.  And these second and third and 10th attempts need to happen right away.  Immediate feedback is key to this process, because it doesn’t help anyone to receive feedback days or weeks after they’ve already made the mistake.  By then the pattern is ingrained and the actual mistake long forgotten.

This is one of the areas that eLearning can outperform traditional schooling.  By employing intelligent interactions to create a custom learning experience, learners are free to fail, try again, and do so immediately until they have learned the correct answer at last.  This method boosts retention as well because the repeated exposure to the information strengthens the stimuli to the brain, making it easier to recall and use later.

That’s the power of eLearning when it’s used correctly: lots of people, learning information that sticks, all at their own pace.