Over the past two months, we’ve experienced a race to go virtual across all aspects of our personal and professional lives. From birthday celebrations and happy hour meet-ups with friends. To meetings, conferences, and instructor-led training events nearly everything we do outside of our immediate household is happening online. But going online doesn’t mean that all of your educational content should be delivered digitally. In this (now) virtual world, there are still significant benefits to offering a blend of printed and digital materials to enhance learning.
Using a Mix of Media to Increase Learning Comprehension
Since the rise of the internet, e-readers, and mobile technology, researchers have been studying the differences in reading and learning comprehension when content is provided in digital format versus print. In 2017, the American Educational Research Association published findings from their research on the impact of reading print material versus digital and what effect each has on learning retention. Here is a summary of some of their key takeaways:
Reading on a digital device:
- Students prefer to read digitally
- They read faster online than in print
- There is little-to-no-difference in how well the student understood the main idea of the selected text when reading online versus reading in print
Reading printed material:
- Students tended to read more slowly in print
- Comprehension of more specific details and concepts was significantly better in print than digital
Reasons for the difference in deep learning on a digital device versus print
When you think about how we generally consume content online or on a mobile device, we’re conditioned to “scroll and scan” as a means of sifting through a tremendous amount of content—in our social and news feeds for instance—as quickly as possible. Interestingly, the act of scrolling itself was found to be more disruptive to comprehension than turning a page.
Additionally, researchers since the 1970’s have noticed that memory appears to be visual-spatial. The tactile sense of progress through a book aids the reader with understanding the progress of the story or text.
These findings, however, do not mean that a virtual course or conference is inherently less effective. What it does mean is that there is a place—and even a significant need— for both to co-exist as part of an integrated learning strategy, instead of the either/or approach that many organizations tend to take today with their educational programs.
Using a Mix of Media to Increase Retention and Application
Incorporating a blend of print and digital materials into your virtual educational programming does more than increase initial comprehension. Allowing participants to learn multiple ways also increases learning retention and application.
According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Design, we tend to retain only 10% of what we see, but 90% of what we see, hear and do. Judy Willis, a noted neurologist and researcher on learning and the brain observes, “The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This cross-referencing of data means we have learned, rather than just memorized.”
Using a Multi-Media Learning Strategy in Your Virtual Educational Event
In-person events provide a tremendous amount of value that can’t always be easily replicated in an online environment. So instead of trying to mimic in-person learning, use your virtual educational event as an opportunity to re-think how a multi-faceted approach could work together to provide a better learning experience for participants. Some considerations include:
- What is the role of each element of your course or event? For instance, the learning materials could serve as a general introduction to a concept, while the speaker or instructor video takes a deeper dive to help reinforce the content. Meanwhile, supplemental materials, exercises, and virtual discussion groups could help participants apply knowledge in practical scenarios.
- If your in-person event uses printed learning materials such as manuals, books, proceedings, etc., why not send materials to virtual participants ahead of time? This will not only help maintain the value of the event, but it will also help to build pre-event anticipation to help boost participation.
- If you are sending printed materials directly to individual participants, consider adding elements to the page that provide a gateway to a multi-media learning experience. One example would be incorporating QR codes that direct the reader to supplemental learning tools such as videos, interactive applications, or even a podcast.
While we don’t know what the future holds, it’s highly likely that virtual educational events such as training courses and conferences won’t fully replace in-person learning. Until these programs can resume, think about how you can use your virtual platform to deliver a more multi-dimensional approach to learning. Chances are, once we go back to in-person events, this same approach—engineered in reverse—will become a new standard for delivering education.