3 tips to foster reflection and mental engagement in digital learning

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Asking questions ahead of study primes students for learning. Illustration of people working together and using elearning.

Amid all the challenges and opportunities of life after the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about the growing importance of being able to adapt to new situations quickly. To build the required mental and emotional resilience we have to get better at engaging in dialogue with information, with ourselves, and with others on deeper levels.

As a learning experience designer at Insitu, one of my main goals is to foster reflective thinking and to invite learners to question and engage with the material presented to them. Here are three strategies I’ve found particularly helpful.

1. Ask questions instead of giving answers right away

In a blog post on making remote education more effective, Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab encouraged educators to not talk too much and leave time for asking authentic questions – questions that have no simple answer.

I find that the same principle is even more crucial for elearning modules that have no instructor or video content. Asking learners engaging questions can challenge them to shape their own answers and make connections between the learning material and their own lives. This can help to reduce mindless click through.

Quizzing before presenting relevant content is a powerful tool for presenting concrete information as well. In chapter 4 of Range, David Epstein presents evidence that asking questions ahead of study time primes students for learning.

Asking questions ahead of study time primes students for learning.

2. Challenge learners to express themselves

Formulating your own thoughts, explaining concepts to peers, and applying knowledge in real life are powerful tools for effective and lasting learning.

Challenge learners to reflect on or summarise their learning in a video message, a one-page written piece or through artwork. You give them ownership over their journey and communicate that their unique voice has a place in the conversation.

However, this only works if timely human feedback is available and it is reasonable to expect completion and the required time commitment.

If this is not possible, you can also challenge learners to interact with each other, for example by setting up a jigsaw-type activity and asking them to report back into the LMS.

Formulating your own thoughts, explaining concepts to peers, and applying knowledge in real life are powerful tools for effective and lasting learning.

3. Model the attitudes that you are hoping to foster

My creative and professional confidence started growing exponentially through working with respected scholars and leaders who showed no fear of asking naive questions. They took all of our ideas seriously and were at peace with not having absolute answers.

Asking stupid questions can be liberating. It encourages others to ask questions and not make assumptions, and it’s just as important in the business world. As Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO says, “I position myself relentlessly as an idiot at Ideo. And that’s not a negative, it’s a positive. Because being comfortable with not knowing – that’s the first part of being able to question.”

While I had been keenly aware of the importance of these skills, I only started applying them when I was immersed in an environment where people I look up to actively modelled them.

Phrasing content in a way that invites questioning and that acknowledges ambiguity, when appropriate, can be a powerful tool to engage learners. It can equip them with agency in their learning journey and beyond.

Including videos or quotes of respected experts doing the same is a great way to help accept and adapt to the fluidity of our world regardless of content area.

What strategies do you use to encourage reflection and deep mental engagement in digital learning? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch here and we’ll set up some time to talk.

The Power of Reflection – a free ebook from Insitu

Reflection is a key component of effective learning.

Inside our free ebook we share:

Why reflection matters

Tips, tools, and examples

How to integrate reflective practice into your business

If you want to understand how to build a company culture where reflection is a valued part of daily operations – this ebook is written for you.

Eszter Mészáros is a Senior Learning Experience Designer at Insitu.