The Neuroscience of Learning

23 Jun

Neuroscience has the potential to prove and disprove existing educational learning theories, as well as identify learning disabilities. It will eventually lead to new discoveries and clearer explanations about the internal processes of the brain/mind. Hopefully, this information will make its way into educational textbooks and school curriculum. It already has determined many specific functions of the brain and aspects of human memory from research experiments using electrodes, electroencephalography (EEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). For example, from the use of implanted electrodes in rats, neuroscientists identified place cells (neurons) that respond to a specific place from a collection of neurons (schemata) when needed (Ward, 2010).

Neuroscience has determined specific learning activities directly related to components of the brain. Neuroscientists are able to measure neuronal activity by observing the spiking rate of neurons as they code information. For example, the hippocampus stores contextual details for recall in a spatial map of the environment (Ward). This was discovered in a research study that planted electrodes in rats that maneuvered a maze; these rats’ neurons exhibited a high spiking rate only when they were in a particular location (O’Keefe, 1976). Later, in a study of humans that maneuvered in a virtual environment, it was determined that humans have place cells that are lateralized to a particular region of the hippocampus (Hartley, Maguire, Spears, & Burgess, 2003). The implications from this research finding suggest that it’s important for learners to discover the routes themselves in order to store this information; otherwise, it may not become a part of the spatial map if provided directly from the instructor.

Another study related to learning and cognition identified the basal ganglia as being responsible for regulating motor skills and skill learning (Ward). This was found through disorders of the basal ganglia. For example, individuals with Parkinson’s disease have damage to the basal ganglia structures and subsequent poverty of movement (hypokinetic). Neuroscience is helping better understand neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson, but it still has not been able to solve them all.

Moreover, neuroscientists used fMRI to identify mirror neurons in monkeys. These neurons respond specifically to precise actions that are goal-directed but not to mimicked actions without an object (Ward). The neurons were even sensitive to the direction of rotation in mirroring an action. A study with infants showed similar imitation processes that are goal-directed more so than action-oriented. This data was collected from observation, not with the use of fMRI. These studies indicate that the act of imitation requires deeper cognitive processing than mimicry. Neuroscientists are investigating relations with mirror neurons and mirror systems such as empathy. These mirror systems are “…neural resources that disregard the distinction between self and others (Ward).”

There are many limitations to collecting data for neuroscience. For example, it’s difficult for young children to keep still under a scanner, and this disrupts the MR signal. Children are also unlikely to tolerate electrodes from an EEG. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) noted that even though fMRI shows activity in particular parts of the brain in correlation to specific mental activities, it really does not explain why or how. Additionally, the medical ethics of research on human subjects limits some of the advances of neuroscience. There is also a political debate on the use of animals as subjects of research studies. 


Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J., & Norby, M. M. (2011). Cognitive psychology and instruction, New York, NY: Pearson.

Hartley, T., Maguire, E. A., Spears, H. J., & Burgess, N. (2003). The well-worn route and the path less travelled: Distinct neural base of route following and wayfinding in humans. Neuron, 37, 877-888.

O’Keefe, J. (1976). Place units in the hippocampus of the freely moving rat. Experimental Neurology, 51, 78-109. Ward, J. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. New York, NY: Psychological Press.

Practical Second Language Acquisition Strategies

14 Jun

People dining outside of a restaurant in Norway on a sunny day.

One of my friends journeyed across the Atlantic for a new job where he’ll need to learn a new language.  As a farewell gift, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my practical experience in successfully learning two foreign languages while working abroad.  In the past, my masters in teaching English as a second language provided me with some excellent practical strategies.  These are the ones that worked for me.  I hope they help you, too!

1. Eaves-dropping: I learned this from my professor in graduate school, world-famous second language researcher, Rebecca Oxford.  This learner strategy was mentioned as useful by surveyed students in a book she edited, Language Learning Strategies Around the World: Cross-cultural Perspectives (1996).  This would fall under Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory.

2. Silent rehearsal (a.k.a private speech or subvocal rehearsal): I also learned this from Dr. Oxford back in the 90s.

3. Read your favorite children’s book in that new language. For, example, I’ve read The Little Prince in three languages—it never loses its beauty.

4. Find a tutor to exchange language journals.  Meet with them regularly and informally. Write about what interests you.  For example, I wrote a short form of poetry in free verse.

5. Immerse yourself in the everyday language communicated on their radio stations, TV channels, local newspaper. and yes, the local pub!

6. Learn the shared words that have crept into their language through pop culture, history, or religion. These are called friendly cognates.  Also, learn the false cognates; hey don’t mean the same thing

7. Study, test, test, test yourself on the grammar to develop long-term memory of it. Roediger & Karpicke (2006) found that students in the treatment group of study-test-test-test (STTT), outperformed other students in other treatment groups (SSST and SSSS). This is referred to as the testing effect.

8. Become the extrovert that pushes the envelop to encounter opportunities to practice the language by yourself.  If you hangout with other English language speakers, they will keep you from learning the language.  Try to find locations where no one speaks English.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.

(Note: This is a work-in-progress. I’ll keep adding the research basis when I have more time to devote to this.)

List of Student and Teacher Expectations for Online Courses

29 May

What you can expect from your Instructor:

  • I will reply to your posts within 24-48 hours except during holidays.
  • I will provide clear and concise instructions and exercises for you to follow.
  • I will monitor discussions to clarify students’ postings, highlight good or interesting comments and ideas, and provide insight.
  • I will provide the necessary components of successful interaction: explanation, demonstration, practice, feedback, and assessment.
  • I will provide a range of practice opportunities–from self-corrected multiple choice items to free form expression on a concept.
  • I will provide meta-cognitive, cognitive, and social strategies for instruction.
  • I know the platform you are using very thoroughly, so that I can anticipate and make good guesses about the origins of any problems you are likely to have, and some answers for them.

What I expect from my Students:

  • You will meet the minimum technical requirements of this course. Take the student orientation tutorial for this learning management system before getting started.  Seek other training services for basic computer and word processing skills (e.g., JagSkills).
  • You should always use good grammar and spelling when posting online.  Use the spell check feature.
  • All your messages will be consequential and full of content! For example, simply responding “me too,” or “thanks,” does not include content.
  • You follow the rules of Netiquette. For example, no bullying online.
  • You will consistently respond to most postings.
  • You will complete all required tasks in a timely manner.
  • You will not copy (plagiarize) the work of others and claim it as your own.  Cite your resources using the American Psychological Association’s (APA) manual for publications. It’s currently in the 6th edition.

Protocol for Technical Issues:

  • First, make sure it’s not a browser issue (e.g., Google Chrome), and try a different browser to see if this resolves the issue.  If so, then you either need to update your regular browser or clear its history/cookies/cache.
  • Read the information in the Help tab (online manual) to learn how to use a tool.
  • Read log error messages and record specifics of problems and forward this to the tech support and instructor. Take a screenshot if possible to illustrate the exact problem.
  • Remember that your peers can help you, too!
  • Last, after someone fixes the problem, make sure you refresh the Web page, as the system will remember the exact same page you were looking at the last time you logged in.

Research Study: Plans for an Online Community of Inquiry

12 May

4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible

5 May

The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act.

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance:

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with alternative text.
  2. Use San Serif fonts for online text.
  3. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  4. Caption all audio and video.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps people that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation.  For example, screen readers like Microsoft’s JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment.  Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course. This included images on a course page, within a PowerPoint, or Word or PDF document. For eCollege, simply add the description for the image when you are uploading it—this is a required field called Descriptive Text.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to the Webliography in eCollege, it asks for the name of the link to display and the URL.  Think about simplifying information by providing the specific name of the Website instead of a confusing Web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The exact name of the Website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them.  Additionally, the assistive technology will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-secure-period-ecollege-period-com-forward slash-shc,” et cetera.    This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here is a good and bad example:

Fonts.  Sans-serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans-serif fonts do not have the “hats and shoes” on certain letters that serif fonts include.   eCollege provides the following San Serif fonts: Arial, Comic Sans, Microsoft (MS) Sans Serif, Segoe UI, Tahoma, and Verdana.  Avoid using the following Serif fonts offered in eCollege: Courier New, Georgia, Garamond, and Times New Roman.  This is because serifs in these fonts may waiver and be difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.

PDFs.  Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of the PDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box.  If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology.  Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair “unreadable” PDFs.

Ensure your MS Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF.  MS Word 2010 and version 2013 have accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues your document has. Within MS Word, select File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.  Fix issues like missing alt text for images.  See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home.

Captions.  Caption all media.  Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions), so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs. See list of free captioning services below. If you don’t have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video or audio file.  However, transcripts do not provide equal access to the lesson because the words and images from the video are not in sync to enhance meaning.

  1. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning.
  2. for captioning any video on the Internet:
  3. CaptionTube for captioning YouTube videos:
  4. Subtitle Workshop for captioning any video:

Sandra Rogers

Instructor Feedback for Teacher Presence

21 Apr
Cartoon headshot of blogger, Sandra Rogers

Be ever present in the online courses you teach.

Instructor’s online behaviors were not a focus of research until the momentum of online teaching occurred (Baker, 2010).  Based on research on human learning (Ormrod, 2012), one can draw on several theories for delivering targeted instruction at the right time: Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect (primacy and recency effect), and the presence or absence of retrieval cues in Cormier’s information processing theory.  Students need “right time” feedback that targets their instructional needs.  Moreover, feedback formats should vary to enhance the lack of richness in text-based media commonly found in online environments (Arbaugh & Hornik, 2006; Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

As cited in Moore and Kearsley (1996), Moore’s 1973 transactional distance theory explains how electronic communication tools promote student-student and student-teacher interactions. They theorized that the geographical distance matters less than the course structure.  Online courses that provide e-tools for communication close the distance and provide psychological closeness between the teacher and the class similar to closeness created in traditional courses (Lemak, Shin, Reed, & Montgomery, 2007).  Arbaugh and Hornik (2006) suggested video conferencing, voice messaging, and some other types of multimedia.  Bernard et al. (2004) found a larger effect size for course completion rates with synchronous sessions when compared to asynchronous ones.  Baker reported that students in synchronous courses reported higher levels of instructor immediacy levels.  If synchronous sessions are tied to higher course completion rates, then, perhaps online instructors should intermittently offer them.

Arbaugh and Hornik found that online teaching requires the instructor to take on a facilitator mode and manage discussions in a conversational style to augment student interactions.  The informality of the conversation could lessen the psychological distance between the students and their instructor. Moore and Kearsley likened distance education to a transaction that could create a psychological space for potential misunderstandings.  Therefore, the risk for misunderstandings could be increased when teachers wait until week’s end to post their responses.  Hence, this may not be a very good practice.   The lack of, or delay in, instructor feedback is a critical component in distance education.

Why do some online instructors not provide a format for class discussion?  There’s a multitude of possible reasons from a lack of ability, unrecognized benefits, a preference for lecture-based instruction, or lack of time.  An alternative would be to provide an online discussion moderated by a teaching assistant or participants in the class. In a literature review by Thormann, Gable, Fidalgo, and Blakeslee (2013), student moderation generated more frequent and in-depth discussion for the learners. They found that student ownership of the course increased. Understandably, some participants reported dissatisfaction if the instructor rarely participated.  Therefore, the teacher still needs to participate in the online discussions even with a student moderator.  The US Office of Education (Means et al., 2010) conducted a meta-analysis and review of 99 online learning studies.  They found larger effect sizes for studies that included collaborative or teacher-directed learning activities than those with independent study.

See my PowerPoint presentation for more tips on incorporating your teacher presence in your online courses: Effective Online Communication.


Arbaugh, J. B., & Hornik, S. (2006).  Do Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles also apply   to online MBAs?  The Journal of Educators Online, 3(2), 1-18.

Baker, C. (2010).  The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation.  The Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1-30.

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes,  M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Wingspread Journal, 9(2), 75-81.

Lemak, D., Shin, S., Reed, R., & Montgomery, J. (2005).  Technology, transactional distance, and instructor effectiveness: An empirical investigation. Academy of  Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 150-158.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. Retrieved from

Moore, M.G., & Kearsley, G. (1996).  Distance education: A systems view.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Ormrod, J. E. (2012).  Human learning.  New Jersey: Pearson.

Thormann, J., Gable, S., Fidalgo, P., & Blakeslee, G. (2013).  Interaction, critical thinking, and social network analysis (SNA) in online courses. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(3), 294-318.  Retrieved from

Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students

9 Apr

Silhouette of head with different objects floating overhead

Dweck (2009) identified students’ beliefs about learning as their mindsets. Those who underestimate their ability to learn may have a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn have a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to know the right answer. They want to be corrected; their ego isn’t tied to learning. They don’t mind revealing what they do not know. They understand that learning takes effort, and they enjoy it. Those with a fixed mindset don’t pay attention to corrective feedback; they don’t want to put forth effort to learn. Instead, they believe that learning shouldn’t take any effort because it’s tied to their intelligence. It shouldn’t be difficult if they’re intelligent; their ego influences how they learn.

It would be helpful for educators to explain the difference between the two mindsets to students and share the research findings. Perhaps students could use a learning style inventory to understand their mindset. Then they could reflect on how to make changes (self-regulate) to a growth mindset if they fall into the fixed mindset category. More importantly, educators need to learn how to provide feedback on student performance so as not to endanger a learner’s growth mindset. For example, praising a student for being smart doesn’t build their self-esteem. Instead, students must acquire self-esteem from their own effort and from overcoming struggles. Therefore, educators should praise persistence, acknowledge struggles, and identify students’ selection of challenging material/tasks. Focus on the process not the product when providing feedback.

Whatever mindset a person has will mold their motivation to learn (Dweck). A person’s personal belief of their ability to complete a task is explained in the the self-determination theory posited by Deci and Ryan. According to Deci, this theory states that personal control and autonomy (willingness, volition, endorsement of activity) affect your motivation to learn.  There is intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Deci explained how extrinsic motivation can hinder the motivation to learn. For example, if you pay students for something they already enjoy doing intrinsically, this could cause them to rely on the extrinsic payment. If the extrinsic reward is removed, the student may become unmotivated to do the same task. This is because with extrinsic rewards, the learner does not maintain control nor autonomy of their learning. The extrinsic motivation is coerced. However, Deci explained how some extrinsically motivating events can become internalized as intrinsic. For example, helping the teacher with cleaning the classroom to earn a reward becomes something the student realizes is important for the good of the class.

Deci, E. What is self-determination theory? [Presentation]. Retrieved from Social PsyClips

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from

Case Study: Saudi English Language Learners’ Gameplay

26 Mar

Collection of My Best e-Learning Blog Posts

16 Mar
How participants can prepare for a webinar & understand how to interact

A Pathway for Participants to Understand How to Prepare & Attend a Webinar


I’ve been blogging since 2011.  I noticed I had 61 blogs listed in the category for e-Learning.  Here’s a collection of my best effort to help others understand how to improve online learning and your professional online image as an eLeader.

Face-to-Face to Online Course Development Checklist

From Face-to-Face Teaching to Blended Format

How to Make Your Online Course Accessible

Personalizing Distance Education

Effective Online Communication

Online Cognitive Activities that Engender a Community of Inquiry

 WebQuest for Creating Critical Thinking Job Aids

Scoop.IT! The Critical Reader

Use of SecondLife for Educational Purposes

SecondLife: Advantages and Disadvantages for Education

 Process Map for Participants to Attend a Webinar

 Another Basic Tool for Online Teachers: The World Clock

Personal Branding for the 21st Century Educator

Follow my e-newspaper, The Online Educator, to learn from leaders in the industry.

Online Cognitive Activities that Engender a Community of Inquiry

28 Feb

Tag words from my blog

What does your syllabus say about your online course?  I just completed a research project developing a rubric  to identify the potential for a community of inquiry in online college courses.  Then I used the rubric to review 23 online course syllabi from my university’s College of Education.  I found a high amount of cognitive presence in the instructional activities and extensive and varied learner support.  Overall, the syllabi met, or exceeded, a moderate level of planned activities to engender a community of inquiry in their online courses.  As you may surmise, the online course syllabi were very detailed.  I did not review the actual courses, only the syllabi.

Here are the examples of cognitive online activities used in the undergraduate and graduate level courses:  developing questionnaires, peer review of papers, pre- and post-assessments, analysis of case studies, critically review an article, development of a personal instructional design model, student-created multiple-choice questions, hyper inquiry team project, academic controversy assignment, instructional design project, peer evaluations of project, simulation project, develop a creativity workshop, developing an online course, developing course evaluations, creating a welcome video, creating an academic contract, creating a course checklist, writing a literature review, completing CITI module, evaluating a program, completing a meta-evaluation of a program evaluation, develop an autobiography, conduct child observations, weekly self-evaluation of own learning, create a professional development plan, essay exams, develop a book trailer, develop a podcast, develop lesson plans, develop a how-to video, write a blog, develop a personal learning network, develop a digital story, develop a wiki, curate digital books and other electronic resources, and participate in monitored teacher education field experience.

I plan to submit my paper to an upcoming conference and try to publish the findings.  My report is 34 pages long, so I’ll share the highlights in a few more blog posts.

Sandra Rogers


Archive of seminars for educators scheduled weekly at

The Starry Mantle

Outfit Ideas for Lord of the Rings Online

ROSE BARD - Teaching Journal

“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.― Paulo Freire

South Alabama Gaming Educators (SAGE)

Broadening the "stage" for the SAGE through virtual worlds, gaming, and alternative/augmented reality technologies

An A-Z of ELT

Scott Thornbury's blog


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