How Humans Learn: Sociality

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on sociality.

Eyler states early in this chapter that “it is not a stretch to say that much of what makes us human stems directly from our sociality” (p. 66). The absence of social interaction can contribute to physical pain or health issues. As we socialize, there is a strong instinct for imitating what we see in others; this imitating process can help (and will often inspire) learning to take place. The social interaction of playing can help increase an understanding of concepts and social dynamics. Maria Montessori, a pioneer of children education, stressed that learning among young children develops between the interaction of the group.

In education of all ages, the classroom environment can contribute to a sense of belonging. Eyler quotes the research of David Yeager and Gregory Walton: “If students feel more secure in their belonging in school, they may approach others in the academic environment more and with more positive attitudes, building better relationships, reinforcing their feelings of belongs, and laying the groundwork for later academic success” (p. 85).

As instructors, we can foster sociality with classroom management. For Eyler, this is less about monitoring behavior and more about establishing ground rules for discussions, especially with potentially sensitive subjects. We can also model this in our behavior, sharing a variety of perspectives, citing sources in discussions and presentations, and in trying to engage with students as individuals during class discussions. If we use group projects, we can try designing projects that are less divide-and-conquer the responsibilities and more of students gathering evidence and bringing it together.

As the chapter closes, Eyler highlights an educational role-playing game Reacting to the Past and encourages using group activities and discussions, even if it means there’s less time to deliver content. “Let’s think about choosing content carefully as a way to help our students develop a framework for thinking about the discipline” (106-107). Instead of focusing on cramming so much content into our courses, how can we help students, especially those looking for a general degree requirement, make broader connections to our fields of study?

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to:

How Humans Learn: Curiosity

The ADEIL book group has been reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua R. Eyler. After reviewing fields of psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, Eyler saw that humans learn when there is curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure; below are a few takeaways from his chapter on curiosity.

Children are known for being especially curious; it’s how they take in the world and learn life skills while developing. Studies have shown that curiosity in a subject can help memory retention about that subject. Dopamine (a neurochemical associated with pleasure and addiction) has been present alongside moments of curiosity. “Our species has been shaped by nature to be wide-eyed children approaching the world inquisitively from beginning to end, always striving to know more” (p.29).

While curiosity seems to foster learning, in many education settings – and especially as students become older – the desire to achieve higher grades becomes greater than the desire to explore. There is greater incentive in earning points than in pursuing curiosity about a subject. In response to this, Eyler proposes the use of low-stakes assignments and activities. Encourage students to explore a subject, where the primary takeaway is what they explored, not how many correct answers they achieved.

When designing a course, try to think of essential questions and use those to determine the readings and assignments. What do you want students to take away from your courses?

You can encourage curiosity with course discussions by including open-ended questions. Instead of focusing the discussion about what something is, try to focus on why those aspects are important. Eyler also shares an example of a chemistry professor who helps students explore concepts on their own before teaching them; the professor has students construct and deconstruct simple Lego objects while another student times the process. Generally, it takes less time to deconstruct than construct; students are then taught that chemical processes of deconstruction are typically quicker than construction.

Do you have any examples of low-stakes assignments, where students can focus on exploring a subject without fear of what their grade might be?

If you’d like to join the ADEIL book discussion, go to:

ADEIL Book Discussion Group

The Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning has a new connecting and learning opportunity on their LinkedIn page. We’ll be reading How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua Eyler, the keynote speaker at the upcoming ADEIL conference. Even if you haven’t yet started reading the book, the first few discussions have been geared towards peoples’ personal experiences and don’t require further reading. We hope you can join the discussion!

Faculty Symposium Presentation: Meet the Instructor: Building a Social Connection

At the Faculty Symposium this past June, Nick Meyer and Bryan Bortz from the media services team presented on how “Meet the Instructor” videos can build a social presence in your course. As IL instructors, we might not be able to interact in person with our students, but these videos can allow students to see us in our element, like they would in an in-person course. Links to the slides of the presentation (which include some information on the process and benefits of these videos) and a highlight reel are below.

You can download the Meet the Instructor: Building a Social Connection Presentation here:

You can view Nick and Bryan’s highlight reel of introduction videos here:

Faculty Symposium Presentation: Connections and Reflections

At the Faculty Symposium this past June, Stephen Beers and Eric Peloza presented on why and how instructor feedback matters. IL instructors do an amazing job providing quality instruction through quality feedback, and this presentation might offer a few ideas to add to the teaching toolbox. A link to a pdf of the presentation slides are included below. While viewing a pdf can’t replicate the experience of a live presentation, it does include ideas – some general, some specific to Canvas, some questions that we can consider – for providing instruction through feedback.

Faculty Symposium Presentation: Discussion Twists

Have you been looking for more ways to add interaction and engagement in your online discussions? While asynchronous courses may not be the first environment you might consider with online discussions, it can be done, and at the Faculty Symposium this past June, Laurie Berry and Kristin Kowal shared ideas on how to elevate your online discussions beyond post-and-reply. A pdf of their slides are included. While viewing slides can’t replace the experience of attending a live presentation, they do offer ideas.


What are some ways you’ve made discussions work in your courses?

Faculty Symposium Presentation: Course Renovation

Have you been wondering about how you might like to renovate one of your courses? At the Faculty Symposium this past June, Kristine Pierick and Ryan Martinez gave a presentation that compared the work of redesigning a course to a home remodeling project, with examples of what might be a light lift (comparable to a weekend project), a medium lift (comparable to something more substantial), and a heavy lift (the course revision equivalent of redoing your kitchen). In the attached pdf of their slides, they’ve included different examples of what a light, medium, or heavy renovation to a course might look like. These are great to think about while considering what you’d like to revise along with the available time.

Faculty Symposium-Course Renovation

Transition; Professional Resources and Support

As Sarah Korpi e-mailed a few weeks ago, there is not a renewed Memorandum of Agreement with our Independent Learning courses, and we (the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison) are entering a teach-out period. As you think through your own specific transition plan, we want to highlight some of the services and support available to you on campus:

1. On Friday, August 9 from noon to 4 pm, there will be a workshop for IL instructors to assist with this transition at 21 N Park Street, room 7221 (where we usually meet). Elizabeth Schrimpf, Career and Education Counselor with Adult Career & Special Student Services will be customizing a workshop for us. The first half of the workshop will focus on processing this transition on a personal level. The second half of the workshop will focus on specific tools and strategies you can use for job searches. For more info and to RSVP, see the following link. Please RSVP by Monday, August 5.

2. The employee assistance office offers counseling and consultation at no cost to UW-Madison staff:

3. The Division of Continuing Studies (our division on campus) also has several resources that you can use at no cost:
a. Career Counseling:
b. Job Search Support Group:

In the midst of this change, know that your years of service, your passion for teaching, and everything you brought to Independent Learning is immensely appreciated.

Book Review: Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone

You’ve likely seen a few posts about the book discussion with the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning (ADEIL) and Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education by Thomas J. Tobin and Kirsten T. Behling. If you haven’t yet read the book, it’s an excellent read on how everyone benefits when you make courses more accessible, not just people with disabilities (who are often thought of with topics of accessibility). A few key takeaways for designing and teaching courses include: what parts of your course are students not understanding? What do students keep having trouble with or need clarification? Identify those parts of your course. You can also create a “media path,” where you find supplemental media to further illustrate those key concepts that students struggle with.

The book often refers to plus-one changes. With accessibility, we don’t start with overhauling the entire structure. Rather, we find trouble spots and think of another way to present information. If you find a section of your course where students keep having trouble, find one alternative way to present the information. You can even adapt a plus-one change to your assessments. Perhaps instead of writing a final paper, a student might have the option to share what they’ve learned by making a video or website.

The book also outlines ambitious plans on how to create a team to make increased accessibility a priority for an entire campus.

Something to ponder from the book: people of all ages are increasingly using mobile devices to learn, and they’ll often use these mobile devices for just a few minutes at a time for “small, snackable pieces of content and interactions,” perhaps while waiting in line. How can we develop course content that makes the best use of those few minutes when a learner checks their phone?

ADEIL recently interviewed Thomas Tobin about the book, and you can view the interview here:

Teaching Soft Skills Course Recap

Erin Paul-Schuetter took a course on soft skills, and she’s shared a summary of her experience below. What are some ways you might be able to incorporate these ideas – critical thinking, communication, self-motivated learning and teamwork – in your own courses? Thanks, Erin, for sharing what you learned!

Summary of Soft Skills Course

This past fall I took Matthew Hora’s online course, Teaching Soft Skills in College Courses Certificate. My motivation for enrolling in the DCS course was both intrinsic and extrinsic; as an educator hoping to stay current with the needs of 21st century students, I wanted to learn ways to incorporate these skills into the Spanish language and literature courses I teach for Independent Learning. I believed that doing this would, in turn, help me be prepared for upcoming course revisions by incorporating the skills that many employers are asking for today. This course helped me reach those goals and exceeded them in many respects as well. What follows is a brief summary of the course from my perspective as a student and a testimonial of my experience. I hope this will prompt you to think a bit more about where these skills can fit into your classes.

As the course summary states (you can find it  here), this online certificate provides research, theory and frameworks to introduce each of the four “soft” skills: critical thinking, communication, self-motivated learning and teamwork. The readings, video lectures and web resources helped establish a base of knowledge that could be used to provide a rationale for why a particular skill is practiced in the course. Furthermore, the practical suggestions given in the course materials could easily be incorporated into a classroom activity, syllabus, or lesson plan. I can’t stress the practical nature of the course enough; we were encouraged to take what we had learned from the assigned texts and course lectures and videos and apply it to the curricular artifact we had chosen to revise to incorporate at least one or more of the soft skills.

For the final project I chose to revise the syllabus for an existing Spanish literature survey course I teach online. I wanted to overhaul the course objectives so that my students would see the practical and real-world skills they could develop and hone within the context of studying Spanish literature, even if this is a course they take as a degree requirement. In the end I came up with a set of course objectives that focus in on the skills employers are searching for in today’s global economy: critical thinking, communication, and self-motivated learning. (Teamwork was something I had to leave out since my course is asynchronous with students having six months to complete the requirements at their own pace.) In the process I came up with some activities to practice these skills that I intend to use in this class and others: mini check-ins scattered throughout the course that give students the space to monitor their progress and think about how they can actively work toward achieving their personal learning goals (self-motivated learning), a step-by-step guide to identifying the reliability of an online or print source (critical thinking), and practice revising one’s work in a foreign language (communication).

Regardless of the discipline, the practical knowledge gained from this course can help reinvigorate any course with a focus on 21st century skills.