Busting Brain Myths

What really works in information literacy tutorials

September 1, 2022

Dispatches - Yvonne Mery

When I taught undergraduate education courses, I had to design lesson plans to engage students at all levels with different learning styles. But the concept of learning styles, like visual and kinetic—along with ideas like left-versus-right-brain dominance and that we use only 10% of our brains—is a neuromyth. Neuromyths are long-held erroneous beliefs about how our brains work. Research shows that presenting students with information according to their learning styles makes no impact, but it’s still true that every learner is different. Here are strategies for meeting students where they are.

Focus on andragogy when teaching adult students. Pedagogy centers on how children learn, while andragogy is about how adults learn. Activating our adult students’ prior knowledge allows them to reflect on what they may already know about a topic and build on that with new information. Allow adult students to choose different paths and skills based on their goals.

Employ user-centered content. Most information literacy (IL) tutorials claim to focus on users but instead put content at the forefront while user experience takes a back seat. When designing an experience for the user, first ask yourself how you will motivate and engage the student throughout the tutorial. Only then should you consider the content and in what order you will present it.

Include gamification. Games can be engaging and motivating but are often missing from IL tutorials, possibly because gamification may be associated with elaborate storylines, characters, and graphics. However, simple gaming elements can enhance a tutorial. Most content-authoring tools allow you to easily add points to questions, levels, a timer, and rewards or extras for correct actions.

Use brain boosts. One of the most effective ways to encourage retention of new information is to bring it up again. Simple multiple-choice questions in a tutorial, even if presented just a few minutes after, can aid retention. If possible, scatter questions throughout the tutorial so students must recall information they encountered at different points during the instruction.

Implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL means designing instruction that will allow all students to improve learning and provide for more individualized instruction. The three main principles of UDL are:

  • Provide multiple means of engagement by allowing students to choose from different topics and levels.
  • Provide multiple means of representation by communicating material through video, text, and images.
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression through different types of assessment questions (for example, multiple choice, short answer, reflection).

Design for microlearning. Tutorials more than 10 minutes long are common in IL instruction, but they may cover too much information for a student to work through and retain in one session. Instead, divide tutorials into chunks that are less than five minutes long each, while maintaining a complete lesson with an introduction, practice, and assessment.

Flip the learning. I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of online tutorials when they are designed around the students. However, they also have their limitations. IL skills need repeated practice and real-life application. Tutorials are best used in conjunction with a class session where students can ask questions about the tutorials’ content and use their new skills and knowledge to complete a task or assignment.

We are just beginning to understand online learning, and it’s vital that instructional librarians embrace current pedagogical—and andragogical—theories around what works in online instruction.

Adapted from “Designing Information Literacy Tutorials: Tips, Techniques, and Trends,” Library Technology Reports vol. 58, no. 5 (July 2022).



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