The use of drills in supporting learning is one of enabling learners to exercise. Much like learning to play sports, one has to practice a certain strategy/play over and over again until one is able to perform it at a certain level of ability; in other type of situations such as learning to complete a certain clinical procedure accurately one has to be able to practice it many times over before one is comfortable with all the steps involved. Basically drills are designed and used when the need is for learners to effortlessly recall information at a mastery level.
Drills enable a level of exercise or practice with the subject matter that allow learners to internalize the content and no longer need to rely on trying to recall a particular piece of information. Drills aim to support learners in making the content part of them and therefore enabling them to concentrate their cognitive energies on problem-solving. I hope that the design and use of drills will become more obvious by sharing with you an example.
Let’s say you are teaching basic science courses and expect that your students will be able to integrate and apply this knowledge in clinical practice down the road. Anatomy and physiology are examples of such courses. Since the recall of the information from such courses needs to be effortless when students are in clinical situations, you decide to develop an e-learning drill with this core content. In terms of design, even though the core content that learners are drilled on is the same for all learners, how such content is queued for each learner may be different based on learners’ own knowledge. Not all learners will take as long to learn the same amount and may even already know some of the content, therefore, the design of a drill needs be able to adapt, at a minimum, based on what the learner already knows and how much time it takes one to effortlessly recall the new information. This type of design requires adaptive queuing so that if a learner gets the correct answers from their first try they could be provided with more complex and/or higher level of difficulty questions, etc. If a learner doesn’t answer questions correctly the first time, the questions could be recycled and asked again….
Again, the whole idea behind drill design and use is to engage learners in exercising/practicing so that they internalize the necessary information and integrate it within their own knowledge base. This implies that recall of such information becomes effortless and one can concentrate their cognitive energy on more problem-solving processes.
Next week we address Tests!