What is it?
Momentum Learning defines a practice (for some, a philosophy) of pedagogy wherein the focus is, above all else, maintaining a steady pace on a series of learning activities through one or several interventions.
Suppose that we think of a student’s motivation to learn as a renewable but not unlimited resource. Then the goal of a Learning Schedule becomes to take advantage of high levels of motivation for as long as they last. An assumption made often about this scheme is that motivation is not under the control of the educator, and maybe not even of the students themselves. As soon as a student’s motivation on a subject is exhausted, the intervention should move on to the next subject. Another assumption is that motivation will eventually replenish, except perhaps in cases of clinical depression or similar psychological issues. (Cases in which Momentum Learning might help identify preliminary symptoms.)
Most people, especially children, have no problem working on a given task they understand and know they can get better at for a given time window. But there is always a point of saturation after which performance falters. If pressure to perform is excessive, or the conditions to do so aren’t guaranteed, additional time and attempts will not help, and in the long run, it could negatively affect a student’s response to the learning experience.
On top of all this, there’s a critical insight at work: intrinsic motivation is multi-dimensional. Momentum Learning is all about keeping the motivation-fueled pace for as long as desired. Once a student’s motivation is exhausted in one subject, they must immediately get going on another subject where motivation is still high.
In more mature stages, starting at the end of the K-12 cycle, subjects can completely fall out of the interest of the learner. A final starting assumption is that motivation will always exist towards a few, or at least one, subjects.
Does it really work?
To put it bluntly, nobody knows. Internet outlets are treating Momentum Learning like the “bulletproof coffee” diet, and it looks like they will evaluate its claims only after it has made its way into the mainstream. A lot more evidence is necessary to understand its effectiveness, mechanisms, and feasibility.
This is not to say that Momentum Learning has no basis in science. In fact, many of the elements it’s based on are supported by decades worth of experimental research.
- Motivation has been identified as a factor of operational focus since at least the nineties, with research by Mihaly Csikszentmihályi on “flow”, or a state of immersion on a high-challenge, high-skill task.
- Csikszentmihályi’s and subsequent works on the same thread have become the scientific basis for the psychological aspects of motivation in education and the workplace. Among the most recognizable elements are positive psychology and the Hebbian theory in neuroscience.
- Recent research on personality, seeding doubts on the concept of “learning styles,” suggests a wider range of approaches to understand cognitive ingredients of learning, such as memory and decision-making.
What is missing here is an academic articulation of elements and wider replication attempts.
The other aspect that brings a possible hurdle to a better and warmer embrace in standard education practice is its practicality. As motivation is the key driver, interventions should be ready to last as long or as little as the energy lasts and then quickly to shift gears towards a number of other subjects. This can make Momentum Learning prohibitive or restrained. Technology can help making the shifts more agile, but only to an extent; after all, it’s not always possible to stop lab work mid-experiment to jump into a pool to work on perfecting a stroke. The problem only becomes harder to address at the group, classroom, or district/policy level.
So why should I pay attention now?
Claims associated with Momentum Learning may not differ significantly from those made by similar contemporary buzzwords, in either tone or content, such as “Adaptive Learning” or “Personalized Learning” for example.
But if the claims about motivation, productivity, and evidence do not sound good enough, Momentum Learning at its worst is just another way to bring a much needed element into the classroom: behavioral experimentation. As an outcomes-based approach, the scientific method is key. Evidence is admittedly scarce, which is why a rising “Momentum Learning movement” advocates, beyond any framework or doctrine, for more evidence about student-centered pedagogical innovation.
Furthermore, the principles involved in Momentum Learning can be argued for as having been built upon the successes of modern behavioral research. It is at least compatible, for instance, with discoveries about intrinsic motivation and its relationship with productivity.
Alright. How do I get started?
It is important to remember a key premise in learning intervention management: Planning is more than half the battle. In the case of Momentum Learning, the importance of planning is likely multiplied given the variety of possible schemes and the highly experimental stage it is in today. This only makes the systemic lack of planning and development tools for learning interventions, in Moodle and the EdTech field as a whole, all the more critical.
But this is not a complete impediment to get started. On any digital or handwritten tool, set up a basic, three-element plan and a timetable to review said plan. The three elements being:
- A starting set of subjects, ideally part of a Learning Plan with Competencies
- An inventory of tasks associated to each subject
- A set of performance and proficiency metrics for each task
The timetable allows the plan to start with basic elements and evolve according to the observed behavior of the student. Over time, the instructor can provide a higher level of both stability and flexibility, according to their expertise.
Starting a Momentum Learning practice: A Moodle example
There is still an articulate technological toolkit missing for Momentum Learning, both in Moodle and LMS as a whole. However, here’s a short list of plugins you can try out under a Momentum Learning approach:
- Group formation: generate activity sets dynamically. The plugin also allows you to take advantage of peer groups with similar skills to promote high-intensity work. Read our review of Group formation here.
- Stash: place rewards alongside activities so that once students complete a task, they stay willing to keep going until they find a satisfying number of items. Read our review of the Stash plugin here.
- Lesson objectives: Add a sidebar with a tick-off list of goals within a Moodle Course. In the spirit of Momentum Learning, allow completion in no specific order. Ideally, request a minimum of objectives required, but make none mandatory. Read our review of Lesson objectives here.
- Adaptive Quiz: Give students problems according to their level of skill. The algorithm basically searches for the optimum level of challenge in real time. Read our review of Adaptive Quiz here.