Interactive Reinforcement vs Active Learning

In Ed lessons, interactive questions can come in two forms - Interactive Reinforcement and Active Learning (Note - we're not counting tests as lessons in this article, as these focus more on checking learners' knowledge than teaching them new concepts).

Interactive Reinforcement involves asking a question on information previously covered in the lesson. It reinforces the lesson's content by forcing learners to recall and revisit what they've been previously told.

For example, if this was an Ed lesson and I wanted to offer some interactive reinforcement, I might present you with the following question:

Active learning is a different concept. It asks learners to figure out the correct answer to a question, using their own knowledge, and clues provided to them in the lesson, following the "show, don't tell" principle of education. It lets them makes mistakes, and challenge themselves, while always making sure they understand the correct answer once they're done.

As an example, I might ask you to circle the correct answer in the following question:

Having learners figure out the answer to a question means they are more likely to agree with and remember the answer, as they are able to understand the factors which contribute to the situation (and if they didn't understand, you can explain it in the takeaway anyway).

Does that mean you should always use Active Learning over Interactive Reinforcement? Not necessarily - there are of course unique benefits to both question types.

Interactive Reinforcement is great when you need to reinforce difficult concepts (perhaps in one of the earlier times a learner has been exposed to content), where learners might not be expected to be able to "figure out" the answer. Active Learning in this case may even frustrate the learner, as they don't feel like they've had enough support to complete the question they're being asked.

In fact, this is a major challenge of using Active Learning - you need to know your learners' capabilities well to ensure they don't give up on trying to answer a question because they feel it's unfair. Done poorly, Active Learning runs the risk of losing learners' attention and negatively impacting retention.

Along these lines, another benefit of Interactive Reinforcement is that it is more easy to create, and can be made in a shorter timeframe. Ed's rapid authoring tool allows learning to be created reactively, and respond to new trends faster than any other learning management system. Spending too long trying to bring your lesson from an 9/10 to a 10/10 by perfecting your "clues" and "Active Learning" can mean missing out on a lot of potential benefits. And if we can learn anything from pop culture today, it's that something that's imperfect but finished (Game of Thrones TV series) is probably better than something that's perfect but never sees the light of day (Game of Thrones book series).

However, there are cases where Active Learning should absolutely be used over Interactive Reinforcement.

Interactive Reinforcement can be thought of as refreshing learners' memory - asking them to draw information from their short-term memory back up to the top of mind for an extra round of repetition. If the content never left top of mind, the Interactive Reinforcement won't be drawing back anything. The concept is still sitting right there at the top of their head. If you squint you can see it.

In this case, Active Learning is more appropriate. The learner has just been told the "clue" to the answer and it is top of mind, meaning they don't have to expend resources trying to draw in all the relevant information, and can instead put their mind to the task at hand - puzzling out the answer you want them to.

Therefore, if you're going to use Interactive Reinforcement, there should be a mental break between the learner the reading a concept and being asked about that concept. That could come in the form of reinforcing a different piece of information, or could simply come in the form of more knowledge transfer.

To summarise, Interactive Reinforcement is a type of question that directly covers information previously provided in the lesson, while Active Learning asks learners to figure out the answer you want them to. If you're on the lookout for new ways to improve your lessons, you might do it through the introduction of some quality Active Reinforcement.

To see more ways information about how to improve your Ed lessons, check out our webinar on Microlearning Best Practices, or send us your questions to

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