helpFactors that Influence Learning


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

1. List clarity, task orientation, student opportunity, variety, and teacher enthusiasm as the five factors found (by Rosenshine and Furst) to most influence learning.

2. Cite two original examples of promoting each of these five factors in an original presentation.

Factors that Influence Learning

What can a presenter or teacher do to improve learning? A number of researchers have attempted to answer this question. Rosenshine and Furst (1973) identified factors that influence learning, for example.
(Rosenshine, B., & Furst, N. (1973). Chapter 3: Research on teacher performance criteria. In B. Othanel Smith (Ed.), Research in teacher education - A symposium (pp. 37-72).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.)
Here are the factors they found most important:

1. Clarity

This refers to the ability of the learner to clearly see, hear, and understand what is being said. Threats to clarity include small fonts, jargon, slurred speech, obstructions to sight, and ambiguous language. Clarity was found to be the number 1 factor in improving learning.

2. Task Orientation

Furthermore, it is important for there to be clear instructions regarding just what the learner is to do. Checklists, procedure sheets, and other aids may help the learner stay on task.

People tend to learn better when they are engaged in a task. If they spend time with introductions, attendance, or other "housekeeping" chores, they have less time to spend on task. Teachers and presenters who keep guiding their students and audience back to the topic have a better chance of achieving their objectives.

3. Student Opportunity

Students and audience members should be given the opportunity to engage the material. This could mean that the speaker is quiet at times to allow the listener to digest what they've heard. Or maybe there is an activity where the listener writes something, or discusses an issue with the person next to them. If a hands-on activity is indicated, be sure to budget adequate time, space, and materials for all participants to adequately engage the material.
Furthermore, student opportunity covers the cognitive opportunities a speaker gives their listeners. For example, picture one speaker who asks,
"Why did our biggest customer leave? Maybe we'll never know, but we need to keep going."
Compare this with a different speaker who asks,
"Why did our customer leave, Henry?"
(In this example, Henry was alerted that he should have been paying attention.) Now look at the following:
"Josalyn, why do you think our biggest customer left?"
As soon as the speaker used her name, Josalyn became fully engaged, but the rest of the group probably did not. Now consider the following:
"I'd like you to each take two minutes to think about why our biggest customer might have left, and then write down on you pad two things your department could do to keep this from happening again. Take your time." [The speaker is quiet.]
In this last situation, all audience members were actively engaged with the question, unlike in the previous examples.

Given your audience the opportunity to cognitively engage the concepts of your presentation.

4. Variety

Some people learn better by listening, some by seeing, some by doing. Regardless of their best mode of learning, it would help everybody in your audience if you covered the material in a variety of ways.

For example, if you are teaching workers how to properly install a protective hearing device, you might wish to show a short video, use a large illustration of an ear, hand out a brochure with text and graphics, and have everybody practice. (This might seem time consuming, but each could probably be done in a minute or less.) The variety of approaches has a better chance of changing behavior than if you had used a single approach.

5. Teacher Enthusiasm

(I'm really glad this one made the top five.) The enthusiasm of a teacher or presenter is contagious. If you show interest in a topic, your audience is more likely to be interested. If you apologize for how boring a topic is, don't expect them to stay awake or listen to you any more.
But this means that an effective presenter must possess some of the skills of an actor. If you are not genuinely enthused about a topic, but you realize that your audience would gain more if you seemed enthused, maybe you should exhibit the symptoms of enthusiasm. (There are two schools of thought on this topic: one promotes this false enthusiasm, the other says it is inauthentic and should be avoided.). "To lie or not to lie, that is the question."
In my experience, it can be very effective to feign enthusiasm. In fact, when I do this I almost always am so convincing that I honestly become enthused about a topic


The factors identified above are just one approach; other research has resulted in different findings. Some, therefore, argue that presenting is an art, not a science. It requires a presenter sensitive enough to the audience to make subtle changes, on the spot, as needed.

Good presenters have a number of tricks, but these tricks were often acquired by much trial and error. Learn from your mistakes, and take risks in your presentations.

"Factors that Influence Learning"
All information is subject to change without notification.

© Jim Flowers
Department of Technology, Ball State University