How to Design Analogies for eLearning

Analogies are a powerful way to explain “unknown” topics by linking them to what the learners already know. Since learning is really about the transformation of experience into knowledge, a component of this process has to do with what is called analogical reasoning.

When a learner grasps new concepts with analogies, it’s like putting their ability to learn on steroids. This is because analogies provide the shortcut to understanding.

Let’s say you are designing an eLearning module about sleep apnea. What would be the analogy you would use to explain what happens during sleep apnea? Virend Somers, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, describes that sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway (respiratory tract) collapses during sleep. He likens this process to sucking on a “wet paper straw.” To visualize this concept, check out this short sleep apnea video, where you can see how the wet paper straw analogy can be applied. The video does not mention of a wet paper straw, but this is where you come in as an instructional designer to help the learner make the connection between the collapse of the upper airway (shown in the video) to the concept of sucking on a wet paper straw.

See how analogies can be used? It’s a powerful learning technique. For more on analogies, visit my Slideshare presentation below to discover how to use analogies in eLearning. Would love to hear about some of your favorite analogies in the comment box below.