Most learners don’t know what works in learning

Various research studies have shown that we tend to perceive a learning experience as more effective when we feel we can easily understand the concepts, or can achieve a task with fluency.

However, effective learning is a deliberate, active and effortful process. If we’re not working – expending cognitive energy – then we’re not building or strengthening the connections in our brains. Desirable difficulties help us to learn better.

For example, in studies on the testing effect, people who had to try to recall (or even guess) concepts or information before being taught them showed much better recall – but predicted that they had done worse than those who were just presented with the information.

Studies have also shown that students who re-read and highlighted information believed they had learned better than those who tried to recall from memory instead – but the opposite was the case.

This highlights the danger of judging the effectiveness of learning primarily on measures of student satisfaction.

It also demonstrates the importance of metacognition and explicitly making learners aware of what actually works in learning.