On introducing ‘desirable’ difficulties into your teaching – and why learning shouldn’t be easy

harder better

This month I was thrilled to speak at the ResearchED National Conference (though I had to make a swift exit at lunchtime due to being struck down by illness) and to have my article on ‘desirable’ difficulties published in the Issue 2 of the ResearchED Magazine.

All credit for the title of the piece goes to Tom Bennett…

Harder, better, faster, longer?

The fetishisation of ease is ubiquitous: you only need to look down at your smartphone to see how advances in technology have converged to squeeze a multitude of processes into one hand-held device for your convenience – a camera, easy access to cat videos and social media all in one place! We don’e even have to get up from our sofas to change the TV channel or rely on a map to get us from A to B anymore. But at what cost this ease? In making life as easy as possible, what are we losing? Aren’t some difficulties in fact desirable?

These are questions we ought to be asking of our classroom practice too. When we make learning easy in the classroom, what is the cost? The work of Bjork and other researchers suggests that practices that ‘appear optimal during instruction’, such as massing study sessions and blocking practice, ‘can fail to support long-term retention and transfer of knowledge’. Whereas introducing certain difficulties that ‘slow the apparent rate of learning’, such as reducing feedback to the learner and interleaving practice on separate topics or tasks, ‘remarkably’ has the opposite effect.

You can read the rest here.


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