Easy lessons won’t help students learn better

Toronto: Making lessons easier for students may not help them learn better. According to a Canadian study, making students struggle with problems by introducing difficulty in the problem will help them perform better in the long run. According to researchers, when students have to really think and evaluate what they have to do, this desirable difficulty contributes to meaningful learning.

“When I first started teaching, I thought my role as a teacher was to take difficult topics and make them easy,” said Fred Phillips from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. “While there is some immediate value in that, it is fleeting, it degrades memory over time,” Phillips added.

The team observed, making accounting problems simple does not help students as much as does making those same problems difficult. To gain a better understanding of this concept, researchers recruited 170 business students to take part in the study.

One set of the students was given a series of accounting problems in successive order, each concept building on the next: essentially they learned A, then B, and then C in a grouped pattern. The other group received interleaved problems where A, B and C were presented in a non-grouped order (ABCABCABC). This group did not practice A, B or C in a successive order and students took longer to solve the problem.

The theory is that struggle leads to long-term connections in memory that won’t degrade over time, Phillips stated. Immediately following the practice problems, the first group could do the problems faster and scored about 8 percent higher than others.

They tested the students once more, this time a week later. Interestingly enough, the first group’s score dropped significantly compared to the previous scores (a 27 point decline), while the second group’s score dropped on an average by only four percent.
“Desirable difficulty contributes to meaningful learning,” Phillips concluded.

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