People tend to hold strong beliefs about the best way to learn. These beliefs have usually developed through years of education and personal learning. Individuals adopt learning strategies that they have been taught, have observed others using or have picked up through trial and error. Unfortunately, researchers have found that our intuitions about the best ways to learn can be misleading.
Research on learning, memory, and metacognitive processes has demonstrated that learners are prone to intuitions and beliefs about learning that can impair, rather than enhance, their effectiveness as learners.
— and others, Annual Review of Psychology
Metacognitive illusions occur when the circumstances trick learners into believing they have successfully learned something, when in fact they have not. Different factors can mislead people into mistaken assessments of learning success. Researchers have demonstrated that simple manipulations of information such as using a large, bold font or a louder auditory cue can make people more confident in their ability to recall it. The ease or fluency with which information can be interpreted appears to trick people into thinking it will also be easy to remember.
The foresight bias is a good example of a metacognitive illusion that leads to inferior learning performance. This cognitive bias occurs when individuals overestimate their future performance. It is usually studied in the context or remembering or testing. While reviewing for a test, individuals tend to be overconfident about how much they will remember. Researchers believe that the presence of the answers while studying leads people to overestimate how much they know. This leads to an illusion of competence , which is thinking something has been successfully learned when really it has not. It is overconfidence in the ability to remember, fuelled by a feeling of familiarity with the content.
The unfortunate result of these metacognitive illusions is that people continue to use ineffective learning strategies (e.g. re-reading, highlighting, copying notes, etc.). They don’t appreciate the power of adopting new strategies such as interleaving or self-testing .
To dislodge these illusions and improve performance, learners must recognize the difference between ineffective and superior learning strategies. It can, however, be challenging to let go of firmly held beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence .