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Trickle is a community of lifelong learners where you can discover curated insights and share your own knowledge

Trickle is a community of lifelong learners to discover and share knowledge

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Trickle is a community of lifelong learners where you can discover curated insights and share your own knowledge.


Desirable difficulties lead to more effective learning

Chapter 1 The importance of learning to learn


Effortful learning produces more long-lasting memories and promotes deeper understanding. Robert Bjork Share this expert RB Robert Bjork suggests that introducing desirable difficulties to the learning process will make it more effective. Desirable difficulties make the learning process more challenging and effortful, thus resulting in better, more long-term learning performance. Desirable difficulties encourage deeper processing, which is likely to make the memory easier to retrieve.

Difficulties can also be undesirable. Undesirable difficulties induce anxiety because the learner is not equipped to deal with them. Effective learning takes place just outside the learner’s comfort zone. The challenge should be well matched to the learner’s existing knowledge and skills. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Share this expert MC Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this balance between the difficulty of the challenge and the capabilities of the individual in his concept of flow , a psychological state of full immersion in an activity. Other researchers refer to the balance between skills and challenge as the optimal challenge point .

Bjork suggests several ways of introducing desirable difficulties into the learning process:

  • Variation : varying both the environment in which learning takes place and the sequence in which learning tasks are performed ( interleaving )
  • Spacing : learning in multiple sessions, while allowing time for some forgetting to take place between sessions.
  • Testing : attempting to retrieve the learned material without looking at the answers. This does not need to be a formal test; informal self-testing also works.

There are many ways to incorporate desirable difficulties into learning activities ranging from using hard-to-read fonts to creating problems that need solving. The takeaway message is that if learning feels easy, it is probably not as effective as it could be. Effective learning takes place when it is challenging, and there is the opportunity to make mistakes.

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