Study: confusion can be beneficial to learning?

Re: Notre Dame News:confusion can be beneficial to learning: study

Learning is how the unknown becomes known – how the unexperienced becomes experienced – learning for understanding or ability (as distinct from  recall) always involves some degree of stretching attention through confusion (see: Cycle of Engagement). In relation to any particular learning objective, the trick is to minimize the confusion extraneous to the objective and to vivify the confusion within it.


Seigfried Englemann


From Children of the Code’s “Changing Trajectories

The most important point in this piece is the suggestion that we can benefit by “strategically inducing confusion”.  As our primary intention in instruction is to inspire and support the learner’s inner (inside-out) participation in learning, leading pedagogically-strategically them into confusion means we can meet them in their confusion – be together in their confusion –  ‘sync-up’ in their confusionFor both their learning and ours, confusion is a great source of intelligence. For them it represents internal information that something is not right – that something is missing – that they need something more.  If, rather than blowing it off and dulling out, they realize the importance of learning into their confusion (rather than avoiding it) their confusion can lead them to clarify what they need to progress (See: ‘meaning needs‘ ). For educators and the educational system, understanding where, how, and why learners are confused is the best possible source of information for designing and/or tuning instruction.  (See: Miraculous Intersection).

Beyond the purely cognitive pros and cons of confusion,  learners have emotional reactions to the feeling of confusion. In particular, when learners feel ashamed of themselves for being confused their emotional response can disable their ability to learn (through whatever is confusing them). (See:  Confused?: shame on you!)

Sidney D’Mello, one of the authors of the study said: “It is also important that the students are productively instead of hopelessly confused”. And, “it is not advisable to intentionally confuse students who are struggling”. If only we could get that one. We may not intend to confuse students but we are oblivious to many ways we unnecessarily confuse them (see: Cycle of Engagement). For example:

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One Response to Study: confusion can be beneficial to learning?

  1. garydavid July 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to err.” –Mahatma Ghandi

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