Misconceptions and effective learning

Misconceptions and learning

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I think that infinite amounts of learning can come out of explicitly addressing the misconceptions held by learners about the mind and our behaviour in the classroom and that this can often be a perfect starting point for teaching new concepts in A Level Psychology. It’s no wonder then that a short video I recently came across, discussing the idea that teaching concepts in Science without including misconceptions might result in poor quality learning, caught my eye.

The 8 minute You Tube video (Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos) makes reference to research (apparently part of the video presenters PHD thesis) that showed that learners who watched a Physics video that addressed misconceptions about the subject content being explained performed better (in a series of assessment questions presented after the video) than those who did not see/hear the misconceptions. What is particularly interesting is that those who saw/heard the video where the misconceptions were addressed reported feeling “confused” and less confident in their understanding, whereas those that simply saw a video explaining the new concept were more favourable in their descriptions of the video (describing it as “clear” and concise”) and more confident in their knowledge but they did not perform as well or recall accurately what they had seen and heard.

Although this video and the research the observations are based on relate to the content of teaching materials taking a video form, the issues raised could apply to any form of instruction or teaching of new concepts and could certainly apply to A Level Psychology.

A Level Psychology

The video presenter, although using Physics as an example, is talking about effective learning in Science and raising concerns about the use of numerous online videos and teaching materials that are clear and concise but perhaps do not engage with the existing “knowledge” of learners. Psychology is certainly a science that everyone thinks they know a bit about already but often this knowledge is based on outdated ideas, unsubstantiated “pop psychology” and media distortions of research; all of which make for a shaky foundation.

I don’t have any further knowledge about the validity and reliability of the research the presenter refers to but the importance of revealing misconceptions and not assuming students are blank slates, even in a “new” subject, is one close to my heart which is why this video and the ideas it raises caught my eye.

Conflict in learning

It is important to emphasise again that although the students referred to in the video were “confused” their learning actually seemed to be better than when they thought the learning materials were “clear and concise”. This might be because they were being forced to re-evaluate and reflect on their knowledge and understanding (it doesn’t feel very nice to find out you were wrong) rather than passively accept new knowledge, paying only a surface level of attention to the materials because it feels familiar and accessible. It is always worth remembering that what students like is not always what is most effective for learning.


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