Smart Use of Cognitive Disfluency Goes Mainstream

From the NYT, today:

Another common misconception about how we learn holds that if information feels easy to absorb, we’ve learned it well. In fact, the opposite is true. When we work hard to understand information, we recall it better; the extra effort signals the brain that this knowledge is worth keeping. This phenomenon, known as cognitive disfluency, promotes learning so effectively that psychologists have devised all manner of “desirable difficulties” to introduce into the learning process: for example, sprinkling a passage with punctuation mistakes, deliberately leaving out letters, shrinking font size until it’s tiny or wiggling a document while it’s being copied so that words come out blurry.

As far as the larger article: in general, I hate this trend of dressing up educational research findings we’ve known for decades as new “Brain Science”.

“Spaced repetition”? Really, we’re just learning this now?  The truth is Bloom, Vygotsky, Bruner and others got here years ago. And frankly, what is this “new” brain science all the papers keep talking about? Bruner didn’t study the brain? Was the cognitive linguistics I learned a decade and a half ago just applied art?

That said, I think that much of what has been called attention to under this media meme has been good. It reminds me, at least, that we know a crapload about these things in isolation, but most people don’t realize how much we know because the smart integration of these findings into a usable framework has often eluded us. So if some people want to take the public’s fascination with MRI’s and use that to get people to think of education as a legitimate research pursuit and rehash some old findings, I guess I’m fine with that, at least for the moment.

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