Confusion isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s time to give up on learning.
According to a recent study, it could be mean you will learn more effectively.
Bewilderment might be the first step in successful learning, rather than a sign that it’s all shot over your head.
The research found that students who experienced confusion when learning complex ideas, actually applied them better later on.
In the study, one group of students were taught a new concept in the usual way: by having it laid out correctly and clearly.
Another group, though, were given conflicting information and were motivated to try and work out what was true.
Students who worked their way through the confusion learned better than those who were served it up on a plate, the results showed.
Dr Sidney D’Mello, who led the study, said:
“It is also important that the students are productively instead of hopelessly confused.
By productive confusion, we mean that the source of the confusion is closely linked to the content of the learning session, the student attempts to resolve their confusion, and the learning environment provides help when the student struggles.
Furthermore, any misleading information in the form of confusion-induction techniques should be corrected over the course of the learning session, as was done in the present experiments.”
Productive confusion is not always helpful.
Dr D’Mello thinks that learners must…
- want the challenge,
- be willing to risk failure,
- and able to manage negative emotions.
Productive confusion probably assists learning because it makes the mind work harder, Dr D’Mello explained:
“We have been investigating links between emotions and learning for almost a decade, and find that confusion can be beneficial to learning if appropriately regulated because it can cause learners to process the material more deeply in order to resolve their confusion.”
The research was published in the journal Learning and Instruction (D’Mello et al., 2012).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Confused image from Shutterstock