Can we encourage deeper learning?

What if everything you knew about education was wrong, by David Didau.

Here is some points from Chapter 3 of a book titled "What if everything you knew about education was wrong?".  In this chapter, the author, David Didau, was sharing his opinions on what educators can do differently for their learners with some interesting studies on how we learn. He suggest to make learning deliberately difficult. It sounds counter-intuitive, but that was the whole push of his writing, to try counter-intuitive things, cos what if everything you knew about education was wrong? So, let's hear him out.

These are 6 things he suggest educators to try.

1. Spacing effect

To give time for learners to forget before reintroducing/restudying something. Space it out. Apparently, there is a study that shows that having time to "forget" before restudying something is better than revising or repeating it immediately. This is due to your brain having more capacity to learn things by forgetting other things, but actually already planted some foundational prior knowledge that helps the relearning.

2. Interleaving

To leave a topic and move on to another before returning to it again.  This can be done in support of the spacing effect. With the usual yearly lesson plans, schools usually chunk learning by topics.  However, weaving lessons between different topics may cause learners to be more alert and pay more attention, as it gives a feeling of unpredictability. Whereas learning a topic concurrently with the goal of strengthening the learning may in fact causes the "illusion of knowing" and false sense of feeling of achievement, hence brain won't work as hard to remember or understand.  As in the learning may not be long term.

3. The testing effect

Again, another counterintuitive point, but David mentioned that more testing than teaching brings better learning than doing more teaching.  Testing means opportunities for learners to test out or apply what they think they have grasped, and that in itself is demanding retrieval of knowledge from memory, which is actually also re-storing it.  Hence, he encourages educators to be constantly testing students. At points, even doing a pre-test to topics that students may not even have been taught yet!

4. The generation effect

Following the last sentence from point 3, this point is similar to and sort of an elaboration of it.  Make students generate answers or ideas or solutions, rather than picking from a multiple choice, for example. The easiest example is writing an essay, the more you "generate" an essay, the better you get, right? Also, generating the wrong answers may also enable learning when you know what the right answer is.  So having students take a test on something they have yet learn actually might enable them to learn it better!  See it like unlearning a misconception and relearning something to replace that. This is also encouraging teachers to let learners lead the search for knowledge, rather than immediately teach and provide them the answers, as the latter may be easier on both educator and learner but may make the learners lazier and the teacher work harder in the long run.

5. Variety

To offer a change in environment we trigger learning in. It could be physical environment or variety in the constraint towards achieving a learning goal. E.g. Write a paragraph, but without using the letter i; or shoot a basketball, but practise at different points on the court.

6. Reducing feedback

Feedback can be good or bad. But frequent feedback will definitely make lazier thinkers. The author used satnav as an example of him learning routes in a new city, in vain, as the satnav already and constantly provided him the feedback of which route to drive on. Timing your feedback is crucial to enable learners to think critically about their learning. Even so, it is not what you say but how and why you say it as well. David believes feedback is to be given only if it is for either of these reasons: to provide clarity; to increase effort; or to increase aspiration.


Basically, it seems like he is pushing for things to be as he mentioned, deliberately difficult, so learners will think for themselves, put in more effort to retrieve seemingly "buried" knowledge and slowly build upon them.

Like a push and pull for the kite to fly higher and flying them in different field or weather to see how well the kite fares, also to not need to "drive" the kite but let the kite soar in the wind (left or right).  Constantly tugging on the kite most probably won't make it fly higher, especially when it is already flying.

As an old local saying goes: "susah-susah dahulu, senang-senang kemudian"- It is difficult at first, then it is easy.

Perhaps the old saying and the author are right?