Squaring the circle: can learning be easy and hard?


Regular readers will know I’ve been ploughing a furrow on this question for quite a while now. Last June I synthesised my thinking in this post: Deliberately difficult – why it’s better to make learning harder. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the arguments, I’ll summarise them briefly:

  • Learning is different from performance (the definition of learning I’m using here is the long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills)
  • We can’t actually see learning happen; we can only infer it from performance
  • Performance is a very poor indicator of learning
  • Reducing performance might actually increase learning

This is deeply counter-intuitive and runs against the grain of what goes on in the overwhelming majority of schools. So much so that Ofsted have enshrined the need for schools to demonstrate that pupils make ‘rapid and sustained’ progress. I argued in this post that you can’t have both; rapid progress comes at the cost of sustained progress. But unless you’ve accepted the argument that learning is invisible, this is possibly hard to swallow. But once you’ve passed through this particular threshold, it changes everything!

Read more on The Learning Spy

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