Funny fonts may not lead to better learning

Filling the pail


Back in 2011, there was a flurry of excitement when a group of researchers found that students recalled more information if it was presented in a hard to read font, such as something fancy in italics, than if it was presented in a traditional, easy to read font like Times New Roman.

The finding fed interest in the concept, developed by Robert Bjork and colleagues, of ‘desirable difficulties’. In short, the idea is that by having to engage more cognitive processes to read the font, we learn the material better.

This view is in apparent conflict with findings from cognitive load theory, findings that generally suggest that we should reduce any unnecessary cognitive load.

Since 2011, there have been numerous attempts to replicate this effect. Now, a meta-analysis has been published that attempts to draw this evidence together. The findings are mixed, with no overall effect on basic recall…

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