(Un)Desirable Difficulties

Filling the pail


A new review paper has been published buy Chen, Castro-Alonso, Paas and Sweller in the journal Frontiers in Psychology: Educational Psychology. The beauty of this journal is that it is open access and so you can read the whole thing without a subscription.

And I recommend reading it. It is perhaps a little technical, but it does contain an excellent summary of some key principles of cognitive load theory that I don’t think I’ve seen before in an open access article. However, this is an aside.

The aim of the paper is to try to understand the sometimes contradictory findings of research into ‘desirable difficulties’. These are strategies that temporarily make learning a little harder but that supposedly lead to better retention and transfer of learning. Desirable difficulties include the generation effect, the testing effect (or retrieval practice) and varying the conditions of practice. You are probably familiar with some…

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