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Education Bookcast

Jul 11, 2022

I wanted to talk a bit about some areas in which my thinking about education has improved with the addition of nuance, and about the ways in which thinking can be more nuanced.

  1. Desirable difficulty - a case where quantification and the awareness of countervailing forces / costs improved my initial, flawed understanding.
  2. Cognitive load theory - a case where I was so enamoured with the power of the model that I had started to equate the it with truth (or confuse the "map" with the "territory"), but a well-put listener comment made me realise that there are phenomena that the theory cannot account for.
  3. Motivation - a case where perspectives offered from other cultures and other disciplines undermined my initial confidence in the findings of psychologists.

I also discuss the idea put forward by Ference Marton in discussing the following questions:

  • Is learning by yourself better than learning by being taught?
  • Does homework enhance learning?
  • Is problem-based learning better than lectures for big classes?
  • Is individualized learning preferable to group work?
  • Is project work a good idea?

Marton writes:

The problem with questions of this kind is that they cannot be answered. It is not that they cannot be answered yet, and it is not because of a scarcity of research funds or a scarcity of good ideas. They are simply imponderable because of the
degree of generality. Asking these questions is like asking whether pills are better than operations, or whether a hammer is better than a screwdriver, or whether eating is good for your health.

While I do believe that there are some ideas that can be flatly considered wrong or unhelpful, there is something to say for Marton's view. Ultimately a mature understanding requires a well-developed worldview or philosophy, which can't be transmitted in a single sentence. Questions at the level of generality of "Is eating good for your health?" demand a structure to be put in place explaining the nature of human nutrition and digestion, not simply a "yes" or "no" answer.

Enjoy the episode.