Etherless Learning

learning everywhere, all the time

How facts backfire

Posted by Ming Ling on August 21, 2010

On “How facts backfire“:

Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

This has profound implications for educating the general populace. I’ve actually just been pondering the ethics of educating people up to (down to?) the trough of the U-shaped curve of learning and development.

Lately I’ve found myself coming back to Strike & Posner’s “intelligible, plausible, and fruitful” criteria for conceptual change. If our target audience doesn’t perceive these new ideas to be fruitful, they’ll have no motivation to change.

I’ve also been thinking of all these ways in which a little (or a lot) of knowledge can make learning harder: backfire, U-shaped development, expert blindspot, information overload. I’ll probably think of more to add to the list later. Given the considerable risks of this happening through so many different mechanisms, how can we equip learners against them? It seems that some of the answers may lie in influencing the learner’s affective, motivational, and metacognitive states: making errors and belief change nonthreatening, incentivizing accurate information and valid reasoning, and developing an understanding of these cognitive errors. But I’m still concerned about learners for whom this doesn’t succeed and who then get left worse off than they began.


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