Creating Conditions of “Cognitive Disfluency”

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses research that shows our efforts to make it easier for students to process course materials may be less effective in promoting learning. This article is worth a read and connects research about learning with some of the teaching methods many of us already use. I could see using some of this information to explain to students why course materials are NOT being made as though to spoon feed them what they need to know. (The first study referenced in the article seems to equate learning with memorization, but law students also must spend significant effort memorizing, whether to excel on traditional exams or, ultimately, to pass the bar.) Also, those of us who struggle with less-than-perfect classroom slide presentations may take some comfort – wacky fonts may be a better tool than we thought!

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4 Responses

  1. It’s an interesting thought … We’re told that PowerPoint is the end-all, yet my experience comparing learning outcomes with and without PowerPoint slides was that the PowerPoint decreased the students’ learning success. Fancy technology isn’t necessarily better.

  2. I agree. Power point tends to be about as engaging as watching a fish tank with fish that are being held captive of the absence of our imagination. Adapting the case-method, given all of the technological devices that clamour and compete for our attention is perhaps best served by switching all devices off and engaging in what they now refer to as ‘face time.’ And what’s more, not to talk at students but talk with them. I know, too much. Still, it’s a thought worth counting 1-10 on before disregarding completely. 1,2,3…

  3. One solution is to adopt the “Problem Method”. The problem method is part of the movement toward Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Beyond business schools, which have used it for three-quarters of a century and call it the “case method,” PBL was pioneered in medical schools beginning in the 1960’s and has since spread to other professional schools, including dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, nursing, social work, architecture, and engineering. Gabriel Moens, The Mysteries of Problem-Based Learning: Combining Enthusiasm and Excellence, 38 U. TOL. L. REV. 623, 624 (2007).

    A review of the literature suggests that “PBL develops more positive
    student attitudes, fosters a deeper approach to learning and helps students retain knowledge longer than traditional instruction.” Michael
    Prince, Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research, J. OF
    ENGINEERING EDUCATION, 223, 229 (2004). Similar findings are reported in PAUL MAHARG, TRANSFORMING LEGAL EDUCATION:
    LEARNING AND TEACHING THE LAW IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST
    CENTURY 39 (Ashgate Publishing Limited 2007).

    With this method of instruction, students will be so engaged in problem-solving that they won’t miss PowerPoint slides.

  4. The cognitive-disfluency research is also relevant to _what_ skills you teach when it comes to legal writing: it tells against some plain-writing dogma. (See “Cognitive Disfluency: Simpler Isn’t Always Better – http://tinyurl.com/3e9fqcs )

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