Desirable Difficulties in Learning

The Science of Learning: Disfluency Effect

Among the desirable difficulties that can be introduced into a classroom to enhance memorization, disfluency stands out as being particularly unintuitive. Disfluency is the process of making items to be learned more difficult to process which means that the student, in using more processing, processes the material to a deeper level. This is usually done by introducing interference during the encoding stage of learning, making the process more difficult, and leading to additional processing right from the start aiding in remembering the material.

The additional processing strengthens associations made between the incoming stimuli and the already present semantic information. When the associations are strengthened there is a better memory for the disfluent than the fluent items (Hirshman & Mulligan, 1996).

Hernandez and Preston (2012) have demonstrated that disfluency can lead to the reassessing of embedded attitudes held by an individual. Disfluency is a powerful tool for learning.

The most studied form of disfluency to date has been the font used in the presentation of material. Although there was resistance to using a disfluent font in the first field studies,

once that was overcome, the evidence was clear from both laboratory and field studies that making the font more difficult to read led to better memory for the material presented. The students were able to recall information faster and more accurately when the material was presented in a font that was slightly difficult to read.

Simple manipulation that leads to better learning. Who would have guessed?

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