Research Topic

How Desirable Are "Desirable Difficulties“ for Learning in Educational Contexts?

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Desirable difficulties in learning refer to mechanisms that aim at making the learning process harder for the learner but that result in better (long-term) retention than conventional learning. Examples of such desirable difficulties include spacing or distributed learning, where the total learning time for ...

Desirable difficulties in learning refer to mechanisms that aim at making the learning process harder for the learner but that result in better (long-term) retention than conventional learning. Examples of such desirable difficulties include spacing or distributed learning, where the total learning time for one topic is distributed across different sessions instead of spent in one, massed session. Interleaved practice refers to the alternate engagement with different topics instead of learning one topic after another. Furthermore, generation means that parts of the study material are generated by the learner instead of providing the learner with the complete material in advance. Finally, testing refers to the active recall of the learned information already in the learning phase instead of repeatedly going through the material.

The positive effects of the aforementioned desirable difficulties on memory – and in particular on long-term retention – have been demonstrated in a large number of studies. However, most often these studies were conducted in laboratory settings with university students as participants, and including rather incoherent learning material (e.g., word lists). The general effectiveness of desirable difficulties has also been demonstrated in several meta-analyses. However, it is still an open question whether these effects emerge in real educational settings, too, that include learners from different age groups, and where coherent learning materials are used (e.g., science texts, or mathematical procedures).

This Research Topic aims at opening a platform for researchers that are concerned with the transfer of findings of cognitive psychology research with regard to desirable difficulties into the classroom. Apart from general effects of desirable difficulties, another focus of this Research Topic is on conditions that might moderate the effects of desirable difficulties (e.g., characteristics of the learners, the learning material, or the learning context). Thus, the central aims are to examine the applicability of desirable difficulties in learning for educational settings and to identify context conditions that may promote (or hinder) these effects.

We welcome manuscripts based on empirical psychological and/or educational studies, conducted in several educational settings including school or university, that are addressing the effects and auxiliary context conditions of desirable difficulties.


Keywords: desirable difficulties, learning, education, long-term retention, individual differences


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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