Using cognitive inconsistencies to improve student learning

You may recall the story of William Miller, the Baptist preacher who prophesied that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would take place on October 22, 1844. When Miller’s prophecy failed to appear, many of his followers, in desperation, turned away from Millerit Church and became disillusioned.

But some did not. In the face of Miller’s failed prophecy, true believers found ways to defend their former beliefs.

Loyalists reinterpreted Miller’s prophecy. Some insisted that on October 22, Christ returned to earth spirituallynd, Marks the beginning of a new era of atonement. Others claim or that the date witnessed the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, a harbinger of the second coming of Christ.

These ideas helped to form several religious communities, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Bahাই’ বিশ্বাস Faith.

We’ve all heard the variation of Thomas Huxley’s 1870 phrase: “The great tragedy of science হত্যা the killing of a beautiful conjecture by an ugly truth.” Truth may be a stubborn thing, but previous beliefs and ideological promises often override truth.

Why do controversial ideas survive even when called into doubt?

Social psychologist Leon Fastinger’s theory of cognitive inconsistency provides a widely quoted answer. Just because an idea has been experimentally rejected does not mean it is enough to deny it. Instead of rejecting previous ideas, people find ways to reconcile, excuse, rationalize, and correct their previous opinions to reduce inconsistencies or tensions or conflicts between their previous beliefs and current realities.

In other words, we see what we want to see.

Cognitive inconsistencies occur when our predictions, choices, and predictions are denied. As we will see, we can use this concept to improve students’ learning.

Discrimination bias – the tendency to critically accept evidence that supports our beliefs and the tendency to actively criticize, refute, or excuse evidence that challenges that belief – in general, I would say sadly, in the case of education.

The tendency of people to cling to dubious, dubious, even disrespectful ideas is as true in higher education as in any other field.

  • Why do students maintain study habits – such as cramming or extensive practice or reading and re-reading paragraphs of text, repeating at intervals instead of active recovery, or explaining a difficult concept — which becomes suboptimal or vice versa?
  • Why do colleges continue to offer remedial courses as a solution to academic unpreparedness, even though educational evidence suggests that such courses are often a black hole?
  • Why don’t instructors make the most of experimentally verified best practices, such as frequent quizzing, timely feedback, answer students’ “deep” questions, and combine verbal and graphical and abstract and concrete representations of ideas and information?

Partly from ignorance, inertia and insight. Partly because the status quo seems simple or reflects someone’s interests. But also because of the confirmation bias, the tendency to seek information, favor, and interpret information in a way that confirms previously held beliefs and pre-existing habits.

My take-away: No matter how annoying, we must be willing to question the status quo.

Recently, some difficult questions have been raised about a number of widely circulated educational innovations.

  • Exam-optional or test-blind admission is a good or bad indicator of students’ academic ability or potential or achievement rather than a high school transcript, grade point average, accepted course title, or letter of recommendation or list of application essays or syllabus. , And whether such an approach would increase the transparency and predictability of admissions.
  • Whether or not digital learning is comparable to personal undergraduate education and, if so, for which students and in which courses.

Often, of course, the evidence is knotted.

Take, for example, Maths Path, which offers a unique sequence of math courses for community college students who want to major in the arts and humanities, social sciences, or STEM fields, and specialized pedagogy that emphasizes active problem-solving of real-world problems. In small groups.

Randomized controlled trials have shown that this method increases the number of math credits earned, but does not increase the overall academic progress or degree completion of students. As a result, curriculum content and pedagogy have been significantly revived.

If an institution is interested in taking evidence-based practice – rigorous research replicated with verifiable results – it should be a college or university. Yet, often higher education fails to conduct its practice with the same kind of close critical scrutiny that we expect in other domains.

I am sure we can use the concept of cognitive inconsistency to improve student learning.

How is that? Here are some strategies that you can easily adopt.

1. Warn your students of assumptions, attitudes, and biases that interfere with learning.
Students often enter the classroom with certain assumptions that may negatively affect their learning. For example, they hate history or they are bad at mathematics or unable to learn a foreign language or at best learn dynamically, visually or through speech or alternatively through discussion.

Confront these assumptions and explain why they are wrong.

2. Help your students recognize cognitive impairments that adversely affect our thinking.
Often, we jump to conclusions. Or emotionally reasoning. Or embrace a very simple, exaggerated or positive (or negative) discount, or a very simple duality. Or refuse to change an opinion despite having contradictory evidence.

Recognizing these distortions is the first step in overcoming these cognitive tendencies.

3. Actively deal with confirmation bias, the tendency to cling to preconceived notions.
Help your students identify their existing assumptions and present data, sources, alternative perspectives and other information that challenges these assumptions. Also, help your students reflect on their emotional resistance to alternative approaches or interpretations.

4. Challenge your students to think more deeply.
Critical thinking is essential because we tend to reject, dismiss or reduce information that is inconsistent with our pre-existing beliefs. Provide students with a variety of evidence or sources that can dispel myths, misleading assumptions, and misconceptions. Accept an inquiry or inquiry that addresses existing interpretations, beliefs, or perceptions.

5. Encourage metacognition.
Create opportunities for self-reflection in your course. Cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness and strengthen students’ ability to track and evaluate their skills on the course material and adjust their study strategies.

Cognitive incompatibility theory relies on the recognition that discomfort, stress, and anxiety occur whenever there is a tension or conflict between pre-existing beliefs and conflicting realities. People often try to deal with this discomfort through various processes: denial, deception, and various excuses, rationality and justification.

But learning requires discomfort. Inexperience, awkwardness and embarrassment often accompany the early stages of the learning process. We express our ignorance. We make a lot of mistakes. We get the wrong answer.

Precisely because the tendency to learn is stressful, emotionally painful and embarrassing, courage is required for successful learning.

Our job as teachers is to challenge students if we want them to grow cognitively and emotionally. If students are not outside their comfort zone, they are less likely to actively process information or learn new techniques or internalize a new concept.

To be sure, the need to make students uncomfortable is never an excuse for insulting, humiliating or patronizing students. Our goal – to encourage critical and metacognitive thinking – is to build their analytical and evaluative capacity, not to downplay their inherited opinions or deeply held beliefs.

But make it clear to your students: Self-satisfaction diminishes learning, which requires us to question conjecture, common sense, and commonly accepted theories and understandings.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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