THEORY: Bjork files – Desirable Difficulties

Desirable Difficulties in Theory and Practise.

If you set up a ‘desirable learning environment’ it appears you can develop fast learning (or apparent rapid progress). However, if you create ‘desirable difficulties’ including spacing, interleaving, testing rather than re-study and variability. These slow down the apparent learning but improve long-term learning and also the transfer of information to new circumstances.

Which begs the question why do syllabuses present topics in blocks with tests at the end? As a teacher you should look at your long-term goals. What do I want my students to know as key concepts at the end of the year. These concepts will need to be interleaved, repeated and hooked up to other contexts during the year. These goals can not be covered and then dropped. By doing this you will develop your own varied syllabus.

Below are some of the key concepts in more detail:

Spacing: The spacing effect is the finding that information that is presented repeatedly over spaced intervals is learned much better than information that is repeated without intervals (i.e. massed presentation). This effect is one of the most robust results in all of cognitive psychology and has been shown to be effective over a large range of stimuli and retention intervals from nonsense syllables to foreign language learning across many months (like using memrise).

This theory of spacing would predict that an optimal learning schedule is one with expanding retrieval practice, rather than equally spaced practices. With successive practices, information is better learned and becomes inaccessible more slowly. As the greatest learning occurs when information accessibility is low (but not impossible), increasingly longer lags between retrieval practices should lead to better long-term learning.

Generation: One robust and longstanding finding is that generating words, rather than simply reading them, makes them more memorable. As an example, this effect is often achieved for single words through the use of a letter-stem cue (ex. “fl____” for “flower”) or by unscrambling an anagram (ex. “rolwfe” for “flower”).  Perhaps this could be used as a strategy to help children learn to spell.

Interleaving: “Spacing is one of the most robust, effective ways of improving learning. However, spacing calls for intervals of time in between repetitions, and this may not be the most efficient use of time. Imagine you have three final exams to study for. If you were to space out study of three whole courses, you might as well start your course review before the quarter even begins! Particularly when one has several different things to learn, an effective strategy is to interleave one’s study: Study a little bit of history, then a little bit of psychology followed by a chapter of statistics and go back again to history. Repeat (best if in a blocked-randomized order). Interleaving benefits not only memory for what is studied, but also leads to benefits in the transfer of learned skills. The theory is that interleaving requires learners to constantly “reload” motor programs (in the case of motor skills) or retrieve strategies/information (in the case of cognitive skills) and allows learners to extract more general rules that aid transfer.”

So keep the learning mixed, allow your learners to move around the room doing different tasks/learning exercises. Mix up the learning styles, don’t teach just one method. Get the children to move around the room. I was taught, sat at the desk in one place. Real life is not like this and by allowing children to learn in different environments you encourage long-term learning and recall.


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