Research says making learning materials more difficult to read can significantly improve student performance

This research finding should probably taken with caution until it has been replicated in other contexts — and see the comment on the original blog post about the research design. But, if the findings are backed up, the conclusions are provocative.

Making learning materials more difficult to read can significantly improve student performance. Yes, you read that correctly. Connor Diemand-Yauman and his colleagues think the effect occurs because fonts that are more awkward to read encourage deeper processing of the to-be-learned material.
When people find something easy to read, they take that as a sign that they’ve mastered it. Conversely, the researchers believe harder-to-read fonts provoke a feeling of lack of mastery and encourage deeper processing. However, there’s obviously a balance to be struck. If material becomes too difficult to read, some students may simply give up. Another possible mechanism is that the less legible fonts are somehow more distinctive, rendering them more memorable. Diemand-Yauman’s team doubt this explanation because distinctiveness should wear off over time, and anyway they didn’t use any fonts that pupils wouldn’t have seen before.

The researchers think their finding could be the tip of the ice-berg as regards using cognitive findings to boost educational practice. ‘If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered,’ they said. ‘Fluency demonstrates how small interventions have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.’

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D., and Vaughan, E. (2011). Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118 (1), 111-115 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012

Read more at bps-research-digest.blogspot.com

 

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