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Posts Tagged ‘cognitive

This SciShow video should be compulsory viewing for teacher education or faculty preparation.


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Creating cognitive dissonance is a strategy for unlocking opportunities for learning. Why? You cannot learn if you do not first unlearn misconceptions, bad habits, or harmful beliefs.

It is just as important to recognise barriers to learning as it is to know what strategies to employ. This video identified at least three barriers to cognitive dissonance:

  1. Rationalising one’s behaviour
  2. Selecting exposure (information bubbles)
  3. Ignoring the facts

Today I reflect on a fundamental principle that informs my teaching: You cannot learn before you unlearn.

My first foray as a teacher educator was in 1996. I was still a teacher then and had the approval from my school principal to do this part time.

After introducing myself to my classes of pre-service teachers, I had an unusual way of describing one of my expectations. I would first ask them to describe the worst students.
 

 
After they invariably mentioned misbehaving, aggressive, or otherwise difficult students, I would tell them that sometimes the worst students are teachers. It was my way of creating cognitive dissonance and establishing a lasting expectation.

There was dissonance because you would expect teachers to not misbehave and to be motivated to want to learn to be better practitioners. But I would explain that adult learners tend to use their experiences as anchors for learning. These anchors can hold them back particularly if they are based on misconceptions, pseudoscience, or fallacy. As my courses were about ICT, this was my way of telling them that I would challenge many of their beliefs and attitudes about technology.

On the surface, my statement seems like a shock tactic. Dive deeper and you see the workings of cognitive dissonance. To learn something new often requires the unlearning of something old or irrelevant. This is like tearing down an unsound building and before building a better one in its place. Dissonance is like the first swing of the wrecking ball or the “Fire in the hole!” call before activating explosives. Dissonance is the start of unlearning so that learning can happen.


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This is sad and upsetting. A reputable YouTube channel that focuses on science education had to appeal to viewers to favour “facts over clicks”.

Why? The producers of that channel did the hard work of reporting science as responsibly as they could. Others simply gamed YouTube algorithms and put views over standards.

The problem with the latter group is that its viewers are more likely to get quick fixes and wrong ideas. This perpetuates shortcuts and misinformation.

But I am glad that the responsible channel did the right thing by calling bad behaviour out. It also put out a call to action — support channels that do the right thing and not the popular thing.

The right thing is not just responsible, it is informative too. For example, did you know that N95 masks operate like spider webs instead of sieves when capturing particles?


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The responsible channel might rely on stick figures to educate, but that does not mean that it is low in quality. Quite the opposite. Consider its strategy to create cognitive dissonance first instead of presenting all the information.
 
From Minute Physics: N95 masks catch large and small particles, but let some medium-sized particles through.
The dissonance was created by first telling us that both large and small particles are easily caught by an N95 mask. However, medium sized particles get through more easily. This makes you wonder why and puts questions before answers.
 
The quick fix is to just provide answers. The long game is to create cognitive dissonance first. This has the benefit of an anchor which serves as an emotional hook and a puzzle to solve.

The pedagogy is apparent in such a video. This takes skill and hard work. This is about placing questions before answers and facts before clicks. This is what good modern educators do.

I am a fan of proper infographics, not wannabes or pretend-to-bes or images mistakenly labelled as infographics.

One of my favourite sources of infographics is BeautifulNews. Here is one of their more recent illustrations.

Then there are data visualisations that create an emotional and cognitive impact.

The tweeted two-minute video illustrates how something fuzzy like income inequality in USA can be cleverly illustrated with an actual pie and not a pie chart.

The impact is made not just from the final product of pie allotments, but also the process of getting there. This creates shock or surprise, which might then trigger some decision-making on the part of the learner.

These are just a few of many clues when deciding when to use static visuals or moving ones for cognitive dissonance.

If empathy cannot be sold or taught as something altruistic, then try selfish empathy. This was the conclusion of this article by Mindshift.

The read was a good one because it created cognitive dissonance. It might also be a more prudent approach given the changing culture.
 

 
This better approach is not always obvious. Another Mindshift article published at around the same time called the old approaches “cognitive set”. The dissonance might then be upsets.

One only really learns after being challenged or upset. If we hear or experience something we already know, that is called reinforcement. That is why I appreciate reading articles like the ones published by the aptly named Mindshift.

Cognitive tutors (CTs) was an item on the Masters course document I was given a few months ago. It was an unusual item given how little I had heard about it of late.

The first time I heard about CTs was almost 15 years ago. I asked a colleague whose academic focus was intelligent agents to educate me on CTs. He used Microsoft’s Clippy to illustrate.
 

 
Clippy sensed what you might be doing in MS Word and offered to help. For example, it might detect that you were writing a formal letter and offer to format it.

Clippy is long buried in the digital graveyard. But newer CTs like Carnegie’s authoring tool allow teachers to do essentially the same thing — scaffold learner processes so that they arrive at learning products.
 

Current CTs like PhotoMath and Wolfram Alpha operate differently. They provide learning products (e.g., math answers) and give students the choice to learn the processes.

While a traditionalist might shudder at the thought of allowing students to take shortcuts, I argue that current CT apps give the learner agency. That sort of empowerment is more important than trying to merely engage. The former relies on learner motivation while the latter depends on teacher edutainment.

You might know cognitive bias by a different name.


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The movie-phile might cite a young Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does”. The well-read might label this as the Dunning-Kruger effect.


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According to the video above narrated (by Stephen Fry, no less!) cognitive bias can take root due to the salience effect (what gets emphasised) and repetition (what gets repeated).

Some might point out that a little knowledge might be a dangerous thing, but — to quote a line from the video — complete ignorance also breeds confidence. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The obvious salve seems to be to inject the stubborn and ignorant with timely information. But pride and bias make for thick skin. So Fry hinted at an alternative strategy: Tackle emotions first. Find ways to connect with those you seek to change.

Learning is a form of change. So if teachers take anything away, it might be this message: Reach to teach.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

Recently I have been reflecting on the frailty of our memories and ability to recall events [example] because of current events.


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Memories are imperfect not just for victims and witnesses of events. The same could be said of all of us. With the exception of very few, most of our brains are designed to forget, not to remember.

Justice systems might learn from cognitive and psychology research. How about those that reinforce the building that is old school and hunker down in it?

 
Before I conduct seminars or workshops, I tell participants that I design activities to create cognitive dissonance.

Challenging adults on what they think they know is one of the best ways to learn. So I tell participants how to detect moments of cognitive dissonance and to take advantage of them instead of dismissing them.

Every now and then I get feedback after I conduct a session that goes something like this: Thanks for providing this experience. I have learnt a lot. But we’ve been doing this for a while. You’ve helped us put a name to our process.

This could be an awkward form of praise, a backhanded compliment, or something else entirely. So I ask questions, clarify, and then reply. By doing this, I have come to recognise a pattern. Often the person who provides this feedback is the least participative and the most authoritative.

Their authority is not necessarily one of rank, seniority, or position. It comes from a place of supreme confidence that what they already know is best. The problem is that they do not know that they might have a limited perspective that is informed neither by research nor by critical practice.

Another hallmark is the inability to articulate what they think they know or do. Recently I asked someone what they already do. Over a few minutes, I received an answer that was structured as such: We do [noun], [adjective], and [verb].

Here is an example designed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent). What I heard them say is that they do apple (noun), delicious (adjective), and blending (verb). If they know their strategies and methods, they should be saying something like slicing, sharing, and blending (all verbs).

If someone is not capable of clearly articulating what they believe, know, and practice, I am not convinced that they have well-founded beliefs, knowledge, or practices.

A practitioner of cognitive dissonance might say that this person is trying to assimilate new ideas into old and existing schema. This is the force-fitting of seemingly related concepts into a larger concept. This is like putting “socks”, “windy”, and “sailing” into the drawer of “something to do with air”.

What a humble and reflective learner should do is accommodate instead. This could mean putting the three concepts in three or more different drawers. It could also mean adding to the schema by creating new categories of understanding.

When a learner assimilates, new information is added to existing knowledge. He or she learns something that serves as an example, a reminder, or an extension.

When a learner accommodates, new information challenges his or her existing categories of knowledge. This is a much more troublesome and active process. As a result, the learning gains are much higher.

A practitioner needs to rely on both strategies while leveraging on cognitive dissonance. Assimilation is comforting; accommodation is challenging. I generate more of the latter to live up to the term dissonance.

I felt encouraged when I read this tweet by @fryed.

Not many will make such a statement about learning the most when confronted or challenged. Even fewer will be able to live by their words because this is not an easy thing to do.

I wish more people tried to live up to this ideal, particularly in PLNs. Far too many are overly sensitive and feel attacked when they are not. A challenge to your ideas is not one to your person. It might become a challenge to your character if you cannot tell the difference.

Real educators are not just natural nurturers, they are also critical companions. You cannot accept one and reject the other.

Being challenged to learn is also known as experiencing cognitive dissonance. When you experience something different or difficult, you can ignore it, assimilate it, or accommodate it. That is another way of saying you can not learn from the experience, make excuses for not learning from it (or taking only what you like from it), or changing as a result.

@fryed said dissonance was the best way for her to learn. If learning means we change our beliefs or behaviors, then might this be the only way we actually learn?


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