Science of Learning Research Centre

Confusion is not such a bad thing: researchers

Research in laboratories and digital learning environments has revealed that being confused can actually be beneficial as part of the learning process.

SLRC researchers from The University of Melbourne, Macquarie University, Curtin University and the Australian Council for Educational Research have been studying how confusion can assist learning in a digital environment.

The research to date has shown that being confused cues students into changing their learning strategies to overcome impasses as they learn about new concepts or misconceptions.

Using a combination of research techniques including eye tracking, video recording and an electroencephalogram (EEG) the work has examined the role of confusion in various digital environments.

Professor Gregor Kennedy (The University of Melbourne) said that if students come to a conceptual impasse and experience persistent confusion in digital learning environments, it is difficult for them to progress.

“To date research has explored the association between students’ confidence, the challenge they experience and their confusion while undertaking autonomous learning tasks,” he said.

“Our findings suggest a complex relationship between the complexity of the task – and students’ level of prior knowledge – and the confidence and challenge students report while completing it.”

As the capacity for automated detection of student learning processes becomes more sophisticated, it is hoped to be able to better predict in advance when students become confused and reach an impasse. This should allow for appropriate support and feedback to be delivered within the learning environment in real time helping students achieve productive learning outcomes.

Professor Lori Lockyer (Macquarie University) described the ability to identify and address learner confidence in digital environments as a significant breakthrough and would support direct translation to practical teaching/learning environments.