Disadvantages? But are there any disadvantages to being a good teacher? Well, there might be. According to a recent research study, a teacher who promotes an interesting lecture, with clear and well-organised explanations, can create an "illusion of learning" and lead students to believe that they have learned more and better than they actually did, when, in reality, these students perform at the same level as those who attended less well-taught lectures. There are, of course, many advantages in keeping students interested, but this "illusion of learning" may also harm learning and academic performance.
In an article published in June 2019, Shana Carpenter, Uma Tauber, and Alexander Toftness (1) analysed the effects of easy and fluent lectures on students’ judgments of learning and test scores. A group of students watched a video of a lecture on information theory taught by an instructor who was standing upright, exhibiting confidence, making eye contact, gesturing, and delivering an engaging speech. Another group watched a video of the same lecture taught by an instructor who was hunched over a podium, exhibiting less confidence, not making eye contact, reading out of notes, and speaking in a monotonous tone. Even though the content of the lectures was the same, the students who watched the video with the fluent and confident instructor considered they had a much better learning experience. However, all students performed at the same level on a final test about the lecture. The researchers provided information about the instructor’s experience, but that did not influence how much students thought they had learned or how well they performed on their tests.
Do these findings suggest that the type of lecture that is taught is not important since students have the same performance on their final tests? Not necessarily. The fact that students believe they learn more when the lecture is easy to follow can have two types of implications:
(a) the students will attend those lectures more frequently and be more interested in the materials covered, which can benefit their future performance; or
(b) the students will believe they have learned enough from attending the lecture and will study less on their own, which can harm their future performance.
This research was conducted in a laboratory and did not fully address the two possible outcomes of the students' increased judgments of learning. However, these researchers concluded that the students who attended the "easy-to-follow" lecture were more likely to recommend the course to other students, made a more positive evaluation of their instructors, felt more motivated to learn, and were more interested in the contents of the lecture.
Therefore, enthusiastic instructors who deliver lectures that are easy to follow may, in fact, increase students’ interest and level of engagement with the lectures. Nevertheless, as this research suggests, such engagement might not only fail to increase students' grades but even harm learning in real-world classrooms, as students may be underprepared for future tests because they think they already know everything they need to know. What is the solution then? On the one hand, we want students to be interested and motivated to learn, on the other hand, we want students to have an accurate idea of what they know and do not know (i.e., to make accurate metacognitive judgments) so that they can efficiently study and prepare for future exams.
The best approach might, therefore, be designing lectures that engage students and, at the same time, use strategies that improve their ability to assess what they do and do not know.
Strategies to improve students’ metacognitive accuracy include:
- asking students to assess their knowledge a few days after the lecture, and, possibly, after they had a chance to reengage with the materials in some activity, which will minimise the effects of the lecture's fluency on their judgments of learning (2; 3);
- asking students to try to recall the contents of the lecture before assessing their knowledge, which will allow them to understand whether there is a disconnection between how easily the lecture was processed and how easily they can remember parts of it (4);
- providing feedback to students after they attempt to recall information, which will allow them to realise whether they might be missing information they thought they knew (5).
In sum, lectures that are interesting and easy to follow, and provide students with an opportunity to assess their knowledge might be a good approach to boost student's learning. Lectures taught by confident instructors, who make eye contact, use gestures to emphasise important topics and deliver an engaging speech, will likely improve students’ interest and motivation. Lectures that allow students to assess how much they know, after some time, and after they had a chance to test their knowledge and receive some feedback, will likely reduce the overestimate of learning that seems to be linked to engaging lectures.
(1) Carpenter, S. K., Northern, P. E., Tauber, S. "Uma", & Toftness, A. R. (2019). Effects of lecture fluency and instructor experience on students’ judgments of learning, test scores, and evaluations of instructors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
(2) Anderson, M. C., & Thiede, K. W. (2008). Why do delayed summaries improve metacomprehension accuracy? Acta Psychologica, 128, 110-118.
(3) Thiede, K. W., Anderson, M., & Therriault, D. (2003). Accuracy of metacognitive monitoring affects learning of texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 66-73.
(4) Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., & Middleton, E. L. (2005). What constrains the accuracy of metacomprehension judgments? Testing the transfer-appropriate-monitoring and accessibility hypotheses. Journal of Memory and Language, 52, 551-565.
(5) Rawson, K. A., & Dunlosky, J. (2007). Improving students’ self-evaluation of learning for key concepts in textbook materials. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 559-579.