New research studies support the idea that when learning difficult concepts, we’ll learn more if forced to go through some mental hurdles, so to speak.
If a piece of information is very easy to process (e.g. in large Arial font), we may be over-confident in how well we’ve retained that information — and more likely to skim it — while information that’s presented in a more challenging fashion (e.g. small Comic Sans MS font) forces us to read more carefully and think more deeply about the material.
Participants studied a list of words printed in fonts of varying sizes and judged how likely they would be to remember them on a later test. Sure enough, they were most confident that they’d remember the words in large print, rating font size (ease of processing) as more likely to sustain memory even than repeated practice.
They got it exactly backward. On real tests, font size made no difference and practice paid off, the study found.
And so it goes, researchers say, with most study sessions: difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence.
If you have editable documents presenting new material for you to learn, try switching the font style to one that’s less familiar to see if this works for you. The researchers also, of course, suggest that applying more effort in other ways will aid learning: making outlines, avoiding study crutches like answer keys and reworking the material.
Check out the full article for other findings about how we learn. We’ve also got advice here for writing things down to learn more effectively, and improving recall by changing where you study. Got a study or learning tip? Share it with us in the comments. Photo remixed from an original by jepoirrier
Come On, I Thought I Knew That! [The New York Times]