Is it Good When Your Brain Hurts?

The work on naive theories of intelligence (see: Carol Dweck and her academia-tree) demonstrates how the belief that intelligence is malleable leads to improvements in student motivation, persistence, and grades.  A recent study by David Miele, Brigid Finn, and Dan Molden helps explain the mechanism through which this happens.  They investigated how beliefs about intelligence affect whether people use the easily learned = easily remembered (ELER) heuristic to evaluate their learning:

We conducted two experiments in which participants studied word lists and then predicted their future recall of those items. Results revealed that subjects who viewed intelligence as fixed, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating that they had reached the limits of their ability, used the ELER heuristic to make judgments of learning. However, subjects who viewed intelligence as malleable, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating greater engagement in learning, did not use the ELER heuristic and at times predicted greater memory for items that they found more effortful to learn.

Essentially, people who viewed intelligence as fixed believed that increased effort was a signal learning had stopped. On the other hand, those who viewed intelligence as malleable believed that increased effort signaled greater learning was taking place. The finding helps shed some light on why students with incremental theories of intelligence are more likely to persist in the face of difficulty.

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The Promise of Online Education

Although we like to think of school as a true public good (non-rival and non-excludable), research shows that  school is actually more like a toll good (non-rival and excludable) because socio-economic or residency issues prevent many students from having a true choice in where they go to school.

A new study by Jonathan Rauh examines the potential of online learning as a solution to the “excludability” problem. Rauh studied how at risk kids interacted with the South Carolina Virtual School Program. The verdict? Meh.

Even in a state where every high school has access to technology and is wired for Internet access, high poverty students are excluded, or exclude themselves, from taking online classes. The findings indicate that students in high poverty districts can be broadly categorized as underperforming in online courses in relation to their counterparts from low to median poverty districts. This relationship is categorized as “broad” because the sample of students who actually completed a course was signicantly different than those who enrolled for a course.

The results aren’t terribly surprising, but they’re another reminder that there is a lot of work left to be done before online learning truly begins to transform the way children learn.