Got Confused?


Lost and Confused Signpost

How many of you have taken a class where you had no idea what was going on? How many of you wanted to learn the material but just drowned in the confusion of it all? Now, what if I told you that being confused was a good thing and that this article says you could use it to your benefit. At the University of Notre Dame they had conducted a study to see how strategic confusion can help with learning new material.

Here is the breakdown of the study, within a learn environment, subjects were introduced to a difficult conceptual topic.  They wanted to see if the subjects were able to apply critical thinking skills to the difficult conceptual topic in hopes that the subjects could solve new problems more effectively down the road. What the results showed is stated in the following: “subjects that were confused scored higher on a difficult post-test and did better at identifying flaws in a new case study.” Besides being in the right learning environment, the researchers also believed that emotions play a big role. “We have been investigating links between emotions and learning for almost a decade, and find that confusion can be beneficial to learning if appropriately regulated because it can cause learners to process the material more deeply in order to resolve their confusion,” says D’Mello (researcher).

Given from what we learned in class, part of the process to learn something involves processing information on a deeper level. To have truly learned something it would go into our long-term memory system. Part of long-term memory includes deeper processing; making the information more personal, more imagery, and more meaningful. With being confused, despite the more imagery part, it definitely becomes more personal and gains more meaning. I will give you an example to put things into perspective. My mom of over forty still remembers the day when she finally understood Calculus her sophomore year of college. She told me it just clicked one day after an entire semester of never getting it. She had worked her butt off, she had gone to the professor’s office hours every day, tired doing all the homework but just could not get it. Clearly, it became something personal since after all this time she can still recall her frustration she had with it. In the end, the class and the material matter more to her because of all the effort she had put into it.

From what the article suggest, maybe she could have learned calculus fast if she was in a better environment to do so. However, she did do the right thing in not giving up, “It is also important that the students are productively instead of hopelessly confused,” D’Mello. The other factor that is important is that we have to be in right mindset to deal with difficult topics. Subjects in the study were engaged in interactive conversations and were per-exposed to flawed ideas that could potential become confusing. Since they were already interacting with the material at a higher cognitive level, they became more successful in achieving their goal. The fact that emotions play a big part in our learning ability was interesting to me. The emotional aspect definitely makes it more reasonable for someone to recall something or allows for someone to have a better retrieval path for material they do not understand.

Overall, some of the key points that you should take away from this; being confused is a good thing. It helps with deeper processing and gives you a better opportunity to not only understand the material better but gives you the tools to deal with it the next time it comes around. You have to stay positive and be willing to risk being wrong. Be proactive; go seek help from a professor or even your peers. More than likely trying to figuring out a problem with classmates makes learning easier because your both trying to achieve the same goal. Sometimes what it comes down to is just needing another way to think about things.