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Ep 2. Evidence-based teaching strategies with Paul Kirschner

This transcript was created with speech-to-text software.  It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors.

You can listen to the episode here: Chalk & Talk Podcast.


Episode 2: Evidence-based teaching strategies with Paul Kirschner


Anna Stokke: [00:00:00] Welcome to Chalk and Talk, a podcast about education and math.  I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor and your host.

You are listening to episode two of Chalk and Talk. In this episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Paul Kirshner. He is an esteemed researcher and international speaker in the field of educational psychology, specializing in learning and cognition. This episode will be interesting and useful to anyone involved in teaching, whether you work with children or adults, or simply have an interest in education.

He explains how we process information in our brains and how this can inform effective teaching practices. We discussed several techniques for effective teaching, including spaced practice, scaffolding, [00:01:00] and the worked example effect, and many others. We also discussed some education myths and common teaching methods that lack research-based evidence.

Throughout the interview, Dr. Kirschner generously shares numerous articles and resources that will be valuable to listeners, and I will include links in the show notes. Dr. Kirschner is passionate, he's knowledgeable, he's interesting, and it was a really captivating and inspiring conversation. I could have spoken with him for hours, and I'm really excited to share our discussion with you.

So, without further ado, let's get started. 

I am thrilled to have as a guest today, Dr. Paul Kirschner, and he is joining me today from The Netherlands, where he is a professor emeritus of educational psychology, specifically specializing in learning and cognition at the Open University in the Netherlands. He's also a guest [00:02:00] professor at the Thomas Moore University of Applied Science in Belgium.

Now, he has published more than 400 scientific articles and many popular articles for teacher journals and blogs on teaching and learning. And he's the author of several books two of which I'm, I'm currently reading. And they are How Learning Happens, seminal Works in Educational Psychology, how teaching happens, seminal works in teaching and teacher effectiveness, evidence informed learning design, urban myths about learning and education, and several.

He's an expert in many areas of educational psychology, including the design of effective education and the acquisition of complex cognitive skills. So he is a perfect person to talk to about education and teaching and teaching math. So welcome to my podcast.

Paul Kirschner: Thank you, Anne. It's a, a pleasure and an honor to be here.

Anna Stokke: So, before we dive into specifics, maybe you can tell our listeners exactly what [00:03:00] is educational psychology and how can educational psychology inform and improve teaching.


Paul Kirschner: Now, I think the short answer to that is educational psychology / cognitive psychology deals with how we process information in our heads.  Simply said, there come a lot of stimuli in all at once. Our sensory memory tries to handle that. If we attend to it, it goes through to what we call now our working memory.

There we do something with it. We process the information there, and then we either integrate it in our long term memory or when we need it we take it from our long-term memory back into our working memory to carry out a task or solve a problem. That in a nutshell, is how we learn. Educational psychology, cognitive psychology, studies that process, how it can be facilitated, things that may impede it, [00:04:00] what the differences are if you are more experienced or less experienced, if there are differences between different domains.


All of those types of things are the types of things you might study or I would study within educational psychology. Of course, that's my area. There are also other areas, but if, if we look at it, it's about what happens in your head and how that plays a role in learning and teaching. Okay.

Anna Stokke: Okay, that's, that's perfect. That explains it really nicely and we'll probably come back to that a bit later, and how that can be integrated into planning good teaching programs. So, did you always wanna be  an educational psychologist? Was that always your intended?

Paul Kirschner: No, not at all. I was originally planning to become an electrical engineer when I was living in the United States, and I changed [00:05:00] universities. And when I changed universities, I went from a run of the mill engineering program to a top notch program. And after one year at that first university, I was already a half a year behind at the second university.

So I made use of all the courses that I had done in the natural sciences and math and decided to do something that might have something in common with sciences, and that was psychology because at that time - we're talking in the end of the sixties, the beginning of the seventies - it was primarily behaviorist and really an experimental paradigm.

And I ended up with a teaching diploma and a bachelor in psychology and didn't know what the heck I wanted to do. The only thing I knew is that I didn't want to teach because I had taught at a school nearby a middle school near where my university was. And I got very frustrated because [00:06:00] there were very normal kids that for some reason or another I couldn't reach. Whatever I did, I couldn't reach them, and I would go home at the end of the day, incredibly frustrated, and you'd try it again and you'd get a couple of kids onto the program. But there were still kids who couldn't reach, but there was no reason why I couldn't reach them, and I had no idea why.

So I decided this isn't for me. I'm gonna leave the United States, I'm gonna go to Europe, spend a year traveling around Europe and India. I was a real hippie. I had hair down past my shoulders. And I thought in that year that I was away, I'd get my head together. Now that year of starting in 1973 is now 50 years ago.

Within that period of time I did get my head, I hope, together and after a number of years of doing different things in India, in the, in the Netherlands, in the rest of Europe, I went back to the university and got into a program that would teach me how we learned. Yeah, [00:07:00] that would maybe help get rid of my frustration.

The program was dealing with what we called text characteristics and learning processes, what you can do with a text that can influence how people read it and learn from it. I could give you a whole list of names. I won't bore you with them. But in any event, I studied that and first went to work at a, a publishing house figuring text characteristics and learning processes.

That's the best place I could be. I could make quality their advertisement. But after being there for about a year, I realized that advertising was their quality. They really weren't interested in making good learning materials, so I applied for a job at a university. Got it, and went through all of the things from  associate, assistant to associate professor to full professor, to full professor at three different universities, to visiting professor at different universities in Spain and in Finland, and now as an emeritus [00:08:00] professor and also a guest professor at the Thomas Moore University of Applied Sciences.

And ever since 19 - let me see, 77, 78 - I've only been busy with how we can design, learning and learning materials to make it more learnable, as I call it, more effective, more efficient, and more enjoyable.


Anna Stokke: So, you, you started out teaching, got frustrated because you couldn't reach the kids and decided you were gonna go back and figure out how to best teach. 

Paul Kirschner: How to, how to reach them.

Anna Stokke: Yeah, that's excellent. So I'm a, a mathematician and I heard you say that you were studying electrical engineering 

Paul Kirschner: I used to be a math teacher at a middle school.

Anna Stokke: Okay. And so did you like math as when you were a student?

Paul Kirschner: When I was a student from elementary school on, I never got lower than a mark of 99 or a hundred in mathematics. [00:09:00] So it was kind of like, yeah, that was one of my major problems in that I never understood why it could be different, difficult, sorry, I'm using the wrong word. I'm trying to think in Dutch and in English at the same time.

Math was never difficult for me, so I couldn't envision why my students were having problems learning the math. I mean, it was, it was, it was as clear as the nose on my face. So that's, that's what happened. I often call that “the butterfly who forgot what it was like to be a caterpillar.” Or they also call it the curse of knowledge. Yeah. In being an expert, you don't really understand anymore, what it's like being a novice, and for me, math was so simple that I had no idea that you could have a problem learning it, let alone physics or biology or chemistry.

Also, the courses that I taught, so, you know, like it was type of, why can't they understand it? It's, it's so simple. It's so clear, [00:10:00] but it's not.

Anna Stokke: Yeah, certainly I've, I've experienced that myself, and I do have to sometimes stop myself because, of course, I teach math all the time and, and remember what it's like to be a student or just even remember the things that previous students had trouble with, because it tends to usually be the same thing.

So you've written a lot of research papers and there's one in particular that you're very well known for, and it's how I came to know of your work - I guess, about 10 or 11 years ago. And it's called, and this is a bit of a mouthful, but the title's important because it tells us what the paper's about: “Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based learning.”


And it's kind of important to have all those descriptions there because it goes by many different names. And, and so in that paper, you and your coworkers, you draw in the research evidence to [00:11:00] argue that instructional approaches like inquiry-based learning, they, they often don't take into account - you were talking earlier about human cognitive architecture or the way the brain works - and so this is why they are likely to be somewhat ineffective, at least for, for novice learners. So, let's go back to the cognitive architecture again. You just, you explained this a little bit earlier, but maybe you can just explain for the listeners exactly what that means in layman's terms. 

Paul Kirschner: Well, it's hard to say exactly, but what it means is that we have at least three memory stores - a sensory memory store, which deals with everything that comes in through our senses. Our five, or some people say six, or whatever our senses from sight and sound to tactile, olfactory and whatever it's called, when you taste.

It comes in there and it goes [00:12:00] into this thing called if you attend to it, if you select it and attend to it, it goes into your working memory where information is processed, but that working memory is very small. It only can deal with 4, 5, 6 new pieces of information at any one time. And it's also very limited in time.

If you don't do something with it within let's say 20, 25 seconds, it's gone. Yeah, I mean, if I gave you a list of 12 - my telephone number - 10 numbers. Okay. Unless you, heard it once or twice and repeated it and repeated and repeated it, it would be gone because you can only, but if I gave you four or five numbers, you'd have no trouble dealing with it.

Now because we get so much information from our sensory memory on the one hand, and our long-term memory is virtually, virtually limitless. [00:13:00] Yeah. We have an incredible bottleneck in our working. Yeah. And what we need then is instructional techniques, which don't extra load on that working memory.

If you can only deal with 4, 5, 6 things at the same time, you can't also deal with “What's the problem? Where am I going? Does this step bring me any closer to it? Is what I found correct or incorrect? What's my next step?” Those are all slots that you're using in your working memory. Now that's already five and I haven't even talked about the content - the information in the task.

So, if you have to do all of that, you overload your working memory. So, the idea is to make use of instructional technique that are effective and efficient and that don't make extra use. I mean, it'll always [00:14:00] make use of, you know, your working memory.


It'll always cause load. Every instructional technique that you use causes load, but you don't want it to cause extra or exorbitant load that doesn't help the learning process. And discovery doesn't help the learning process. Often when you've tried to solve a problem without the proper information or done discovery or inquiry learning, by the time you get to the end and you've solved that problem, the next time you have to solve a similar problem, you have no idea what to do anymore.

You start again from, with that what's called means ends analysis, or you could also call it trial and error or whatever. And so it's not a very effective or efficient way, and it also doesn't get stored in your long-term memory as a schema for “this is what I have to do, this is the procedure I have to make use of this information to do it.”

You're [00:15:00] constantly busy with trying to get from point A to point B without Google maps, without a compass. Or  anything, and you're constantly thinking, “am I getting closer or not? Is this the right way? Do I have to go back and start and go in the other direction?” All of those types of things. Not the best way to get from point A to point B.

Anna Stokke: No. And, and that was a really good description of, of what's going on with working memory and what happens when it's overloaded. 

Paul Kirschner: The idea is when you're, when you get proper instruction, you then store what you've learned in the schemas in your long term memory so that the next time you come up with a problem you can retrieve that whole schema as one chunk of information instead of six or seven different chunks.

For example, when you learn how to add, you do it step by step. But at a certain point in time, that whole procedure is one chunk in your memory. So when you get a [00:16:00] new problem, you don’t bring back all of the steps that you had to carry out, but you bring back that chunk and with that chunk you can then do the addition or the multiplication, or whatever. You know, that's, that's the whole idea behind it. Strong schemas or schemata, whatever you wanna call it in your long term memory.

Anna Stokke: So let's talk about some instructional techniques that have been shown to work that do take in, into account this cognitive architecture, so to speak. And some that I'm particularly interested in from having been a math teacher for many years. One is the worked example effect. Can you talk a bit about that?

Paul Kirschner: That's just very simple. Normally a good teacher will first model the procedure. Just say, “well first we put the two numbers on one above the other, and we make sure we align [00:17:00] it units and the tens and the hundreds - in one each and a separate column.”

“And we do that because,”  - so that's modeling. You also say why.. “Then I add four and six together and I come up with 10, but 10 is a not a unit anymore. That's a tenfold. So we have to do,” and you explain it. That's modeling behavior.


The next thing you do is a worked example. What you've just told the students is how to do it - the procedure - you put down on your, in your instructional material.  The only thing you do is you don't tell them why anymore. That's the difference between modeling and a worked example, and you do that and you say, “okay, the first step is this. The second step is that, the third step is that the fourth step…”

Is that okay? That's the second. Then what you do is think something called backward chaining. You leave out the last step.  So you give them another [00:18:00] worked example in which you have the first, the second, and the third step, but not the fourth step. They have to do it themselves. After that, you leave out the last two, then you live after the last three, and finally you leave them all out.

And so at the end, they can solve the problem and they've learned the procedure and they've practiced it because it's a skill. It's not knowledge. Addition isn't knowledge. Addition is a skill. Knowledge is that six and seven is thirteen. Okay. But addition, subtraction, multiplication, division determining the sign, cosine, tangent, expressing a limit - those are all skills that we have to do. And the skills you have to learn the procedures and then practice them enough so that they're ready when you need. You can bring them back now. That's the whole idea behind it. Going from modeling, to worked examples to partially worked out [00:19:00] examples, to the problem itself.

Instead of saying, “here's a problem, go figure out how to solve it. Here's a chess board. Go figure out how to do mate in three steps” - although you've never learned that a pawn is different from a bishop. You know, those types of things. So that's the worked example effect. Okay. Alex Alexander Renkl - if people want to read more about it, they can read work by Alexander Raenkl, r e n k l.

Well, I call him Alexample because he's been busy with worked examples for 20 to 30 years. So Alexander Renkl is the person to read.

Anna Stokke: Okay. And, and I will put a link to that in the, in the show notes. And I mean, that's a technique that a lot of us have been using for many years, because we just know that it works. It's just surprising to me that it isn't one of the techniques that you commonly see promoted because it is, it is an effective technique.

So basically, [00:20:00] again, the idea is you model how to do the problem and you explain what you're doing, and then you gradually just sort of, you do fading, right? So you remove some of the steps.

Paul Kirschner: Yeah. You fade, but you do that backward chaining is what you say - you're fading. You could say you're giving them a certain amount of scaffolding. 

You're giving them guidance and support, and as you proceed, you remove some of that guidance and support, you remove the scaffold or Woods talked about scaffolding as a whole, including the support.

And so at the end, you can do it without scaffolding. Think of it as riding a bicycle and you have training wheels, and then you move the training wheels up a little bit, but they're still there. And then you take them off and you hold  the saddle and at a certain time, let go, but you run along with the child and then finally you let that child do one, those are all scaffolding.

That's the same thing with the the fading - going [00:21:00] from modeling to worked examples, to partially worked out examples 

Anna Stokke: And scaffolding is a really important thing to be doing with students. For one thing, it's really frustrating for students if we try and give them too much to do at once and throw them off the deep end and they don't have the the tools to solve the problem. But if we scaffold, if we do things in incremental steps - we keep making things a little bit harder - it becomes easier for the students and they, they feel, they feel successful.

Paul Kirschner: Yeah, that's the most important. That's the most important thing. First of all they're taking it into small steps. You can also look at the work of Barak Rosenshine. I fortunately got to meet and know him.  Unfortunately, he's no longer around. He was an incredible guy. But he talks about - one of his principles is doing [00:22:00] things in things in small steps.

And of course, the size of small depends upon the expertise of the person. The more expertise you have, the larger, the small step is. But in any event that's from Barak Rosenshine – his ideas. 

Anna Stokke: And that is an excellent article. So the other thing I wanted to talk a bit about is spaced practice, and I'm not sure I entirely know exactly what the phrase means. I have an idea, but maybe you can break that down for us.

Paul Kirschner: Now spaced practice is - if you look at is one of the five desirable difficulties that Robert Bjork and later Robert Bjork with his wife Elizabeth - have studied.  He studied five different desirable difficulties. It's kind of like “no pain no gain.” [00:23:00] It's something you do that makes the learning process seem harder, but leads to better learning.

As I said, there are five of them. I'll give you what the five are. I would say definitely read one or two articles by Robert Bjork. But the five are: spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving, contextual interference and reducing feedback. Now, reducing feedback. If you constantly give really a lot of feedback to students, which teachers wanna do, what they'll do is they'll create a dependency in which the student doesn't think for her or himself.

They have to then think harder when they're learning. It's a difficulty, but it's desirable because they learn. Okay. Contextual interference and interleaving are very related to each other. Interleaving is, instead of [00:24:00] learning A and practicing A, then learning B and practicing B a lot, and then learning C and practicing C a lot you mix and match.

You mix them up between them. I'm not talking about learning French and learning math. I'm talking about in math learning how to determine the area of a triangle as opposed to a parallelogram, as opposed to a circle. And, what we normally do is we learn one, we practice, practice, practice, practice, and tomorrow we learn something else.

But after practice, practice, the second time, all you do is, is plugging things into the equation and you're not even thinking. Yeah? While if you interleave it, you have to constantly think of, “what do I have to do here? How is this different from the other one? How is it similar from the other one?” And you can think of that in math, but you can also do it with impressionist, expressionist, surrealists in painting.

You know, you just mix them up to [00:25:00] do it. Contextual interference is that you do it also in different environments. If I'm talking about different types of painting and painting techniques, I would say, well, you have it in a book, you have it in the classroom, but if you go into a museum, it's completely arranged, completely different, and so, doing it in different contexts makes it easier for you to transfer your knowledge.

It makes it more difficult, but difficult - as Robert Bjork says - difficult in a good way. Okay. We've now had three of them. Interleaving, contextual interference and the fading of scaffolding. The fourth one is retrieval practice. That's instead of reading, reading, reading, you read and you either ask yourself or someone else asks you a question about it and asks you a question about it again.

And, what you would think is you've always learned, read it, read it again, read it again. That's the way you should do it. But the problem is when you read it the second time, you look at it and you [00:26:00] say, “Hey, that looks familiar. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. I, I, I, I, I remember.” But when it comes down to it, when you have to, don't have the book in front of you anymore, you think that you can remember it, but it's just that it's familiar to you.

Whereas if you, are asked questions about it, you have the idea, even if you get it wrong, that I'm not doing it properly. But research project after study after study shows that by asking questions, being asked questions about it, leads to better learning. That's the fourth desirable difficulty. The fifth is spaced practice.

That goes back to 1885 with Herman Ebbinghaus. He studied what he called the forgetting curve, and that's, if you learn it now, you'll forget it within a number of hours, about 40 to 60% of what you learned. Yeah. And if you wait a day and you start it, you do it again, you'll bring it back to a [00:27:00] hundred. And now from mathematicians, the curve of forgetting is less steep.

And if you then do it again another two days later, your practice, bring it back to a hundred percent. You'll still forget, but the forgetting curve is even less steep. And that's the whole idea, because learning is something that's a change in your long-term memory. Yeah. The idea of learning is that you don't forget it, and if you've forgotten it, you can relearn it again.


Anna Stokke: So, things like spaced practice, does that only apply to cognitive skills or can this be applied to other fields?

Paul Kirschner: No, it, actually it, it works really well in motor skills. We know, for example, if you want to run a marathon that you don't just every other day run [00:28:00] 42 kilometers and whatever, 135 meters, something like that. But what you do is you do interval training.  You run shorter distances, longer distances, because when you're running a race, you also have to do all of those types of things.

You have to put in sprints, you have to go up hills, all of those types of things. So, you have to train in different ways. We know with spaced practice you don't work your muscles to complete exhaustion, but you practice in shorter spurts, go getting a very high VO X and this amount of oxygen. But then you recuperate.

You know, when you do interval training, you run, then you catch your breath, then you run and you catch your, those types of things. Doing it in different contexts. Because sometimes the marathon is flat and sometimes there are hills and things like that. So those types of things all work also with motor skills, whether it's running a marathon or learning to play squash or whatever. [00:29:00] 


Anna Stokke: Right, and this sort of reminds me of math textbooks, and you don't usually see this sort of thing applied in math textbooks. And I've been teaching math for many years at the university level. And so essentially calculus, the way we teach it is we teach a topic and we get the students to practice a topic.  We go to the next topic, we get them to practice that topic, but what we actually should be doing, is bringing some of the previous topics back. 

Paul Kirschner: Yeah, you should mix it up. Because in the real world and also on your examination, you're not gonna get, okay, this part of the exam is based on day one, and this is based on day three. You know, you have all of the different questions mixed in with each other.

You know, when you go to a museum, you can see all different types of paintings.


Mixed around, and you want to be able to say, oh, that's a this, and that's another, that's a that. [00:30:00]  Learning a language is exactly the same. When do we, when is it a regular verb? When is it an irregular verb? When is it in Spanish an ar or an ER and ir? If you're going to conjugate it. Those are things you need to do between things and you're never going to have a conversation only using AR verbs and conjugating them in the present. 

Anna Stokke: And even things like, I think asking students to write cumulative tests as opposed to tests on just the one topic that you've been studying, I think that helps a lot too. So I certainly have been trying to do things like that. Thank thanks to reading your work, actually. So you've had an impact on, on my teaching, so, yeah.

So I really appreciate that and some of these things. There are lots of phrases out there about different types of teaching, and it can be a little bit confusing. And so sometimes we hear about direct instruction with a capital D and with a small D, and then there's [00:31:00] explicit instruction. And my understanding is that the phrase that we use to describe some of these, these teaching techniques, they may fall under what we call explicit instruction.

Does that sound right to you? 

Paul Kirschner: That sounds right to me. Direct instruction with a capital D and a capital I is uh, a Siegfried Engleman's specific approach to teaching. Okay. 

And explicit instruction is being explicit, you know instructing and then letting your students make use of it with the support and guidance.  Reducing the support and guidance Constantly asking them questions about it. Checking for understanding, and that at a certain point, letting them be free while you are there to make sure they don't hurt themselves. But you let them do it by themselves. So it's not just - the name of your podcast is Chalk and Talk -[00:32:00] explicit instruction definitely is anything but chalk and talk.

Anna Stokke: And you know, you do hear explicit instruction is sometimes described quite negatively actually. You'll hear things like, the teacher should not be a sage on the stage, they should be a guide on the side. Or that this is a passive form, uh, of learning that the students aren't, aren't engaged. What, what would you say to things like, 

Paul Kirschner: It's that it's well, I won't use the word, I'll call it “male bovine excrement.”


Anna Stokke: Okay.

Paul Kirschner: You can figure out what that means. 

Anna Stokke: I can figure out what that means.

Paul Kirschner: It's, you know, it's a, it's a straw man. It's that simple. I can't say it in in any other way.  If you're a teacher, you have a certain amount, quite a lot. I hope of domain expertise. [00:33:00] You are the sage and in our societies, the whole idea is that the information is transferred from the person who knows more to the person who knows less, and then you help them to make use of it, but they first have to acquire that knowledge. There's no such thing as passive learning.

Learning is cognitive activity. You know what's really passive in this? That's when you're working on a project on volcanoes, and you spend three weeks making paper mache volcanoes, painting it beautifully, filling a bottle that's inside of the volcano with Coca-Cola and throwing Mentos mints in it so that it looks like it erupts. But no learning absolutely nothing about vulcanism, magma, plate tectonics or [00:34:00] anything else. You were very engaged. You were very motivated, you were incredibly busy. But as Robert Coe, professor Robert Coe in England says, those are really poor proxies for learning. Being busy doesn't mean you're cognitively busy.

The whole idea of learning is cognitive activity. And choosing good pedagogical - we call it in the Netherlands - didactic techniques to have students be cognitively engaged. Desirable difficulties is a way, generative learning from Logan Fiorella and Rich Mayer - those are being cognitively engaged and that's what you want to do. 

Anna Stokke: Yes. And you, I, I completely agree with what you're saying and, and you've, you've articulated that really well. But the, the point is learning takes place in the brain and I think a lot of times teachers get really excited when the. Students are [00:35:00] talking and there's lots of conversation going on, but that actually is just conversation, right?

Like, we actually want students to learn the material. And, and that sort of brings me to my next point. So a technique that's really popular in Canada right now, and I, I've seen lots of different things come and go. And this is kind of the way it is in education. There's always a new technique that's being promoted in schools.

But right now, the one that I'm seeing the most of is, it's a form of group work. So students are encouraged to get out of their seats, move around, work in groups, problem solving on whiteboards, and, um, these are. A lot of talking is encouraged, which you know, and maybe some of the kids are talking, I don't think all of them necessarily are, but there's lots of talking noise and, and what are called “rich conversations.”

And I just wonder though, what does physically active have to [00:36:00] do with learning? Does it have anything to do with learning math? Is there any impact on whether students learn? 


Paul Kirschner: The answer to that is very simple. At a very basic level. We know that if you do jumping jacks and breathe hard, you will get more oxygen circulating in your body, which means more oxygen to the brain, which means that your brain can function better. Yeah. We know that but that doesn't mean that you're learning better because if the didactical pedagogical technique you're using is really poor then you have more oxygen in your brain, but you're not learning better. I used to be a professor of computer support of collaborative learning, actually, and I asked the question, is collaborative learning learning or is it shared ignorance?

Yeah. And often it's [00:37:00] shared ignorance. Number one, because you have students carrying it out who don't know what they should know to solve the problem. The things that they find are often wrong. So you get, what's the word for that, you get misconceptions. Yeah. It takes often, quite a lot longer.

You see things like social loafing, where in which some students let other students do the work for them. Yeah.  The idea of how does moving around influence information processing in your working memory? If someone can explain to me how that happens, then I'm willing to be open to think about whether or not it works.

Nobody can tell me how that affects the information processing activities [00:38:00] in our brain and the storage of information in our long-term memory. The, a misconception is that motivation leads to learning, to success. Whereas research shows us that success leads to motivation. When you see success, you're motivated to continue.

If you're motivated, it means that you might wanna start on something, but if you don't achieve success, very quickly you have the idea, I can't do it, and I can do that with trying to curve a ball around the wall of defenders when you're taking a free kick to learning math, if you are motivated to begin, there's a really great piece of research done about motivation in math.

That motivation in group two in  second grade didn't lead to better learning in fourth grade, but success in second grade led to more [00:39:00] motivation in fourth grade and significantly more motivation. So this idea of “they're engaged, they're motivated, they're talking, they're, they're moving, they're doing things.”

I'd prefer to have a student sit there alone. And be very cognitively engaged due to the questions that I ask her or him, or the tasks that I give her or him that having them be physically engaged but not thinking or thinking the wrong things. 

So, yeah, on top of that, most teachers don't know how to design group work that will lead to better learning. 

Anna Stokke: Yeah, I think it's, it's difficult and, and it's also sometimes quite difficult for students to concentrate when there's a lot of noise in the room.

Paul Kirschner: Oh, definitely. Yeah. I just wrote a blog about that. 

Anna Stokke: Right. And, and the other thing, and I have to add this because we care a [00:40:00] lot in in math about the way that students write. They should write in a nice sort of structured way.  And oftentimes when they're doing stuff in groups and writing on the boards, they're not learning that things are just a mess. There's no organization to the learning. 

Paul Kirschner: Exactly. 

Anna Stokke: You discuss in, in one of your books “How learning happens…” You discuss 10 deadly sins in education and we've, you know, we've talked about actually quite a few of them today just because they, they come up. I'd like to talk a bit about problem-based learning, because there's a huge push for this, at least in Canadian classrooms and probably all around the world really.

And the idea is that we give students rich problems and to work on and, and see what they come up with. So, so we're told that the best way to solve problems is to give [00:41:00] students problems to solve. So what does the research evidence say about that?

Paul Kirschner: I'd say in the American educator from the American Federation of Teachers, the same journal that Barak Rosenshine published in, Richard Clark, John Sweller and I wrote about that how, um, learning to solve problems in math requires learning math and not the other way around. Okay. It's a misconception.

It's based upon, um, the premise of how an expert learns. If I wanted to go back historically, I'd say it began around 19 56, 55, 56. How can I choose that exact date? Because that's the date that the Russians, or actually the Soviets launched the Sputnik. Okay. And America thought “We are now losing the space race.”

And they said, “well, how do engineers and [“00:42:00] scientists learn?” They learn by carrying out experiments and discovery. So what they did is they transposed the epistemology of the expert onto the pedagogy of the novice. But we know from the expertise reversal effect that that which works for an. Usually won't work for a novice, and that which works for a novice often is, doesn't work or can even impede learning by an expert.

Mickey Chi - Michelene Chi - did a lot of research on that too. It's based upon a faulty premise, and that's that the best way to learn to solve a problem is by solving a problem. If that was a case, chess masters would not first study in books, all different types of moves, but you'd give them a chess board with 16 pieces on one side and 16 on the other and say, “Here it is. Figure out how to play chess.”

No, [00:43:00] they learn the moves, the strategies and the tactics, and then they start to make use of it and with their knowledge.  They get into more and more difficult things in which they learn more, they practice more, they gain more skills, and they build it up slowly. But give a chess player, a chess master, a checkerboard or a GoBoard, and they're back to zero.


So it's - I wrote a, a, a book chapter on it - and that was about whether or not it was epistemology or pedagogy. That is the question. And, it's in a book from - Sig Tobias was one of the two editors. If you wanna read it, you can get it there after the session. I can send you the  link to it for people to read.

But it's, it's just a faulty premise. Yeah. If, if an expert does [00:44:00] it in that way, that doesn't mean that that's the way a novice should do it. 

Novices are not experts. 

Paul Kirschner: Yeah. You need knowledge to carry out the, solve the problem. You can't solve a chess problem without knowing how chess works. You can't solve a physics problem without, you can't solve a math problem without knowing the basic math. Then you can make use of that solving problems to turn that procedural knowledge that you have. But you first need the knowledge and the procedural knowledge. 

Anna Stokke: So why do you think there is what you call a considerable gap between many of the findings from educational psychology, research and educational practice? 

Paul Kirschner: Number one, hip to wanna do it differently and think you have to innovate. Number two, all of these people who are telling us we should do it differently actually [00:45:00] got so smart as they are by doing it in the old way, you know? So they're the butterflies that forgot that they were once caterpillars.

Okay, so that's a second reason.  Number three: It's because teaching and learning are often counterintuitive. That which you think will work best, often doesn't work. That which leads to a good grade on a test often doesn't lead to long-term memory, you know, learning and as being a stable thing in your long term memory.

So, what sounds good and logical often or very often doesn't work. The best example of that is the most student-centered that you can possibly be is giving teacher-led instruction because the teacher is the expert and can help the [00:46:00] student learn better. Student centered is not go figure it out yourself cuz you don't learn from it.

That's not being very student friendly in the long run. It might sound good. It might be fun for a day or two, but they don't learn very well from it. So it's people who forgot how they learned. It's that certain things are counterintuitive, that by expending more effort instead of less, you're not supposed, as a teacher, you're not supposed to make things as easy as possible.

You have to make it as clear as possible, but you don't gain any skill. You don't learn to run by not expending effort to run. You often, practice your basketball with leg weights so that you build up the muscles in your legs so that when you take them off, you can jump higher during a game. That's a desirable [00:47:00] difficulty - making things more difficult, but in a good way now.

Sounds strange. You wanna make it harder for the student to learn, but you want them to learn. Yeah.  So you make it a little bit harder in a good way. You always support them, scaffold them, guide, things like that. But you make it harder in a good way. And that's very counterintuitive.

Anna Stokke: Right. And you and others are, are actually working pretty hard to bring the research evidence to the public and, and to teachers and I for one, really appreciate that. And so do what do you see the future holding for education? Do you think that in the future, Teachers and instructional designers will know more about the results from educational psychology and that they'll be applied in the classroom. 

Paul Kirschner: Anne, I have no idea. And I have no idea. I would say I hope so. But you forget about human nature. [00:48:00] And that's - they're kind of like magpies. As soon as they see something shiny and new, they grab it and think, “oh, that's better.”  And we've seen that in every piece of educational technology that we've ever introduced. “It's gonna be the new game changer.” Rich Mayer wrote a really good article “There should be a three strike rule.” It, it comes back, it morphs into a variation on itself and a new generation thinks that. You know, discovering the wheel, again, as we say, I don't know if it's an English, thing, but in Dutch you say they're rediscovering the wheel.

I would hope that people would finally say, “we have so much evidence of what works, let's make use of it.” But my experience tells me that that often isn't the case. [00:49:00] I don't think in my - I'm 71 - I don't think in my lifetime I'll see a whole scale shift to people saying we're going to make use of an evidence informed ways of teaching.

It took also quite a lot of time to make use of evidence-based and evidence formed medicine. You know, it hasn't always been that way in that since Cochran, in the seventies and eighties of the last century, before that, we made use of what I call “eminence based,”  - what the expert said it should be.

We took without thinking, the doctor says, “I smoke camels,” so camels must be good.

Anna Stokke: Well, we'll certainly keep at it. And, like you say, and I think Mayer's the one that said that, inquiry-based learning, it's like a zombie coming back from the dead. Is that right? 

Paul Kirschner: It's true. I've also said it, a number of us have said the exact same thing. 

Paul Kirschner:  There's also another problem, Anne, that we didn't discuss, and I'll close with that. [00:50:00] And that was the National Council of Teaching Quality (NCTQ) did a study on what evidence-informed - different evidence informed techniques - and what was in the textbooks and in the courses that beginning teacher were given in 40 different universities and found out that almost all of them had less than one or two pages if they had that at all within the textbooks and within the courses that they had. 

So students aren't being taught what works and that's possibly because their teachers weren't taught what works and they’re children of the constructivist. revolution.  The romantic idea of a child should playfully learn everything because [00:51:00] that's the way they learn their own language, to speak their own language, and it's just complete, utter male bovine excrement.

Anna Stokke: Okay, great. Way to close! So, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk with me today to share, share your valuable insights and your expertise, and I hope we get a chance to meet in person soon. 

Paul Kirschner: I hope so too. My pleasure. Thanks for the great listening to me and being my straight man so that I could - straight person, sorry.  So that I could expand upon the things. It was great. 

Anna Stokke: Thank you. 


I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website for more information. Technical support [00:52:00] and social media support was provided by Rohit Shrinath.

This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact Grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Grant.

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