A team of US researchers found that after inducing confusion strategically on difficult-to-understand concepts, people actually learnt better and were able to apply the knowledge thus derived to new problems. The finding is contrary to popular presumption that being confident and certain are keys to learning complex information quicker. The study led by Sidney D’Mello, psychologist and computer scientist at the University of Notre Dame revealed that confusion while learning is beneficial as long as it is properly induced, ultimately resolved and effectively regulated.
To do the study, the subjects learned concepts related to scientific reasoning through interactions with computer animated agents that took the roles of a peer learner and tutor. The animated agents and the subjects held several interactive conversations in which they discussed about merits of sample research studies that were inconsistent when it came to a certain aspect. In the discussions, the agents asked the subjects to decide which opinion had more significant merit than the others putting the latter in a difficult situation of having to make a decision with incomplete information. It was found that the confused students scored higher and could successfully identify flaws in case studies. D’Mello stressed that confusion was especially important for learning because it enabled a person to look more deeply into the subject to connect the dots.