- Blog post
When it’s true, but it doesn’t make sense
The more counterintuitive learning is, the more likely trainees will be skeptical. This is especially true of experienced learners.
A good way to overcome that skepticism: Have learners retrace your steps. In other words, have them “walk through” the same process that you used when you presented the concepts.
It’s an effective technique to build credibility. There are some things no one will believe unless they come to the conclusions themselves.
In a study, physics students were introduced to a concept that even advanced graduate students have trouble getting their heads around.
The concept involves a highly counterintuitive idea: whether all observers in the universe would see the same sequence of events happening in the same order. Common sense suggests that they would. But when physicists work through the problem logically, the opposite turns out to be true.
It seems that students weren’t willing to take their professor’s word for it, however, even when the professor walked them through the logic step by step. They had to try it for themselves.
So instructors designed a pair of tutorials where students could work out the issues on their own.
“Our experience indicates that confrontation and resolution must be carried out by the students, not the instructor, if meaningful learning is to take place,” the instructors concluded.
Bottom line: Sometimes the only authority learners will believe is themselves. If something is strongly counterintuitive or must be seen to be believed, create exercises to allow students to do just that.
Source: Scherr, Rachel E.; Shaffer, Peter S.; Vokos, Stamatis (2002). The challenge of changing deeply held student beliefs about the relativity of simultaneity. American Journal of Physics, 70: 1238-1248.