Reorganizing and the Illusion of Progress

Lots of good tidbits from Shane Parrish at Farnam Street:

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” — Petronius Arbiter

“[M]ost of what we say and do is not essential. Eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself, is this necessary.” — Marcus Aurelius

Debunking Learning Styles

The Debunker Club, organized by Will Thalheimer, is focusing on debunking Learning Styles this month and have devoted a page to resources to this end. An excerpt from that page:

Probably today’s most ubiquitous learning myth is that people have different learning styles and that these learning styles can be diagnosed and used in learning design to create more effective learning interventions. This myth has resonated and spread throughout the world’s learning-professional community probably because it hints at an idea that seems sensible — that people learn differently. Unfortunately, there are dozens and dozens of ways to separate people by type, so it’s hard to know which distinctions to use for which learner, for which topics, for which situations. More importantly, the research evidence shows clearly that using learning styles in designing/deploying learning does not reliably improve learning results.

Why is the University Still Here?

Danny Crichton at Techcrunch makes some good points on the difficulty of getting people to engage in online education due to lack of time, motivation, and work-related payoffs:

What the world is discovering is that humans are going to be humans (a discovery we seem to make a lot in startup-landia). We failed to ensure that motivation and primacy were built-in to these new products, and in the process, failed to get adults to engage with education in the way that universities traditionally can.

A Primer on Fountain Pens

Brett and Kate McKay write A Primer on Fountain Pens. They write about the history and anatomy of fountain pens, as well as giving tips on how to use them in writing and taking care of them. They also list reasons to use a fountain pen for writing:

  • It feels better.
  • It’s better for the environment.
  • More economical in the long run.
  • It makes cursive handwriting look better.
  • It makes you look like a sir.

These reasons aren’t particularly  persuasive. However, Melanie Pinola writes on Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing than Typing. She cites different people and research. Not all of hers are that persuasive, either. I’m still influenced by Haas’s (1989) research showing that writers who use only word processing, in comparison with those who use only pen and paper, plan less conceptually, during prewriting, and overall, but they do more local and sequential planning—whether expert writer or novice. Whether or not these findings are true today with people brought up on electronic media, it’s clear that the physical nature of the writing tool shapes writing processes. And it makes sense that using a pen slows down one’s writing more than a word processor, thus providing more time for thinking.

Thus, I can see writing by hand as more conducive to the beginning stages of writing, of forming ideas, and perhaps also of structuring one’s ideas—then moving to a word processor for editing purposes. However, I doubt that I’ll change my own writing habits. I don’t want to write things down once and then transfer them to the computer.

U.S. Students Awful at Evaluating Reliability of Online Science Readings

Benjamin Herold (Digital Education) reports on research by Elena Forzani from the University of Connecticut.

In a study of 1,429 7th grade students from 40 districts across two northeastern states, Forzani found that fewer than 4 percent of students could correctly identify the author of an online information source, evaluate that author’s expertise and point of view, and make informed judgments about the overall reliability of the site they were reading.

The ability to evaluate online sources and their reliability is an essential skill nowadays, so this type of research should inform classroom instruction.