I always viewed confusion as a negative emotion in my learning experiences. Confusion spirals into disappointment, frustration and the feeling of failure.
The good news is that there is an alternative perspective to confusion. Research that suggested that confusion can actually be a beneficial and productive part of the learning process.
In this article, we will explore the ways in which confusion can help learners, and provide actionable takeaways that can help you learn better.
Brene Brown, a renowned social worker and researcher, discusses the topic of confusion in learning in her book “Atlas of the Heart“. In the book, Brown emphasizes the importance of embracing vulnerability, which includes the willingness to be confused and uncertain.
Brown suggests that when we are confused or uncertain, it is an opportunity to learn and grow. She explains that confusion is often a sign that we are learning something new and that our brain is trying to make sense of it.
Brown writes, “Confusion is a sign that we are processing information and trying to make sense of it. It’s a sign of growth.”
How Confusion Benefits Learning
1. Improved Retention
Researchers found that introducing confusion during a learning task led to better retention of information than when the task was presented in a straightforward manner.
When learners encounter something they don’t understand, they are forced to engage more deeply with the material in order to make sense of it. This deeper processing can lead to better understanding and retention of the information.
2. Increases Motivation to Learn
Feeling confused or uncertain about a topic can motivate learners to seek out answers and engage more deeply with the material. This motivation to learn can lead to better understanding and retention of information over the long term.
3. Helps Break Down Mental Barriers
Confusion can also help learners break down mental barriers that may be preventing them from understanding a concept. When learners encounter something they don’t understand, they are forced to confront their own assumptions and biases. This can lead to a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the material.
Four actionable takeaways to nurture confusion to learn better
1. Embrace Confusion
The first step to benefiting from confusion is to embrace it as a natural part of the learning process. When you encounter something you don’t understand, don’t get discouraged. Instead, recognize that confusion is an opportunity to engage more deeply with the material and develop a deeper understanding of it.
2. Seek Out Different Perspectives
When you are feeling confused about a topic, seek out different perspectives and explanations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or consult many sources. Engaging with different viewpoints can help you develop a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the material.
3. Take Breaks
If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated by confusion, take a break. Taking a break can help you clear your mind and come back to the material with a fresh perspective. This can help you see things in a new light and make connections that you may not have seen before.
4. Connect the Dots
When you are feeling confused about a topic, try to connect it to something you already know. This can help you build on your existing knowledge and make sense of the new information. Looking for connections between different concepts can also help you develop a more holistic understanding of the material.
Our goal is not to avoid confusion, but to embrace it and engage with it.