Demystifying desirable difficulties 1: What they are

3-Star learning experiences

Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner

Desirable difficulties, a term coined by Robert Bjork in 1994, has gained traction. This is great because desirable difficulties have been shown to be important for learning and learning design. As Bjork explains in this video, they’re desirable because they enhance the very target of training and instruction, namely long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills. And they’re difficulties because they pose challenges for the learner.

Unfortunately, desirable difficulties are also often misunderstood or have been diluted to whatever people consider to be ‘desirable difficulties’ in plain language. This also happened to Anders Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice[1] where people think that if you practice ‘on purpose’ (and not accidentally?) that the practice was deliberate and that it was, thus, deliberate practice. In the context of desirable difficulties, we’ve seen many examples where people moved away from how Bjork defined and…

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