When we are presented with new information, we try and connect it to information we already hold. This is automatic. Sometimes the information fits in easily; other times the fit is more difficult — perhaps because some of our old information is wrong, or perhaps because we lack some of the knowledge we need to fit them together.
When we're confronted by contradictory information, our first reaction is usually surprise. But if the surprise continues, with the contradictions perhaps increasing, or at any rate becoming no closer to being resolved, then our emotional reaction turns to confusion.
Confusion is very common in the learning process, despite most educators thinking that effective teaching is all about minimizing, if not eliminating, confusion.
But recent research has suggested that confusion is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, in some circumstances, it may be desirable.
I see this as an example of the broader notion of ‘desirable difficulty’, which is the subject of my current post. But let’s look first at this recent study on confusion for learning.