What’s the Difference Between Learning and the Perception of Learning? | Ray Ravaglia | 5 Min Read

April 22, 2022

“How do you know when you are learning?” This is a question important to answer, especially in its more nuanced form: “When you are learning, how does your sense of how well you are learning match the answer an expert watching you might give?” It turns out that people often get it wrong, which leads to any number of bad decisions in their day-to-day pursuit of an education.

A group at Harvard led by Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, and others, recently did an in-depth comparison of students’ self-reported perception of learning (how well they thought they were learning) with their actual learning (how well they demonstrated their learning).  This was done in an introductory college physics course that was taught in one of two ways, either by active instruction (following best practices in the discipline) or passive instruction (with lectures by experienced and highly rated instructors). Both groups received identical class content and hand-outs, students were randomly assigned, and the instructor made no effort to persuade students of the benefit of either method. The researchers found that:

Students in active classrooms learned more…but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than…

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Ray Ravaglia

Raymond Ravaglia, Chief Learning Officer at Opportunity Education, founded Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, was the principal architect of Stanford University’s Online High School and is also author of Bricks and Mortar: the making of a Real Education at the Stanford Online High School. He has presented regularly at conferences on gifted education and e-learning for the past 15 years. He has published in scholarly and professional journals on different aspects of e-learning, was the 1996 recipient of the paper of the year award from GiftedChild Quarterly, and in 1997 received a Central Pioneer Award. Raymond has served as an external reviewer for the Office of Post-Secondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education, has been an advisor to the College Board on the subject of online education, and was a founding board member of the International Council for Online Learning. He received his BA and MA degrees in Philosophy from Stanford University.