Illusions of Competence: Obstacles to Learning & Which Learning Strategies Really Work

Illusions of competence are obstacles to learning. Yet, learners are unaware of the existence of such illusions or their own susceptibility to them. Such is the nature of illusions, right?

Learners unwittingly develop illusions of competence by an over relying on ineffective, passive learning strategies such as rereading, rote memorization, and cramming study. These illusions of competence made students believe that they have learned because the information seems familiar; therefore, it is perceived to be well learned. Research from cognitive science tells a much different story. Illusions of competence make learning “feel” successful, but actually impede learning.

Learners must dispel these illusions by incorporating active, research-based learning strategies such as spacing study, retrieval & self-testing, and interleaving. The research findings supporting these active learning strategies are robust and well summarized by two recent books, Make It Stick and How We Learn. Both books are excellent resources for educators and are highly recommended, but do not directly apply to legal education.

There is help for legal educators! My recent article, Illusions of Competence: Using Empirical Research on Undergraduate Study Behaviors to Maximize Law Learning, available for download on SSRN here, summarizes these research findings and makes concrete recommendations to legal educators to use these research based learning strategies in their classrooms.