December 18, 2022

Learning needs to be difficult

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After nearly two years of researching, experimenting, and interviewing L&D experts, we’ve managed to filter out the noise and establish the core principles of effective online learning. To make it to the list, a core principle had to pass the following test:

  1. Is it supported by scientific research?
  2. Is the technology to build the core principle into an online application available?
  3. Can the L&D Manager and their team implement the principle with ease?

This series explores the six principles.

Principle 1: Learning needs to be difficult

There is a strong bias towards making learning as easy as possible, but the science of learning says we should do the opposite.

If you want to learn for short-term use, yes, make it easy.

If you want people to learn for long-term use, for application, if you want skill-building, then learning needs to be difficult.

This insight is supported by a vast amount of research, mainly pioneered by Robert Bjork, a cognitive psychologist and researcher at the University of California.

When the process of learning something requires effort, our brain is in a deeper level of activation and new neural patterns emerge, creating the conditions for long-term learning.

When the process is easy, the activation level stays shallow and learning doesn’t “stick”.

One big problem with e-learning authoring tools is their focus on easy learning: “receiving information” from slides or videos.

We forget what we read, hear and watch at an alarming rate. We remember and apply every day the hard lessons that stem from problems we’ve overcome.

Some of the things that make the process of learning more difficult and that we are focusing on at are:

  • Case studies
  • Simulations
  • Actual work-related problems
  • Complex decision-making scenarios
  • Navigating social interactions while learning

This final point gets us to the second core principle of learning: Learning needs to be social.

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