In the pursuit of engaging students, educators can sometimes sprinkle their lessons with interesting but irrelevant details, often referred to as "Seductive Details". But do these details help or hinder learning?
In our search to answer this question, we interviewed one of the leading experts in this area, Dr Kripa Sundar. We had the privilege of talking to Dr Sundar for the Expert Insights series on the Teacher CPD Academy. In her conversation with InnerDrive’s lead psychologist, Bradley Busch, she provided valuable insight into the nuance of Seductive Details and how we can prevent irrelevant information from deterring learning.
So, here’s what we learnt from Dr Sundar…
What are the potential negative impacts of Seductive Details on student learning?
- Confusing students
When lessons are interspersed with Seductive Details, Dr Sundar explains that this “can confuse learners on what is and is not relevant”. This confusion can weaken their understanding of the subject matter.
- Increasing cognitive load
Cognitive load refers to the amount of information that the working memory can hold at any one time. When students are presented with surplus or irrelevant information such as Seductive Details, their cognitive load increases, making it harder to process, understand and ultimately remember the essential aspects of the lesson.
- Diverting classroom discussion
Seductive Details, while intriguing, can deviate students from the primary focus of learning and classroom discussions, and instead diverting them towards irrelevant classroom conversation.
As a result, they may lose sight of the fundamental learning objectives, focusing instead on these alluring, but irrelevant aspects. Dr Sundar recommends that “it’s just a matter of being cognisant that if we pepper our instruction with plenty of [Seductive Details], it is most likely going to deter the learning objectives.”
When can Seductive Details work?
Despite the potential drawbacks, Seductive Details are not always detrimental. In some instances, they can even be beneficial.
- When students have relevant prior knowledge
Dr Sundar points out that using Seductive Details “is very dependent on who your learners are”. Research suggests that if students already have prior knowledge of the content, Seductive Details don’t have as much of an effect.
So, if students already understand the content well, the detrimental effects of Seductive Details don’t seem to be present. These students are better equipped to distinguish what is irrelevant information and what isn’t. In this case, Seductive Details can fulfil their purpose of bringing some extra interest to your teaching material.
- To spark curiosity
Seductive Details can also stimulate curiosity and cultivate a love for learning. Dr Sundar explains that “Seductive Details do trigger interest…. it’s an initial spark, think of it as a teaser trailer”. They can make lessons more engaging and enjoyable, thereby fostering a positive attitude towards education – as long as the attention is redirected towards the learning objective.
When should you use Seductive Details in the classroom?
So, the goal isn’t to avoid Seductive Details at all costs in your lessons. If you would like to use them in the classroom, here are some key principles to keep in mind:
- Seductive Details are most beneficial when students have a good basic knowledge of the material already.
- Using Seductive Details sparingly and thoughtfully can help optimise student curiosity.
- Students’ attention needs to be brought back to the relevant material soon after using Seductive Details. This can be done by using specific and focused retrieval questions.
The use of Seductive Details in education is a complex issue that requires careful consideration. While these intriguing, yet irrelevant, details have the potential to confuse students and detract from the main learning objectives, they can also serve as powerful tools to ignite curiosity and make lessons more engaging. This makes them a double-edged sword. The trick is to strike a balance between maintaining student interest and ensuring the clarity of our teaching objectives.
Thank you again to Dr Kripa Sundar for sharing her expertise with us as part of the Teacher CPD Academy’s Cognitive Load Theory module. Do you want your staff to learn more from her and an all-star line-up of experts as part of your in-house professional development? Join the Teacher CPD Academy.